Contributed by: ACT Staff
Three of Thunder Road's weekly divisions will begin the hunt for this year's "King of the Road" titles on Sunday, May 6 when the ACT Late Model Tour hits town for the Merchants Bank 150. Each of the 2006 champions have moved to other divisions and will not return to defend their crowns which leaves the quest for the titles wide open.
2006 "King of the Road" Shawn
With the multi-time champion’s departure the list of contenders is lengthy. As the runner-up to Fleury, Matt White of Northfield, VT has to be atop the list as an heir apparent. The second generation racer reportedly contemplated moving to the Late Model division for 2007 but has recently confirmed that he’ll chase the NAPA Sportsman crown in 2007.
Brendan Moodie of N. Wolcott, VT had a break-out season in ’06 even though he did not crack the winner’s circle with a career best third place finish in the standings. In spite of his age, the 21 year-old racer is a veteran runner on the Barre highbanks having come up through the ranks.
Also on the short list as championship contenders are veterans Pete Ainsworth and Chris Gendreau, past champion, Joe Steffen, as well as former rookie of the year, Nick Sweet, and young guns, Justin Hart, and Tom Therrien, to name a few. A sizeable rookie class is taking shape with several experienced Allen Lumber Street Stock competitors making the jump. Also, multi-time Sportsman Series champion, Craig Bushey will return to the division after taking a couple of years off and could be a serious threat for the title.
Ainsworth, a 30 year-old veteran, posted one win in 2006 to finish fourth in the tally. The Middlesex, VT resident also led the points following the double-point Times Argus Mid-Season Championship. Chris Gendreau of N. Middlesex was kept out of victory lane last year but pushed to sixth in the standings. His smooth, patient style kept him among the constant threats. Steffen, the 2002 “King of the Road” scored a win early in the year en route to a respectable fifth at the end of the season.
Among the division’s young guns is Sweet, 21. The sophomore competitor started strong but a bout of the sophomore jinx during mid-season derailed the youngster's quest for the title. He rebounded and finished off the year with a win. Williamstown, Vermont's Hart, winner of the Dr. G.R. Nielsen Rookie Award as the outstanding freshman driver in 2000, has steadily climbed the point ladder since moving from the Allen Lumber Street Stock division. Hinesburg, Vermont’s Tom Therrien is another of the young veterans. The 20 year-old racer posted a pair of wins last year.
The Allen Lumber Street Stock and the PowerShift Warrior classes will crown new "Kings of the Road" in 2007 as the reigning champions will each reportedly compete in a new division.
Eric Badore will run for the 2007 Rookie of the year title in the NAPA Tiger sporstman division.
Maynard Bartlett Jr, of Wolcott, VT, winner of the PowerShift Warrior crown last season has registered as a rookie driver in the Allen Lumber Street Stock class for the coming year. Since its inception in 2003, the virtually street-legal division has not had a repeat champion. Instead the division has become a successful proving ground and stepping stone for many competitors.
The Merchants Bank 150, as the first of 14-races on the 2007 ACT Late Model Tour, will not award points towards Thunder Road's Late Model championship. The quest for the title in the track's top division begins on Sunday, May 13 in the Casella Waste Management Mother’s Day event.