Three First-Time Track Champions Crowned on Championship Night

photo by Alan Ward
After coming so close last season, Graniteville’s Christopher Pelkey is now a Thunder Road “King of the Road,” joining a list of local and Northeast icons on the Thunder Road granite.

BARRE – One of the most important events of the Thunder Road season did not disappoint as drivers in all divisions went all out on Championship Night. With founder Ken Squier in the house to view the culmination of the 63rd season of racing at the track he helped build and maintained for well over 50 years, the drivers sure put on a show to remember. In the end, three first-time track champions were crowned to put a pin in a stellar points season.

Following heat race action for the three championship divisions, the Flying Tiger track championship was the most hotly contested with Sam Caron leading Justin Prescott by just 10 points. Christopher Pelkey continued to lead a tied Kyle Pembroke and Scott Dragon by 17 points while the Street Stocks were still led by Dean Switser Jr. over Kyler Davis to the tune of 39 points.

The annual Port-a-Potty Grand Prix began feature action on Championship Night with point leaders Pelkey, Caron, Switser and the Road Warrior team driven by Frank Putney starting four abreast at the start-finish line.

photo by Alan Ward
Waterford’s Dean Switser Jr. took down his first Thunder Road track championship after starting off the season with back-to-back wins and keeping it consistent throughout the season.

The just-for-fun, non-point Road Warriors joined the field led by Josh Vilbrin and Jason Kirby. As the field spread out in the early stages, a lap nine scuffle in turn three sent Dan Garrett Jr. and Tyler Wheatley pit-side with wiggly and wobbly wheels while front-runner Kirby took his Bobby Dragon-inspired ride to the infield, unable to steer. Even after the scuffle, the field remained green until the first caution on lap 16 when a gaggle of cars, all battling hard for fourth-place position, went crashing into the turn four Widowmaker front-stretch wall. Rodney Campbell and Ryan Sayers were casualties of the crash, both taking wrecker rides back to their pit stalls.

The final caution on lap 17 for the spinning Ryan Foster off the front bumper of Nick Copping set up a dogfight for first between Vilbrin and Nate “Tater” Brien. Over the final three laps, both top runners duked it out until “Tater” powered up on the back stretch and waved good-bye with the lead in hand. Williamstown’s Nate Brien took down the win followed by Josh Vilbrin and Neal Foster.

photo by Alan Ward
After years on the ACT/Thunder Road landscape, Milton’s Sam Caron finally took down his first championship after consistency and hard work took place over the last few seasons.

Twenty-eight Street Stocks showed up for the 63rd Championship Night at Thunder Road with only one leaving as the champion. On the start, Haidyn Pearce took off from “The Farmer” Gary Mullen with the field following quickly on his heels. The first yellow flag would wave on lap eight for a rogue wheel rolling down the backstretch, 50-yards away from its home the right-rear hub of the Tommy “Thunder” Smith-machine. Following the restart, a charging Taylor Hoar powered up the outside of Pearce side-by-side for the race of her career.

Through two more cautions for spins from the Jesse Laquerre machine and Mike “Biffer” Gay, Hoar prevailed on each restart against all comers while on the final green flag stretch fifth through 18th battled side-by-side, bumper-to-bumper behind her. Under the twin checkers, Taylor Hoar earned her first career Thunder Road victory and joined an exclusive club of female winners at The Road. Scott Weston took home second with Haidyn Pearce hanging on for third.

photo by Alan Ward
On the Street Stock podium in victory lane were (left to right) Haidyn Pearce (3rd), winner Taylor Hoar, Scott Weston (2nd).

While Hoar dominated the front, Dean Switser Jr. patiently bide his time in the mid-pack, making moves only when he had to. Coming away with a 10th-place finish was enough to secure the Waterford driver’s place in the history book as he took down the 2022 Thunder Road Track Championship. Using a strong run at the beginning of the year that saw back-to-back victories and staying in the hunt all summer long, Switser took down his first Thunder Road track championship by 45 points over Berlin’s Kyler Davis.

The Flying Tigers were true to their name on Championship Night, nearly taking flight from the pavement as they went 40 green flag laps without so much as a hint of a caution. Leaping from the pole position, Kyle Streeter pounced under the green and drove his heart out. After calling New Hampshire’s White Mountain Motorsports Park home for much of the 2022 season, Streeter only recently returned to his roots at Thunder Road. Even under constant pressure from Rookie of the Year Kaiden Fisher, Streeter never faltered. Kyle Streeter took down his first Flying Tiger win of the season followed by Flying Tiger Rookie of the Year Kaiden Fisher and a hard charging Mike MacAskill in third.

photo by Alan Ward
On the Road Warriors podium in victory lane were (left to right) Neal Foster (3rd), winner Nate Brien, Josh Vilbrin (2nd).

After first entering the ACT/Thunder Road landscape over twenty years ago, Milton’s Sam Caron used nothing but determined consistency to take down his first ever Thunder Road top prize as the 2022 Flying Tiger Track Champion. Caron had been growing as a driver in the famed support division over the last several years and really turned some heads this summer, certainly more so now as a Champion in the Number One Support Division in North America.

Like the Tigers, the Late Models decided to take it right to the checkered flag, letting the pieces fall as they may. While Stephen Donahue stalked Chris Roberts throughout the race, all eyes were on the constant two-wide mid-pack battle between the top three in points. It seemed as if Scott Dragon, Kyle Pembroke and Christopher Pelkey were inseparable, leaving scorers pouring over the tie-breaking policy on the ever-evolving fight for position. At half-way, something extra seemed to slip in the gas tanks of these top three with Pembroke and Dragon hammering to the front of the strung-out field and Pelkey content to rim-ride the outside, looking for guarantees.

photo by Alan Ward
On the Flying Tiger podium in victory lane were (left to right) Mike MacAskill (3rd), winner Kyle Streeter.

The final ten laps saw Roberts and Donahue side-by-side, Donahue pushing for every ounce of speed he could muster on the outside groove. On the final corner Roberts moved up on Donahue and under the checkered flags they would run out of real estate. Both cars slammed the “Widowmaker” frontstretch wall with Donahue on his driver’s side door as flames erupted from a ruptured fuel line. Coming to rest on its roof in turn one, safety crews dumped cans of extinguisher across the overturned car with Donahue climbing out the right side window.

At press time Donahue is in the hospital with no burns awaiting an X-ray for a possible broken hand. Stephen Donahue has been declared the winner of the trophy dash with Kyle Pembroke taking second and Brandon Lanphear coming home third, triumphant after a hard wreck last time out two weeks ago.

photo by Alan Ward
Annual Port-a-Potty Grand Prix Champion was Christopher Pelkey and crew.

Although Pembroke drove hard for his second-place finish, it wasn’t enough for Pelkey. Pelkey’s two wins, including one on Midseason Championships, and eleven top-10 finishes helped secure his first Late Model Thunder Road Track Championship by just five points over Pembroke. Graniteville’s Christopher Pelkey is officially the 2022 King of the Road, joining a prestigious list of premier track championship drivers in a 63-year history of stock car racing.

UNOFFICIAL RESULTS

(local competitors)

Late Models – 50 Laps

7. 01VT, #Stephen Martin, Craftsbury Common

10. 86VT, Marcel J. Gravel, Wolcott

Flying Tigers – 40 Laps

4. 01VT, Michael Martin, Craftsbury Common

22. 22VT, Travis Patnoe, Wolcott

Street Stocks – 25 Laps

9. 34, Patrick Tibbetts, Plainfield