BARRE – The annual Thursday Night opener at Thunder Road brought fans to the edge of their seats with hard-nosed racing. Side-by-side battles were commonplace across the board as the season-long points chase came to the forefront of every driver’s mind with fans getting to experience old and new all together.
The New England Antique Racers (NEAR) kicked off the activities with the first of twin-15 lap feature events. Starting with the Sportsman class it was all “Dynamite” Dave Manning in the Dave Dion-inspired No. 29 machine. A former Jim Cilley ride, Manning made it look like child’s play, a trait Dion once also had on the Thunder Road highbanks. Not to be overshadowed, Scott Dragon joined the Sportsman field behind the wheel of a throwback Bobby Dragon masterpiece, bringing his father’s number back into the winner’s circle with a third-place finish.
In the NEAR Modifieds, Art Merchant also took off from the pole but the real race was coming from the back with Bruce “Gomer” Taylor. Gomer cross-cutted the field again and again on his way up from a ninth-place starting position in an old Len Bochler Modified but it wasn’t enough in the end. Art Merchant would take the win to round out the NEAR nostalgia program.
The 25-lap Street Stock feature was led to green by Paige Whittemore and Scott Weston. After the first 12 rows drove side-by-side from the onset, Patrick Tibbets shot the gap between Weston and Todd Raymo but went swirly on the front stretch, coming to a stop broadside to the field on lap 10. Whittemore and Cam Powers would fight on the restart with Powers coming out on top by just a bumper cover on lap 11 before Paige took back the lead by an equal amount on laps 12 and 13.
Another major front-stretch caution would come on lap 18 with Christopher Davis slamming his right rear into the Widowmaker and collecting Josh Lovely to add to a disastrous day for the Williamstown driver. In the final moments, Powers held a lead ahead of a trifecta of track champions; Jamie Davis, Jeffrey Martin and Tommy Smith before becoming a first-time winner in the fan-favorite division. Davis would come home second with Martin rounding out the podium.
Flying Tigers were next to take the field with Matt Ballard and Cam Gadue showing the way under the initial green flag. Gadue would quickly take the lead and make distance his tool of the trade. Unknown to him, Rich Lowrey was making moves to escape the pack and closing in on Gadue’s bumper by the halfway point. Lowrey would take the lead on lap 24 before the first caution for Cooper French stopped on the field go-kart track. Lowrey would lead on the restart while the battle for third went white-hot between Kevin Streeter, Sam Caron and Jason Pelkey. With just inches to spare Kevin Streeter would get the fender ahead for third following Colin Cornell and Rich Lowrey to victory lane.
The Late Models closed out the night with their first 50-lap main event of the Thursday night season. All-time wins leader Phil Scott led Tyler Cahoon and the rest of the field to green with Scott Dragon and Chris Roberts hot on his tail. Dragon would take the lead on lap 10 while defending champion Chris Pelkey powered along the outside groove as he moved through the top-10 leaving point leader Cody Blake mired in traffic. The only yellow flag would wave on lap 27 with the No. 27VT of Kyle Pembroke and Cooper Bouchard going in the spin-cycle off turn two.
Dragon would lead the restart over Roberts with Marcel Gravel attempting to bonsai his way into second to no avail. In the final circuits it came down to a bitter side-by-side battle between Gravel and Pelkey with a last-second dash at the line deciding their fate. Scott Dragon would take a dominant win to claim his first of the season followed by Chris Roberts and Marcel Gravel by just 0.040-seconds over Chris Pelkey to join the podium.
Action returns to the Thunder Road highbanks on Thursday, June 22, for Community College of Vermont Night. Along with the Late Models, Flying Tigers and Street Stocks, the Marvin Johnson Memorial Race for Street Stock first-time winners will also return.
Thursday, June 15, 2023
3. 86VT, Marcel J. Gravel, Wolcott
19. 01VT, Stephen Martin, Craftsbury Common
Flying Tigers – (40 Laps)
20. 5VT, Tyler Austin, East Calais
26. 22VT, Travis Patnoe, Wolcott
Street Stocks – (25 Laps)
15. 34, Patrick Tibbetts, Plainfield
25. 5, Kyle Gravel, Wolcott