The 16th annual Merchants Bank 150 opening event at Thunder Road in Barre, Vermont offers a big advantage for the hometown ACT Late Model race teams. The high banks and famous fourth turn “widow maker” have proven to be major obstacles for generations of “outsiders”. Not so for the regular Thunder Road graduates.
The opening event on the Tour, held at Lee USA earlier this month, was highlighted by some outstanding performances from Thunder Road alumni, including Emily Packard from East Montpelier, VT. In just her second year of tour racing, the 17 year-old Packard had an impressive two days of racing at Lee USA. Likewise, Rookie of the Year contender Mike Ziter from Williamstown, VT, in his first ever ACT event, was steady throughout the highly competitive 150-lap event won with a late race charge by Rowley, MA veteran Eddie MacDonald.
Two former Thunder Road Tiger Champions, Jimmy Hebert, the 2013 defending Champion at Lee, also of Williamstown, VT, and Bobby Therrien from Hinesburg, VT both ended up with solid top ten finishes at the Lee opener. In fact, Hebert struggled in qualifying and started the event dead last, 30th in the field. He charged to a solid 6th place finish.
The changing of the old guard was evident at the opening race for ACT two weeks ago.
What has been stable for over twenty years in Late Model racing are the highly competitive events produced by the 55 year-old “Nation’s Site of Excitement”, Thunder Road. Tour teams should be ready to face tough competition from the veterans as well. Seven former “King of the Road” champions will attend the Merchants Bank opening event, including Phil Scott, Nick Sweet, David Pembroke, Jamie Fisher, Brian Hoar, Dave Whitcomb and 2013 defending Champion and also 2013 Late Model Rookie of the Year, Derrick O’Donnell, from Bradford, VT.
“I like to think of Thunder Road as kind of a barometer of where my racing has come from and is headed,” said Ben Lynch, another of the young rising stars in ACT from Charlotte, NC. “The challenge becomes enormous for small teams like ours. We have to figure out the unique track, race lots of really skilled weekly teams, and since we are running for points for the ACT title, also be aware of the ACT contenders like Joey Pole (Polewarczyk, Hudson, NH), Ray Parent (Tiverton, RI). No question it is pressure packed,” concluded Lynch.
The ACT Merchants Bank 150 season opener at Thunder Road in Barre, VT will open its 55th year of stock car racing with the annual Barre Car Show in downtown Barre on Saturday, April 26, 2014. A full afternoon of practice will follow after the popular race car parade from downtown up Quarry Hill to the race track. Sunday will open with the traditional Class Day celebration with all cars on parade beginning at 1:00. Qualifying for the 16th annual Merchants Bank 150 will begin at 1:30 on Sunday, April 27, 2014.