ACT Late Models Finally Set To Open New Season

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The American-Canadian Tour will finally begin the 2018 season this weekend at Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl. (Alan Ward Photo)

BARRE, Vt. – Less than one week remains before Thunder Road Int’l Speedbowl and the American-Canadian Tour go to the grid to begin the season.

The 20th Community Bank N.A. 150 on Sunday, May 6 will pit the weekly stars of the Maplewood/Irving Late Models against the ACT late model touring standouts as both look to start the year on the right foot.

While the Community Bank N.A. 150 does not count towards the Thunder Road championship chase, many Thursday night regulars have already entered the event. All will look to finally get on track after a long winter and make a statement against the ACT competitors.

“There’s a lot of different things in play when ACT comes to town,” said Kyle Pembroke, a weekly touring regular at Thunder Road. “The biggest thing for me is just the handicap system. With the plus/minus, you have a lot more work to do early on. The first qualifier is just so important – you can’t really make it up later. You also have to deal with some of the drivers who aren’t regulars and don’t really know all the nuances of the track. There’s definitely a lot more things to look out for.”

“The delays have been a setback for some, but for us it’s actually being kind of a blessing,” Pembroke added. “We’ve had some more time to get everything ready and not rush things as much. But mentally, we were ready to race a long time ago!”

In recent years, the Community Bank N.A. 150 has actually favored the ACT invaders. Five of the last six winners have raced almost exclusively on the American-Canadian Tour. The sixth winner, Nick Sweet in 2016, competed full-time with both ACT and Thunder Road that season.

A number of home track drivers could end the ACT dominance. Bobby Therrien, the defending King of the Road, is looking for his first win in the event after a late crash ended his 2017 bid. Former late model track champion Scott Dragon was the winner in 2004 and is always a threat in long-distance features.

Trampas Demers is no stranger to success in big events, having captured the Vermont Governor’s Cup 150 last season. Defending Vermont Milk Bowl Champion Jason Corliss is ready to follow up with another big win. Drivers such as Matt White, Brooks Clark, and Pembroke have all carried multiple checkered flags at Thunder Road.

Plenty of ACT regulars have experienced Thunder Road success. Reigning ACT champion Scott Payea has three Community Bank N.A. 150 wins. Multi-time Vermont Milk Bowl winner Patrick Laperle will pursue his first opening day win. Eddie MacDonald won the 2014 Milk Bowl while Jimmy Hebert was the Lenny’s Shoe & Apparel Flying Tiger champion in 2009. Chip Grenier, Claude Leclerc, Jonathan Bouvrette and Dylan Payea have turned many laps at the track.

The event will also open the second Thunder Road season, and the first for ACT, under the ownership of Cris Michaud and Pat Malone. Their first season at the helm of the Barre track was a success and they are ready to bring even more to the local racing scene in 2018.

“(Cris and Pat) have been putting a lot into Thunder Road, and clearly they’re hoping to get back out of it what they’ve put into it,” Pembroke said. “I think the fans have a lot to be excited about. Just paving the track last year was huge, and there’s been a lot of little things to spruce the place up and hopefully get the fans there every Thursday night.”

The 59th Thunder Road season opener goes to post at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, May 6. The American-Canadian Tour and Maplewood/Irving Late Models will be joined by the Lenny’s Shoe & Apparel Flying Tigers, Allen Lumber Street Stocks, and Burnett Scrap Metals Road Warriors.

Admission is $25 for adults and free for kids age 12 and under. Class Day ceremonies begin at 12:55 p.m.