Now we’re finally getting somewhere. The stock car racing season is starting to really click, and Thursday night’s event at Thunder Road marks the true start to summer in Vermont.
Yes, of course I know that the weekly schedule opened up last Friday, but the fun really starts with the first Thursday night race. Nothing tops tradition, of course.
Hot take: Trampas Demers will win the Late Model championship. It’s early, but there is little evidence that will convince me, at least at this moment, that the South Burlington veteran won’t be the King of the Road at the end of the summer.
Don’t misunderstand me, Jason Corliss, Scott Dragon, Cody Blake and Kyle Pembroke are not to be taken lightly.
Corliss has the enthusiasm of car owner Chris Burnett, the firepower from crew chief Andrew Hill, and the confidence of five big wins in the last 12 months. Dragon has the resources from car owner Richard Green, the experience from driver-mechanic-fabricator extraordinaire Joey Becker, and the proof of a 2016 championship. Blake and Pembroke each have a strong family team and a stout race car, and the wins are starting to pile up.
They’re each as fast as Demers and — if the past predicts the future — they will likely win more races. Demers’ consistency is the killer, though. His car is set up perfectly every week with Rick Paya calling the shots, and Demers has refined his skills behind the wheel more in the last three years than in the dozen years before that. Nobody earned more points in feature races last year than Demers, and nobody is off to a better overall start this season. He’s not only ready for a championship, he’s overdue.
Maybe I’ll eat crow on Aug. 23 if someone else wins the title, but at this point I don’t see that happening.
— Speaking of Paya, his other driver, Scott Payea, is headed to New London-Waterford Speedbowl on the Connecticut coast this Saturday with the potential to cut the American-Canadian Tour point standings wide open. The ACT schedule reaches the halfway point on Saturday and Payea’s 31-point lead looms large over would-be title contenders Eddie MacDonald and Jimmy Hebert, who each had a forgettable outing at Speedway 51 two weeks ago.
— Sixteen-year-old Travis Billington, of South Glens Falls, New York, has been almost perfect at Devil’s Bowl Speedway so far, winning three of four races in the Limited Sportsman modified division and finishing second in the other event. He won on Wednesday and Sunday last week.
— “Super” Matt Sheppard, of Waterloo, New York, scored his 16th dirt Modified win of the season Tuesday night at Albany-Saratoga Speedway, winning the inaugural “The Tribute” event dedicated to legendary Modified drivers C.D. Coville and Jack Johnson. He won 41 main events last year and is headed toward another run for the record books.
— Tyler Leary, of Hatfield, Massachusetts, is brewing up another special season at Monadnock Speedway. The Super Stock driver scored six wins at the New Hampshire track last year and already has four in the bank this season.
The American-Canadian Tour is creeping up on its 300th championship-counting event for the ACT Late Model Tour division. With 295 races run since 1992, the 300th is scheduled to be — appropriately enough — the Coca-Cola Labor Day Classic 200 at Thunder Road on Sept. 2.
The present-day Late Models were created as an outgrowth of the Flying Tiger division that ran from 1982-91, and were a support class to the ACT Pro Stock Tour through 1995. Norm Andrews won the first ACT Late Model Tour race — then known as the Late Model Sportsman International Series — at Sanair Super Speedway on April 26, 1992, and Dave Whitcomb was the inaugural champion.
Brian Hoar holds the records for most wins (42) and championships (eight). Patrick Laperle won his 19th ACT race at Speedway 51 two weeks ago, entering into a three-way tie for second on the all-time victory list with Jean-Paul Cyr and Joey Polewarczyk Jr. Scott Payea has 14 wins to rank fifth, followed by Wayne Helliwell Jr. (11), Eddie MacDonald (10), Brent Dragon and Phil Scott (nine each), and Nick Sweet (seven).
Cyr has seven championships to his credit and Helliwell has three. Drivers who have each won one championship are Whitcomb, Lance Ferno, Pete Fecteau, Scott, Laperle, Polewarczyk, Sweet and Payea.
Bear Ridge Speedway – Bradford
LAST WEEK: Will Hull, of Plainfield, won Saturday’s Sprint Cars of New England feature with Walt Hammond Jr., of Canaan, New Hampshire, topping the DIRTcar Sportsman Modifieds. Kelly Miller, of Johnson, was a first-time Limited Late Model winner, and Jesse Durkee, of South Royalton, won the Four Cylinder race. Zach Herbert and Eric Relation won the Granite State Mini Sprint features.
THIS WEEK: Racing is Saturday at 6 p.m. with the Wingless Auto Club sprint cars, the USAC Dirt Midget Association and the Atlantic Coast Old Timers joining the weekly divisions.
Devil’s Bowl Speedway – West Haven
LAST WEEK: On Wednesday, Bobby Varin, of Fonda, New York, won the King of Dirt Racing Small Block 358 Modified race and Billington won the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Limited Sportsman feature. Chris Murray, of Fair Haven, won the Super Stocks and Mike Lique, of Lebanon, New Hampshire, beat the Mini Stocks. On Sunday, Kenny Tremont Jr., of West Sand Lake, New York, won the Sportsman Modified race for the second straight week, and Billington won again in the Limited Sportsman feature. The Super Stock feature went to West Rutland’s Scott Fitzgerald and Jason Porter, of Freeport, Maine, won the Mini Stock race. Brandon Emerson, of Williamstown, won the 500cc Mini Sprint race and Evan Roberts, of Fletcher, took the season’s first Bandit Youth Mini Stock race.
THIS WEEK: Racing is Sunday at 6 p.m. with all weekly divisions in action.
Thunder Road Int’l Speedbowl – Barre
LAST WEEK: Brooks Clark, of Fayston, won the Late Model feature Friday night for his first win in five years. Rookie Brandon Lanphear, of Morrisville, took the 75-lap Myers Container Service Triple Crown Series race for the Flying Tigers, and Jamie Davis of Wolcott won the Street Stock feature.
THIS WEEK: The weekly Thursday night racing schedule begins Thursday at 7 p.m., with the Road Warriors and the New England Antique Racers joining the regular divisions.
Airborne Park Speedway – Plattsburgh, New York
LAST WEEK: Matt Woodruff won Saturday’s DIRTcar 358 Modified race and Ricky Thompson won the Sportsman Modified feature.
THIS WEEK: Racing is at 6 p.m. on Saturday with all weekly divisions.
Albany-Saratoga Speedway – Malta, New York
LAST WEEK: Brett Hearn won Friday’s DIRTcar Modified feature and Joey Scarborough, of Brandon, won the Mark Hughes Memorial for Sportsman Modifieds. Sheppard won “The Tribute” event on Tuesday night and Pro Stock driver Kim Duell won his 50th career feature.
THIS WEEK: Racing is Friday at 7 p.m. with all weekly divisions and double features for Street Stocks.
Claremont Speedway – Claremont, New Hampshire
LAST WEEK: Aaron Fellows won Friday’s Super Street race, David Greenslit won the Street Stock race for the second week in a row, and Windsor’s Josh Rondeau won his third Wildcat race of the year.
THIS WEEK: Racing is Friday at 7 p.m. with all three weekly classes and the New England Antique Racers.
Lebanon Valley Speedway – West Lebanon, New York
LAST WEEK: Brett Hearn won Saturday’s “J.C. Flach Memorial” Big Block Modified feature and J.R. Heffner won the Small Block Modified race.
THIS WEEK: Racing is Saturday at 7 p.m. with the Bubba Tanner Memorial Pro Stock event.
Legion Speedway – Rumney, New Hampshire
LAST WEEK: Todd Buckwold won Friday’s Sportsman Modified race and Mark Cole won the Wingless Auto Club sprint car feature.
THIS WEEK: Racing is Friday at 7 p.m. with the Sprint Cars of New England and the Granite State Mini Sprints joining the weekly divisions.
Monadnock Speedway – Winchester, New Hampshire
LAST WEEK: Geoff Rollins won Saturday’s NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Sportsman Modified race and Tyler Leary topped the Super Stocks.
THIS WEEK: Racing is Saturday at 6 p.m. with weekly divisions in action.
Speedway 51 – Groveton, New Hampshire
LAST WEEK: Craig Bushey, of Cambridge, won Saturday’s Late Model race and Kevin Boutin, of Swanton, won the Tiger Sportsman race. Greg Adams Jr., of Hardwick, won the Street Stock feature and Jesse Dunham, of Fairlee, topped the Daredevils.
THIS WEEK: Racing is Saturday at 6 p.m. with all weekly divisions in action.
White Mountain Motorsports Park – North Woodstock, New Hampshire
LAST WEEK: Graniteville’s Stephen Donahue won his second straight Late Model feature on Saturday, and his father John Donahue topped the Tigers.
THIS WEEK: Racing is Saturday at 6 p.m. with weekly divisions.
Justin St. Louis is a motorsports journalist, publicist, broadcaster, historian, and former driver. Email: email@example.com Twitter: @Justin_StLouis