August 18, 2019
Thunder Road Speedbowl knows how to put on a race show
From the time my daughter moved to Huntington, Vermont 5 or 6 years ago, I have made it a point to get to the Thursday night races at Thunder Road Speedbowl in Barre. I was at a couple of races before the quarter-mile 18 degree banked track, founded in 1960 by Ken Squier, was sold in 2017 to former track champion and more recent the Race Director Cris Michaud and area businessman Pat Malone.
When I first went to the track, it was showing its age with old pavement, out of date sound system, and inadequate lights. The typical squawking birds who predict gloom and doom when change comes about said the track would be going downhill in response to the sale.
I only get to the track once per year and certainly am in no position to determine the weekly atmosphere at the track. Judging by the attendance estimated to be around 3000 for a regular Thursday night race, I would say someone is doing something correct.
A new concrete wall was built around the 1/4 mile high-banked track. I asked for reaction to the wall from several fans and racers. The fans seemed to agree that the wall has not deterred the excitement and has not been the car destroyer it was predicted to be. Some cars had hit the wall during the season resulting in work on the chassis and sheet metal. Most of those damaged cars were getting back for season ending races resulting in higher car numbers.
Some drivers said that car counts were lower as a result yet each stated the wall required them to sharpen their race skills and was not a huge factor in the safety of the facility. The Late Model class had 16 race cars with 15 taking the green for the 50 lap feature.
Flying Tigers started 25 cars, the Street Stocks had 22 and the Road Warriors 18 for this regular show. Ninety one cars is something many tracks would love to have at their track.
Scott Dragon, Milton, Vermont,, driver of the # 16 Late Model stated, “The car count is down a little bit for this show. We typically will have 25 Late Models. Some of the guys are getting their cars ready after crash damage or other problems. They will be ready for the end of the year races.”
I had to try the track’s most frequently asked for food from the concessions stands (which were very clean, organized and quick). For $8 I got the “Widow Maker” a pulled pork basket with barbecue sauce, french fries and cheese drizzled over them. I deemed it worth the price and quite tasty.
You never know who you will meet at the track. On this particular evening, one of Maine’s premier writer/promoters, Phil Whipple was present. He spoke about the great show put on by track management which was over in a three-hour window that successful track owners swear by.
Phil is writing much of the pre-race material for this year’s edition of the Oxford 250 next weekend. Oxford 250 and Speed51 announced that day pay-per-view once again will be offered by Speed51.com with Saturday viewing $29.99 or Sunday only for $35.99 or two-day pass for $59.99.
One of the legends of motorsports, former Thunder Road Speedbowl owner Ken Squier was on hand to do some announcing. We talked briefly and he seemed to remember me from my Bangor Daily News and Spud Speedway connection. Squier worked for CBS and TBS as a play-by-play race commentator.
Squier also co-founded Motor Racing Network (MRN), owns three Vermont radio stations (WDEV, WLVB, and WCVT), and was the founder of the American Canadian Tour (ACT).
Nick Sweet on home turf
When Nick Sweet, Barre, Vermont pulled into Spud Speedway for the Firecracker 200 August 4th, I related my feeling to him that he was considered one of the favorites to win that race. He looked at me with a surprised facial expression. He had never been at the Caribou track and was not sure that his performance would match my prediction.
He went on to dominate the first 60 plus laps until a caution bunched the pack which allowed DJ Shaw to pass Sweet and win the race Sweet would finish second.
I told Sweet at the time I would be at his home track, Thunder Road Speedbowl in a couple of weeks while visiting my grandkids in Vermont. He insisted that I look him up which I did.
Nick Sweet is a professional fulltime racer working for Eric Chase as driver and mechanic on their fleet od PASS and ACT race cars. The race shop is literally about 2 minutes from Thunder Road Speedbowl.
Sweet was born and raised in Barre where he lives with his wife and three children. He races in the PASS series, where he won the pre-qualifier race at Oxford Plains Speedway August 11, the Honey Badger Bar & Grill 150 ensuring him a provisional for the big race August 25th.
When asked about his experience at Spud Speedway for the Aroostook Savings and Loan Firecracker 200 Sweet replied, “They were really good accommodating people. That was a great event. It was a lot of fun and I hope to get to go back there next year”.
I asked about his background to which he said, ” I grew up in a family that was not wealthy by any means. We are just a blue-collar working family.”
“I remember I had people tell me, ‘You’re not going to be able to do that! You’re not going to be able to race, you can’t afford it.'”
“I was like that ‘little steam engine that could’. I just kept pushing forward. Before you know it I had a race car. ”
It’s funny how when you are positive, you do the best you can, and work at it, doors are going to open that you never thought would open. They have for me. Anytime you get in a race car it is a ton of fun. Every day for me is like a dream come true”
“In this case here (working full-time on race cars for Eric Chase), I am very fortunate I can be a part of this. As long as doors keep opening that is key.”
The 34-year-old husband and father of three children looked ahead at the Oxford 250 commenting, “As long as the car is right where it was when we left August 11th we will be fine. One of the Oxford promoters asked me the other night, ‘Do you want to put that in storage here and put a blanket on it? We could do that'”.
“I almost took him up on it. We’ve got a little general maintenance to do to it just so it will go 250 laps. I am looking forward to that race.”
Sweet’s eleven year old son Isaac has been competing in the Tuesday Night Thunder Karts Series for the last four years. “Isaac is a 6th grader at Barre City Middle School. He plays hockey in the winter so we are a hockey family then and a racing family during the summer months”.
Messer wins Fan Appreciation Night as tune up for 250
Crew chief Robb Messer’s thoughts for the race, “We wanted to run this event as a tune up for the McLaughlin Roof Trusses 250. We were able to buy 2 tires, so we put right sides on.”
“The car had really good speed on our practice tires, but did not have the balance we were looking for on race tires, until we made a significant change during the last practice and found what we needed.”
“Ryan started outside pole in his heat race and was able to drive to the win. That put him starting outside pole in the feature where he battled fellow teenager Ashton Tucker for the early laps. Ryan was able to clear Ashton shortly after a restart and cruised to win by a pretty good margin.”
“We’re really looking forward to the 250. We feel we have a good piece and hope to be racing for the win.”
Wyatt Alexander Racing get ready for New Brunswick’s biggest stock car race
Wyatt posted on Facebook, “Had a great day. It was just myself, my dad, and my Gramp that made the venture today. We had our act together pretty well though.”
“Second time I’ve ever seen the place and first time with our CRF weapon. One of the fastest cars in practice. Got hung up in traffic in our heat race.”
“Started the feature 7th of 15 and brought it home 4th without a mark on the car. We were a little tight in the heat race so we intentionally made what I consider pretty big swings on both ends of the car to build a bit of a notebook for the 250 in a couple of weeks. Ended up being too free on the long run but we know what to do now.”
“I think we have a stout piece for when we come back. Congrats to Ryan Messer, Steve Halpin, and Brent Roy on their respective podium finishes. Shows well for us when we are up against guys who have been around 660 a time or two. Thanks to everyone at 660, officials and competitors alike for being more than welcoming. Can’t wait to come back! Had fun at the fan fest as well.”
Top five at Speedway 660 Fan Appreciation Night 50 lap feature
- Ryan Messer, Harvey, New Brunswick (NB)
- Steve Halpin, Saint John, NB
- Brent Roy, Hanwell, NB
- Wyatt Alexander, Ellsworth, Maine
- John Rankin, St. Martins, NB
Preview of up and coming episodes:
Holler Customs Jurassic Park themed creation
Inside tour of Vermont Sports Cars, Milton, Vermont
Let’s Go Racing
Soli Deo Gloria (Matthew 5:16)