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Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl News

Good Night, Sweet King: Nick Sweet Steals Thunder Road Title

- Justin St. Louis on 27 Aug 2010

Nick Sweet and team celebrate their 2010 Thunder Road track championship on Thursday. (Justin St. Louis/VMM photo)PHOTO: Nick Sweet and team celebrate their 2010 Thunder Road track championship on Thursday. (Justin St. Louis/VMM photo)

Nick Sweet had a good feeling about Thursday. He clicked off three consecutive practice laps faster than the speed he posted to win the pole position at the Milk Bowl last September.

At around 5:00pm, he smiled and said, “If we don’t get destroyed it’s gonna be a good night.”

Nick Sweet and Thunder Road promoter Tom Curley share a light moment during afternoon practice. (Justin St. Louis/VMM photo)The hometown driver, 25, had a chance to win his first Late Model “King of the Road” championship at Thunder Road. He entered the Aubuchon Hardware season finale just two points behind Dave Pembroke and six points ahead of Phil Scott, both drivers he grew up in the grandstands watching and admiring.

On lap three of his qualifying heat, Sweet narrowly avoided the destruction he feared, as Joey Becker and Nate Brown came together on the frontstretch. Sweet jammed on his brakes to keep from slamming into Brown’s spinning car, missing what would have been a grinding, smoking crash by less than six inches.

“I had all four wheels locked up,” Sweet said. “I was just thinking ‘No, no, no.’”

As the field regrouped, so did Sweet, cruising to the win and picked up 14 points. Pembroke and Scott, meanwhile, weren’t so lucky; Pembroke was blocked by traffic in his qualifier and finished fifth, earning only four points, and Scott battled handling woes to finish sixth for just two points.

Suddenly Sweet found himself with an eight-point advantage over Pembroke heading into the 75-lap main event, and for the first time all season, in the point lead.

He would never relinquish it.

The championship trio started together in the 12th, 13th, and 14th positions. Sweet and Pembroke drove through traffic together as Scott continued to struggle. By lap 15, it became apparent that Sweet and Pembroke would decide the title among themselves. By halfway Sweet had cracked the top five with Pembroke on his tail.

Pembroke nosed ahead on lap 44 to take third place away from Sweet, then went to work on leader John Donahue as Sweet battled Grant Folsom. With five laps remaining, Pembroke made a bid on the outside lane for the win -- and ultimately the championship -- but Donahue was just a tick faster. Sweet had made his way past Folsom and settled in for third place.

The laps counted down -- four to go, three, two -- and as the checkers waved, Sweet knew what he’d accomplished.

“When I saw that white flag I think I started talking to myself the whole lap,” said Sweet. “I was like, ‘Come on, come on, lift, get back on it.’”

Then, finally, the end of the race. Sweet keyed the radio to his spotter, younger brother Nathan.

“When I saw that checkered flag I was like, ‘You know what, Nathan, I think we just won a championship.’”

Nick Sweet didn’t get destroyed. It was a good night.

The championship put an exclamation point on a meteoric rise to regional prominence for Sweet and his family team; just seven years ago they built their first race car, a four-cylinder Street Stock. A then-seventeen year-old Sweet instantly showed he had a driving talent, finishing second in points in each of his two Street Stock seasons.

A move up to the Tiger Sportsman division in 2005 brought wins at four tracks and another runner-up finish for the Thunder Road championship. He was dominant by the third Tiger season, easily winning the title.

With new sponsorship from the Saint J Auto dealership group, Sweet ran a full season on the American-Canadian Tour in 2008, winning the Rookie of the Year title -- his third freshman crown in six seasons. He returned home to Thunder Road last year and picked up his first Late Model win, then finished second in the first-ever ACT event at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway mile.

While closely chasing Pembroke for the championship this summer, Sweet scored an ACT win and the Vermont Governor’s Cup, stealing the title on the final night by only six points.

Along the way Sweet has become one of the major drawing cards at Thunder Road, through either his status as a hometown boy, his penchant for winning, or the success story he’s built from the ground up in less than a decade’s time. A packed house of fans cheered loudly for Sweet as he was crowned their new champion in victory lane.

“When I first started racing, I built a car to go do circles and have a good time. I never thought it would ever escalate to this,” Sweet said. “This is just amazing. It’s beyond a dream come true, it’s one of the best moments of my life. The fans that come here are great. This place erupted. I was like, ‘Man, I’m Tony Stewart tonight.’ It was such a neat deal. They were great and they’re great people. We had a good time.”

Nick Sweet (center) is congratulated by championship runner-up Dave Pembroke (right) and Thunder Road VP/GM Darla Hartt. (Justin St. Louis/VMM photo)As has become customary, Sweet deflected most of the accolades away from himself and praised his team, led by his father, Shayne. He was also quick to thank Pembroke for a fair fight, passing out celebratory beers to various Pembroke team members as they came over to shake Sweet’s hand.

“We’ve had a lot of success very, very fast and I give a lot of that credit to my father and my guys. It’s just all the hard work everybody puts in,” Sweet said. “I am one of the most fortunate kids up here. A lot of these teams, they pay people [to work on their cars]. I am very, very fortunate to have what I have. I feel like a spoiled little brat when it comes to that. I almost get stuff handed to me in a way. Mike Buzzi lets me keep the race car in his shop for free. My dad does all this labor for free. I go down and do all this stuff and I’ve actually learned a lot this year from my dad. It’s been a really, really good experience and it keeps getting better. We’ve grown as a team. The first year [of Late Models], we were good, but we weren’t as good as what we are now. This is huge. It’s quite an experience. These Pembroke guys are phenomenal guys, too. It was just so cool.”

Sweet was in awe of being on a list of track champions that includes names like Jean-Paul Cabana, Bobby Dragon, and Dave Dion, but said that one of the biggest highlights has been receiving the support of his former competitors in the lower divisions, particularly the Street Stocks.

“I usually say championships don’t matter, but this one really counted. This one, man, it just hit home,” said Sweet. “I feel like a kid in a candy shop right now, just walking around. And just to think, I got to race against people like Aaron Maynard, and it’s neat to still be friends with all those guys, too, like Weiner [Billy Hennequin]. Heck, Tommy Thunder [Smith] even came up to me tonight and said, ‘I hope you win it.’”

Sweet became anxious in the middle of his interview as the pit gates opened, noticing a throng of drivers and crew members eager to congratulate him. Track owner Ken Squier sauntered over asking for a beer. A swarm of children and parents stood five rows deep near Sweet’s car just hoping to meet the new King of the Road.

“I better get out there,” Sweet said with a smile. And with that, the new King was off to see his people.

Nick Sweet thought it was going to be a good night. He was right.

1. Nick Sweet and team celebrate their 2010 Thunder Road track championship on Thursday. (Justin St. Louis/VMM photo)
2. Nick Sweet (right) and Thunder Road promoter Tom Curley share a light moment during afternoon practice. (Justin St. Louis/VMM photo)
3. Nick Sweet (center) is congratulated by championship runner-up Dave Pembroke (right) and Thunder Road VP/GM Darla Hartt. (Justin St. Louis/VMM photo)

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