BARRE — The Tiger Sportsman division is traditionally the one that puts on the best races at Thunder Road. In its first incarnation as the Flying Tiger class in the 1960s, fans packed the grandstands every week and celebrated locals as living legends. In the 1980s the division brought Thunder Road back from bankruptcy and into the national spotlight. Tiger drivers from the 1990s are now winning American-Canadian Tour races across the northeast, and the mix of veterans and youngsters in the division over the last decade has been a racy, fun group to watch.

Until this year, that is.

More cars leave the race track on a tow truck each night, and drivers are getting fed up with each other. So is Tom Curley.

After three wrecks in the first three laps of Thursday’s 35-lap, double-points Times Argus Mid-Season Championship event, race director Curley pulled all 26 cars off the track and parked them on pit road. He then ran the Street Stock and Junkyard Warrior combined feature — nicknamed the “Crunch Bunch” for its penchant to stack cars against the wall or send them barrel-rolling through the infield — and that group promptly ran a competitive and entertaining 25-lap race.

With no crashes.

Upon return to the track, the Tigers ran 24 green flag laps before a mistake by rookie Mike Martin planted Matt Potter in the wall hard while the two jockeyed for fourth place. It wasn’t the first bad race the division has thrown off this year, either.

Two weeks ago, the four-race American-Canadian Tour Tiger Sportsman Series ran a 100-lap event at Thunder Road. The race was marred by nine cautions and took an hour and twenty minutes to complete. On lap 43, Barre driver Scott Coburn — the race leader — was wrecked on the frontstretch in a massive pileup. Coburn’s car was damaged so badly he has yet to return.

Thursday winner Eric Badore of Milton says the races are missing patience.

“It seems like a lot of impatient drivers out there trying to win the race on the first lap. That ain’t the key,” Badore said. “You’ve got to be patient and let things feather out a little bit, and when you have the space to go, you go. They’ve been rough this year. Last year it was a little rough, but it’s not as bad as this year.”

Tom Therrien of Hinesburg finished fourth, but was involved in an early crash that tore most of the bodywork off the right side of his car.

“I don’t know what’s going on, it’s getting pretty rough out there though,” Therrien said. “Tonight we got frustrated. Three laps into it and the whole right side of my car is ripped right off, and we’ve got the front end ripped off a couple times [this year], too.”

Potter has been a consistent front runner this season, but has seen perhaps more bad luck than anyone else in the division. In addition to his Thursday night crash, he was spun out of the top five late in the 100-lap event on July 1.

“People are just driving over their heads,” the Marshfield racer said. “[The damage] is not too bad, just a bunch of bolt-on stuff and the suspension, but it’s double points night, and now I’m just gonna be buried. It’s just frustrating the way this year is going.”

Thursday night runner-up David Finck, a veteran of more than a dozen years in the Tiger Sportsman division, showed a much-needed moment of restraint after he bumped Tucker Williams at the front of the pack.

“I felt bad about getting into Tucker there going into turn three and that was obviously totally by accident,” said Finck, who slowed to allow Williams to regain control. “I figured I knew the consequences if I didn’t let him gather it back up to get by him.”

Finck, of Barre, thinks part of the lack of patience and respect is because most drivers and teams have lost a personal connection to their equipment. Many teams pay to outsource chassis building and repairs to fabrication shops, whereas ten years ago most cars were hand-built and fixed in the garage at home. The fact that those teams don’t have to fix their own equipment may have changed the way drivers feel about taking care of their cars and each other.

“If you want my honest opinion, this car I built from scratch, and nobody is left that builds these cars [themselves] anymore,” said Finck. “This thing is almost a part of me. I work on it so much that I’m not gonna beat it up to get to the front. Your first option here always used to be try and pass the guy on the outside, [but] nobody wants to settle, they want to beat their way around. Some nights you just have to settle in behind somebody and follow them. Just work on your car the next week and make it better.”

Potter and Finck both said that racers in the division spend time talking to each in the pits, and some drivers try to help their fellow competitors with advice on the track, but sometimes it doesn’t work.

“I’ve been in that position where I’ve been moving back and somebody’s not lifted for me ten years ago and now I try to do it for the new guys and teach them how it’s supposed to be done,” said Finck. “I can think of two guys right off the top of my head that didn’t necessarily build their cars but they drive with respect out there, they’re true Thunder Road racers. It’s Jimmy Hebert and Tony Rossi, both of them. They both aren’t mechanics, but they’re each a hell of a driver. I have a lot of respect for them and they respect me back. There’s a group of us that can do it right out here.”

In the mean time, the Tiger Sportsman division has a week to ponder its fate. Everyone agreed that next week’s driver meeting will likely be a one-way conversation, with Tom Curley doing the talking.

“I don’t think it’s gonna be very pretty,” said Therrien. “No, he’s gonna have a few words with us.”

PHOTOS:
1. Dave Pembroke’s Tiger Sportsman car was destroyed at Thunder Road on July 1. His wreck was not the only one in the division this year. (Leif Tillotson photo)