PHOTO: Thunder Road’s annual Merchants Bank 150 weekend is full of pomp and circumstance, and is the official end of winter in Vermont. (Leif Tilloston photo)

-by Justin St. Louis
VMM Editor

It’s hard to sit here in 70-degree weather in the middle of the week and not be at the race track at this very moment. Thunder Road will open this weekend, rest assured, but the closer Sunday gets the further away it feels.

You don’t need me to tell you that it was a hard winter. You also don’t need me to tell you that the best cure for it is hearing race cars whir around Quarry Hill for the first time.

The Merchants Bank 150 — and racing in the Green Mountains — gets under way at 1:00 on Sunday afternoon. We’ll see you there.


Last Friday night was a big test for the Champlain Valley Racing Association. A year after taking a huge risk in switching from its famous dirt surfaces to asphalt at its Albany-Saratoga and Devil’s Bowl speedways, the organization began another new chapter under NASCAR sanction as part of the Whelen All-American Series.

In reality, not much about the two tracks has changed except for the NASCAR signage and the year-end payouts guaranteed by the sanctioning body. It’s the same people running the show day-to-day, and for the most part, the same drivers and cars on the tracks.

The name “NASCAR” has brought a lot of positive attention to the CVRA tracks, and almost everyone expects the crate-engine Modified division — this year’s top class, known previously as Sportsman Modifieds or Budget Sportsmen — to eventually average more entries than it did last season.

But the 358-Modified division — CVRA’s flagship class for a quarter-century — is gone. While it’s not as big a loss on Vermont side (there were only eight teams that showed up consistently last year), Albany-Saratoga had 18-22 cars each week in 2010, with big names like Tremont, Bruno, Scarborough, Vernold, Johnson, Ross, Ryan, Gonyo, and more. There will almost certainly be a negative impact, in both the short-term and permanently, felt by their void. Even as Devil’s Bowl struggled to draw double-digits last year, most of those big names still showed up.

It’s an interesting mix of positive additions and potentially disastrous changes. The Richards family has a lot to prove this year. While they may not have to hit a grand slam every game, they certainly need to get on base and drive in a few runs every now and then.

Last Friday’s opener at Albany-Saratoga was a bit of a head-scratcher. The two top divisions, the NASCAR Modifieds and the Pro Late Models, drew fifteen cars each — lower than expected — but produced close racing and exciting finishes. But the other three divisions combined to draw just fifteen cars: seven entries in the new INEX Legends division, only five Bomber Warriors, and an outright embarrassing three Renegades, down from an average of about a dozen last year.

There were a number of factors that both fans in the grandstands and track management in the control tower pointed at to blame for the small counts including the cold weather (it was a chilly 48 degrees at post time and snowed overnight in some areas) and the fact that it was Easter weekend. We’ll buy that to a certain extent, but there’s almost no excuse for the two entry-level divisions — the eight-cylinder Renegades and the four-cylinder Bomber Warriors — to not even draw a half-dozen cars.

We’re pretty good at guessing crowd size, and we’ll guess that between 800 and 1,000 fans showed up to support the show in spite of the weather and the holiday. They were decidedly enthusiastic and cheered loudly for every race winner. The “fun bus” was packed with kids on every trip it took around the speedway, there were ticket-buying fans from every age demographic, and the concession stands were busy all night.

So how is it that an organization that is clearly doing something right at the front gate get it so wrong at the back gate?

The CVRA is an intriguing entity, and a necessary one for this region. Rest assured, Vermont Motorsports Magazine isn’t afraid to criticize a track or organization; Friday night was not one of the times where criticism was needed, but we’re certainly a little confused and we’re looking forward to what’s ahead, whether good or bad.


VMM will try to be everywhere this weekend, just for you! BFR Chassis presents a three-day extravaganza from Albany-Saratoga Speedway on Friday, Thunder Road’s car show and the Valenti Modified Racing Series at Monadnock Speedway on Saturday, and Thunder Road’s Merchants Bank 150 for the American-Canadian Tour on Sunday.

T.J. Ingerson, Ricky St. Clair, and yours truly will handle the action here at VMM, and we plan to debut our CoverItLive software on Sunday at Thunder Road. If all goes well, we’ll use the CoverItLive feature whenever and wherever possible along with the Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube stuff that we hope you’ve grown to love.

We’re excited to have the VMM name on a race car for the first time, too, as Randy Potter will carry decals on his ACT Late Model at Thunder Road. (We wanted to buy the space on the windshield like Fig Newtons did for Ricky Bobby, but ACT Director of Competition Dean Gallison probably wouldn’t care for that, so we’re settling for the rocker panels.)

If you’re thinking about a new chassis or need some fabrication work done, give BFR Chassis a call down in Whately, Massachusetts. Why? Simple: BFR clients have amassed over 500 feature wins and 32 championships since 1995, and Mike O’Sullivan is undefeated so far at Thompson Int’l Speedway with his BFR Late Model in 2011. That’s why.


Note to all drivers, especially those representing big sponsors or coming off a season in which they won a track or series championship: Lay off the message board garbage.

If some internet tough guy says something derogatory about you, just let it roll off your back. Spouting off, making threats, and dropping F-bombs only damages your reputation and those of the companies and the race track you represent.

If I was an average fan looking for racing news and just happened to stumble upon your catfight, I’d avoid you and wherever you race like the plague. I sure as heck wouldn’t let my kids anywhere near any of it, either.

If I was a sponsor, I’d drop you like a hot rock and make you pay back any money I gave you.

And if I was the promoter of the track you race at, I’d fine you or suspend you. Probably both.

Think about that.


The New Hampshire Governor’s Cup 150 two weeks ago was one the better shows that the American-Canadian Tour has thrown off in the last decade. Honestly.

It wasn’t one of those “that was a good race, if you know how to watch a race,” races — it was legitimately entertaining through and through. Congratulations to the series and to Lee USA Speedway on a nice little event.


As you know, Brad Babb’s outstanding run at Lee USA Speedway was soured by a penalty. Babb was dropped from his apparent runner-up finish to ninth place, the last car on the lead lap, as penalty for using a single unapproved tire in the New Hampshire Governor’s Cup 150.

Here’s ACT president Tom Curley in his own words regarding Babb’s penalty, via email last week:

“The penalty for the infraction was actually $1,000.00 (loss of purse money) and position change from 2nd to 9th (loss of points). After investigating the issue thoroughly, ACT issued the penalty based on the facts that we were able to determine took place. The Babb team accepted the penalty and ACT is comfortable with the decision made.

“If [Babb] had won the race, the penalty would in all likelihood have been the same, resulting in loss of more money and more points.

“You can deduce from the above that the same would have happened to [Hoar, had a similar infraction been found], but since he was checked and was 100% in compliance, obviously, we were not required to make any decision regarding the #37 other than congratulations on the win.

“There is no sanctioning body that I know of that has every rule and infraction in black-and-white form. Some infractions, like soaking tires, altering sealed engines or sealed shocks, etc., are pretty definitive in form, but other infractions are handled on a case-by-case basis, although after some 34 years we do have some precedent that establishes certain criteria that we try and use in the best interest of the competitors and the integrity of our organization.”


The Bruins-Canadiens series was, in a word, spectacular. I’m disappointed the Habs lost, sure, but I’m proud that Cris Michaud will be carrying the C proudly on his car this year. Atta boy.

Now all we can hope for is to see Philadelphia curb-stomp Boston like it did last year. Oh, and go Vancouver!


Team Money Hungry leads the VMM Yahoo! NASCAR Fantasy League standings after Talladega. Like the Canadiens, the home team isn’t, uh, doing so hot at the moment. Mitch Fantastic Racing turned in a horrendous score of 223 at ‘Dega to drop three spots in the standings, more than 200 points off the leader.

I told you it would happen.

VMM Yahoo! NASCAR Fantasy League standings after Talladega:
1. Team Money Hungry — 2424
2. essexcadet — 2369
3. Amp It Up 88 — 2317
4. Team MainiACT — 2296
5. MJ Dunn #9 — 2259
6. Maine-e-ACTs — 2249
7. Mitch Fantastic Racing — 2192
8. ACT77MA — 2186
9. laurengoround — 2175
10. Voodoo Child Motorsports — 2159

I’d just like to point out that the person playing under the name “GWCNewEngland” — whomever that is — is 20th overall. Strong work.


RESULTS: Hunter Bates of Pittsford finished eighth in Friday’s NASCAR Modified event at Albany-Saratoga (N.Y.) Speedway, Mendon’s Chris Wilk was the Pro Late Model runner-up, and Steve Millerof Vergennes finished third in the INEX Legends … Steven Legendre of St. Johnsbury led twice before finishing eighth in the Pro All Stars Series South “Easter Bunny 150” at Hickory (N.C.) Motor Speedway on Saturday. Emily Packard of East Montpelier was eighth in the Allison Legacy Series event at Hickory.

THIS WEEKEND: The NASCAR K&N Pro Series East is at Richmond (Va.) Int’l Raceway on Thursday, as is the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown charity race … Albany-Saratoga (N.Y.) Speedway hosts a regular program and a 50-lap Enduro on Friday at 7pm … Glen Ridge (N.Y.) Motorsports Park races on Friday at 7:30pm … Thunder Road Int’l Speedbowl hosts its annual Merchants Bank car show and parade on Main Street in Barre City on Saturday beginning at 9am … Bear Ridge Speedway will hold a car show at Home Depot in West Lebanon, N.H., from 10am-1pm on Saturday … Canaan (N.H.) Fair Speedway’s dirt and asphalt tracks will each host a car show and practice session beginning at 10am on Saturday … The Pro All Stars Series North season begins at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in Scarborough, Me., on Saturday at 3pm. The PASS Super Late Model, Modified, and Sportsman divisions are all in action as well as the NELCAR Legends, Northeast Mini Stock Tour, and the Pro-4 Modifieds of New England … The Valenti Modified Racing Series is at Monadnock (N.H.) Speedway on Saturday for the Bond Auto Spring Dash 100 at 6pm … Thunder Road Int’l Speedbowl in Barre opens its 52nd racing season on Sunday with the ACT Late Model Tour’s Merchants Bank 150 at 1pm.