PHOTO: Hunter Bates (right) celebrates his NASCAR Modified victory with Devil’s Bowl Speedway promoter Jerry Richards on Sunday night. (Justin St. Louis/VMM photo)

WEST HAVEN — Hunter Bates likely didn’t see his victory at Devil’s Bowl Speedway coming on Sunday night. At the very least, he wasn’t sure of it until he took the checkered flag.

Still just 15 years old until July 3, Bates is considered by many to be Vermont’s next big stock car racing star. He was the Champlain Valley Racing Association’s overall Sportsman Modified champion last year, and with four wins and top-five finishes in all but four of his 27 starts was named CVRA’s Driver of the Year.

Bates made a big leap from center-steer, dirt-style Modifieds to offset American-Canadian Tour-type asphalt Late Models in 2011. While running his Late Model on Sundays at Devil’s Bowl and in select events at other tracks, Bates also continues to race his Modified at Devil’s Bowl and Albany-Saratoga Speedway in New York.

Until Sunday, the results with both cars had been disappointing: Just two top-five finishes with the Modified amid power problems, and a host of handling issues with the Late Model after a massive wreck in the car’s debut at Lee, N.H., in April. Sunday, though, the Pittsford racer turned his luck around with a big victory in the 30-lap NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Modified feature at Devil’s Bowl.

Bates started third on the 20-car field and wasted no time going to work on polesitter Frank Hoard, III. Hoard opened the bottom groove twice for Bates, allowing the youngster to take the lead on lap 5. Bates’ No. 9 Donnelly Construction/Bob Howard’s Auto entry rocketed away from the pack, and despite two restarts was never seriously challenged.

Still, after so many disappointments, Bates was only sure of his victory “when I came across the checkered flag.”

“That was it. I never think that I’ve won the race before it’s over. It’s just too close.”

Bates was met in victory lane with raucous applause from the crowd.

“This is huge, it really picks our spirits up quite a bit. It’s good for sponsors and everything,” Bates said.

“We needed a momentum boost,” echoed Marc Bates, Hunter’s father and crew chief. In fact, Hunter finished last nearly a lap down, in the Pro Late Model feature earlier in the evening.

“I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing and try to get more used to that Late Model and keep plugging away with this [Modified],” Hunter Bates said. “Obviously we’ve got a good piece.”

Bates wasn’t the only young racer at the front; 16 year-old Jessey Mueller ran second in just his fifth-ever stock car start. Mueller, of Olmsteadville, N.Y., start fifth and battled with veteran Ron Proctor late in the race for his best finish. Charlton, N.Y., racer Proctor was third, followed by another 16 year-old, Bobby Hackel, and Joe Williams, who had won the two previous events at Devil’s Bowl.

Hoard faded to sixth at the finish. Defending track champion Don Miller battled engine issues to finish seventh, followed by Kevin Wright, Alex Bell, and Jake Zakrzewski.

Chris Wilk of Mendon led flag to flag in the 20-lap Pro Late Model race. David Emigh of Ballston Spa, N.Y., was second ahead of Kevin Elliott, Randy Miller, and Bates.

Defending Renegade champion Frank Monroe of Granville, N.Y., picked up his first victory of the season after an early battle with three-time winner Bill Duprey of Hydeville. Mark “Rowdy” Burch, Jeremy Jones, and Matt Livingston rounded out the top five finishers.

Mark Lindblade of Hadley, N.Y., held off a last-lap charge from Fair Haven’s Eddie Bruno to take his first Bomber Warrior victory at Devil’s Bowl. Dan Collins was third after battling Ray Germain late in the 12-lap race. John Lindblade was fifth.

Devil’s Bowl Speedway returns to action on Sunday, June 26 with Veterans’ Night and a demonstration by the RAVE Car Club. The program begins at 6:00pm.

UNOFFICIAL RESULTS — Whelen Engineering Night
Devil’s Bowl Speedway, West Haven, Vt.
Sunday, June 19, 2011


NASCAR Modified (30 laps)
1. Hunter Bates, Pittsford
2. Jessey Mueller, Olmsteadville, N.Y.
3. Ron Proctor, Charlton, N.Y.
4. Bobby Hackel, IV, East Greenbush, N.Y.
5. Joe Williams, Schenectady, N.Y.
6. Frank Hoard, III, Manchester
7. Don Miller, Wells
8. Kevin Wright, Queensbury, N.Y.
9. Alex Bell, Cambridge, N.Y.
10. Jake Zakrzewski, Schuylerville, N.Y.

Pro Late Model (20 laps)
1. Chris Wilk, Mendon
2. David Emigh, Ballston Spa, N.Y.
3. Kevin Elliott, Rutland
4. Randy Miller, Ballston Spa, N.Y.
5. Hunter Bates, Pittsford

Renegade (20 laps)
1. Frank Monroe, Granville, N.Y.
2. Bill Duprey, Hydeville
3. Rowdy Burch, Fort Edward, N.Y.
4. Jeremy Jones, Leicester
5. Matt Livingston, Ganford, N.Y.

Bomber Warrior (12 laps)
1. Mark Lindblade, Hadley, N.Y.
2. Eddie Bruno, Fair Haven
3. Dan Collins, Rennselaer, N.Y.
4. Ray Germain, Bristol
5. John Lindblade, Hadley, N.Y.