PHOTO: Mike ‘Beetle’ Bailey carries the checkered flag after his Ferguson Waterworks win at Barre’s Thunder Road on Thursday. (Alan Ward photo)

BARRE — Few could have predicted the outcome of the Ferguson Waterworks Late Model feature at Thunder Road Int’l Speedbowl on Thursday. Perennial championship contenders Nick Sweet, Phil Scott, and Dave Pembroke started midfield, but had fifty laps to work their way forward. In front of them, top drivers Dave Whitcomb, Joey Becker, Mike Bruno, and Jamie Fisher started inside the top ten.

But none of them would ever play a significant role in the race, other than defending champion Sweet’s lap-14 spin. Instead, a trio of underdogs — Mike “Beetle” Bailey, Brett Wheeler, and Ricky Roberts — stole the show.

Bailey, of South Barre, started on the pole position in his No. 00 Union Mutual of Vermont Insurance/Master Tech Automotive Chevrolet and led every step of the way, at times by as much as eight car lengths. Waterbury veteran Wheeler reeled Bailey in over the final circuits, but was unable to mount a serious challenge. Roberts, returning to the Late Model division on a full-time basis after more than a decade in the Tiger Sportsman class, finished third.

For Bailey, a former Street Stock and Tiger Sportsman champion at Thunder Road and Riverside (N.H.) Speedway, the win was the third of his Late Model career. While his last victory came less than a year ago, it was in the middle of a season that saw him earn as many finishes of 17th or worse (six) as finishes inside the top ten.

“I don’t like the word ‘struggle’ but we have ups and downs,” Bailey said. “This [win] is what you want, this is why we come and do this. We kind of screwed up a little bit on Memorial Day, we corrected them, and they worked tonight.”

Bailey said he’s hopeful that the momentum of the victory carries him into the season. While he may not be concentrating on a championship at this point, he says he knows his team is moving in the right direction.

“I don’t know about being a [championship] spoiler,” Bailey said. “Momentum is key, it always has been. We want to build off this and we want to keep going forward. We’ve got to get [the car] better still. Brett was coming at the end, and you can’t do that. You know, I almost gave it away.”

Another former Riverside champion, Wheeler, returned to Thunder Road competition midway through last season when Hallstrom Motorsports hired him to replace Tony Andrews in the No. 1 Spherion/Army ROTC Chevrolet. Wheeler’s runner-up finish was his best result with the team.

“We’ve got my brother [Troy] on as crew chief and he brings a lot of knowledge to the team, so we’re hoping to get this thing going in the right direction. It’s a good start,” Wheeler said. “It was just tight all night. [Bailey] was getting loose, and if there were a few more laps I might have been able to get him, but we are points racing so second’s not too bad.”

Wheeler says the worn track surface at Thunder Road — which was last paved in 1994 — has affected the racing this season and hurt his chances at catching Bailey. “The outside groove is really bad out there, it’s really hard to pass somebody,” Wheeler said. “I think it’s the track. It’s just getting old. A little pavement would be nice.”

Becker, of Jeffersonville, finished fourth, with Fayston’s Brooks Clark fifth. Bruno, Chip Grenier, Scott, John Donahue, and Pembroke completed the unofficial top ten finishers. Sweet finished 20th.

Sophomore driver Tucker Williams of Hyde Park held off a race-long challenge from Barre’s George May to earn his first career Tiger Sportsman victory. Brendan Moodie, of North Wolcott, finished third. Eric Badore rode the outside lane to nip Mike Ziter for fourth place at the finish.

Ron Gabaree of Barre beat Wolcott’s Jamie Davis in a photo finish for his first Street Stock victory of the year in a race marred by wrecks. Tim Campbell, point leader Nick Pilotte, and Joe Blais completed the top five. Joe Fecteau was taken to Central Vermont Medical Center in Berlin for observation after a wild crash involving Ben Belanger sent Fecteau’s car sailing airborne off the track in Turn 1.

Kevin Wheatley of Williamstown picked up his second Junkyard Warrior win of the year over Bristol’s Fred Schroeder.

Thunder Road returns to action on Sunday with the NEMA Midgets, kids’ race car rides, and the first-ever Thunder Road Home Run Derby. The program begins at 5:00pm.

UNOFFICIAL RESULTS — Ferguson Waterworks Night
Thunder Road Int’l Speedbowl, Barre, Vt.
Thursday, June 16, 2011

(# – denotes rookie)

ACT Late Models (50 laps)
1. Mike Bailey, South Barre
2. Brett Wheeler, Waterbury
3. Ricky Roberts, Washington
4. Joey Becker, Jeffersonville
5. Brooks Clark, Fayston
6. Mike Bruno, Castleton
7. Chip Grenier, Graniteville
8. Phil Scott, Berlin
9. John Donahue, Graniteville
10. Dave Pembroke, Middlesex

Bond Auto Tiger Sportsman (35 laps)
1. Tucker Williams, Hyde Park
2. George May, Barre
3. Brendan Moodie, North Wolcott
4. Eric Badore, Milton
5. Mike Ziter, Williamstown
6. Jason Allen, Barre
7. Joe Steffen, Essex Junction
8. Josh Demers, Middlesex
9. Bobby Therrien, Hinesburg
10. Derrick O’Donnell, Bradford

Allen Lumber Street Stock/Junkyard Warrior (25 laps)
1. Ron Gabaree, Barre (SS)
2. Jamie Davis, Wolcott (SS)
3. Tim Campbell, West Topsham (SS)
4. Nick Pilotte, Jefferson, N.H. (SS)
5. Joe Blais, Barre (SS)

16. Kevin Wheatley, Williamstown (JW)
18. Fred Schroeder, Bristol (JW)
19. Jason Woodard, Waterbury (JW)
20. Danny Brassard, East Randolph (JW)
26. Brock Parrott, Williamstown (JW)