PHOTO: Reno Gervais (black/red car, outside) wins the Late Model feature Monday as Cris Michaud (#6), Phil Scott (#14), and the lapped car of Bob Ailes (#5) cross the finish line on Pepsi Holiday Fireworks Night. (Eric LaFleche/ photo)

BARRE — As expected, Thunder Road International Speedbowl provided its annual Independence Day pyrotechnics display at the end of the Pepsi Holiday event on Monday night. What wasn’t expected were the red-hot fireworks on the track beforehand.

In front of the Barre track’s largest spectator crowd of the summer, Island Pond veteran Reno Gervais was the man left standing head — and maybe one shoulder — above the pack at the finish of the 50-lap Late Model feature. With the lapped car of Bob Ailes taking up room in the racing groove as the checkered flag waved, Gervais held off Phil Scott and a furious last-lap charge from Cris Michaud for his second career victory.

Ailes, a 30-year racing veteran from St. Johnsbury, was a topic of discussion both at the finish and in the opening laps of the event, as a scrape on the second lap with fellow backmarker Mark Norris left Ailes’ car directly in the middle of the track surface in front of leaders Marcel Gravel and Joey Becker to bring out the second and final caution flag of the race.

Both Ailes and Norris, of Farmington, Me., were making their first appearance of the season at Thunder Road.

At the restart, the battle for the lead heated up between Becker and pole sitter Gravel. Becker jumped to the point and pulled away for three laps before Gravel mounted a charge on the outside. Gervais, who started fifth, mounted a challenge in the low lane, and the three ran in a tight group until the halfway mark when Gravel began to fade. Gervais moved to the top of the track and first grabbed the lead from Jeffersonville driver Becker on lap 28, but Becker nosed ahead again two laps later.

In the mean time, Lieutenant Governor and three-time Thunder Road champion Phil Scott put on an impressive show in traffic, using mostly the outside lane to move from his 13th starting position to reach the leaders by lap 36. As Scott took to the high side of Becker’s car for second place, Thursday night winner Cris Michaud and Jamie Aube entered the top five, with Michaud gaining ground every lap.

Michaud passed Becker at lap 43 for third place and set to work on Scott, who chased Gervais down in four laps. As Scott made another outside lane charge, this time for the lead on Gervais with three laps remaining, Ailes’ slower lapped car became a factor.

Scott attempted to pinch Gervais on lap 48 and planned to set Ailes as a pick, but Gervais swung wide and forced Scott to back out of the throttle. Coming to the white flag for the final lap, Ailes took the middle of the track, leaving just enough room for Gervais to get by and opening a hole for Michaud, who quickly joined the battle, on the bottom.

Ailes, Gervais, and Michaud crossed the finish line three-wide with Michaud pushing and eventually spinning Ailes’ car after the checkers. Scott finished a close third.

“It’s awesome, man, it’s unbelievable,” said an elated Gervais. “Racing with Phil and Cris Michaud and those guys is just awesome. I know I was holding them up a little bit maybe, but that’s racing.”

Greg Gervais, the winner’s brother and spotter, said all he could do was encourage his driver. “I was a little nervous. Phil’s a hard runner and I knew we had to go,” Greg Gervais said. “[Reno] gave it all he had and we ended up on top. I just told him to, ‘Go, go, go.’”

“The lapped car just really screwed the whole thing up because he went to the middle of the track,” Reno Gervais said. “If he’d have gone to the bottom like he was supposed to we would have been fine, but he opened up that bottom and I had no choice, I had to go to the outside. It was a real tough deal, but we got through it. Thank God it wasn’t one more lap.”

Michaud said Ailes was the key in getting him to second place and having a shot at the win.

“I was watching them and obviously trying to reel them in, and then all of a sudden I saw the lapped car and I could see that Reno didn’t know what to do with it, I don’t think he knew where the lapped car was going to run. I made up my mind on the last lap to stick it on the yellow line and try to get through,” Michaud said.

Scott thought that Ailes was ultimately the determining factor in the finish, but suggested that Gervais used up a little bit more track than he needed to.

“I’m a little disappointed,” said a dejected Scott, who toughed out a smile. “I wanted to win and I thought I had the car to do it. It’s just a racing thing, but I thought if I had a little bit of a groove I could have gone on the outside. I understand that the lapped car came into play, but I just needed a lane to work with. I mean, I’ve got a whole car, I came in third, it’s a good night. We’ll pick up the pieces and come back here Thursday and see if we can do it again.”

For Gervais, the win was a break in what has been a tough season between crashes with his own No. 12 Kingdom Construction/System 2000 Chevrolet and maintaining the car his son Brett drives at Riverside Speedway in New Hampshire.

“This is huge for us. We’ve been struggling a lot, we’ve been working on this car,” Gervais said. We’ve got two Late Models, we’ve been working on them both constantly, this is just huge, real huge.”

Becker finished in fourth place with Aube fifth, unofficially. Brooks Clark was sixth, followed by Scott Payea, Gravel, Matt White, and point leader John Donahue.

Bobby Therrien of Hinesburg took a car borrowed from his brother Tommy to earn his first Tiger Sportsman victory of the season in the division’s 35-lap feature. Therrien drove from 16th starting position to the win on the outside lane. Middlesex drivers Shawn Fleury and Josh Demers battled late for the runner-up position, with Fleury prevailing. Mike Martin of Craftsbury Common got by Demers for third place on the final lap. Eric Badore finished fifth with point leader Derrick O’Donnell sixth.

A pileup on lap 12 took Blair Bessett, Mike MacAskill, and John Lambert out of the race. Bessett was the leader at the time.

Jeff Martin, Jr., of Northfield earned his first career Street Stock victory in the 25-lap nightcap. Dan Lathrop of Hyde Park was second with Bunker Hodgdon edging M.C. Ingram for third place. Sid Sweet, Jr., was fifth.

Williamstown’s Kevin Wheatley took his fourth Junkyard Warrior win of the season over Jason Woodard. Brock Parrott inherited third place in post-race inspection after Danny Brassard was disqualified.

Thunder Road returns to action on Thursday at 6:30pm with Charter Communications Night.

UNOFFICIAL RESULTS — Pepsi Holiday Fireworks Night
Thunder Road Int’l Speedbowl, Barre, Vt.
Monday, July 4, 2011

(# – denotes rookie)

ACT Late Model (50 laps)
1. Reno Gervais, Island Pond
2. Cris Michaud, East Montpelier
3. Phil Scott, Berlin
4. Joey Becker, Jeffersonville
5. Jamie Aube, North Ferrisburgh
6. Brooks Clark, Fayston
7. Scott Payea, Milton
8. Marcel Gravel, Wolcott
9. Matt White, Northfield
10. John Donahue, Graniteville

Bond Auto Tiger Sportsman (35 laps)
1. Bobby Therrien, Hinesburg
2. Shawn Fleury, Middlesex
3. Mike Martin, Craftsbury Common
4. Josh Demers, Middlesex
5. Eric Badore, Milton
6. Derrick O’Donnell, Bradford
7. Matt Potter, Marshfield
8. Mike Ziter, Williamstown
9. # Kyle Pembroke, Montpelier
10. Brendan Moodie, North Wolcott

Allen Lumber Street Stock/Junkyard Warrior (25 laps)
1. Jeff Martin, Jr., Northfield (SS)
2. Dan Lathrop, Hyde Park (SS)
3. Bunker Hodgdon, Hardwick (SS)
4. M.C. Ingram, Essex Junction (SS)
5. Sid Sweet, Jr., Williamstown (SS)
6. Garry Bashaw, Lincoln (SS)
7. Keith Fortier, Hinesburg (SS)
8. Greg Adams, Jr., Hardwick (SS)
9. Jayme Lee, Barre (SS)
10. Troy Kingsbury, Waitsfield (SS)

21. Kevin Wheatley, Williamstown (JW)
22. Jason Woodard, Waterbury (JW)
29. Brock Parrott, Williamstown (JW)

DQ — Danny Brassard, East Randolph (JW)