PHOTO: Dave Pembroke shook off a tough start to his season with a win on Charter Communications Night at Thunder Road on Thursday. (Justin St. Louis/VMM photo)

BARRE — Dave Pembroke just wasn’t being Dave Pembroke this year.

In his five previous Late Model starts at Thunder Road in Barre, the Middlesex veteran — a former track champion and winner of virtually every major event on the schedule — had just a single top-ten finish. Just one. A tenth-place effort way back on June 16. Since then, he had a 14.8 finishing average and was a season-low 20th at Monday’s Independence Day special.

Well, forget all that. The real Dave Pembroke arrived on Thursday.

Pembroke dominated his qualifying heat to begin the night, then needed just 16 laps to chase down leader Brett Wheeler and take command of the Charter Communications 50-lap feature. When the race’s only caution flag flew on lap 29, Pembroke had built more than a quarter-track lead. By the time the checkers waved, the No. 44 Vermont State Employees Credit Union/Lamoille Valley Ford car had a comparable advantage and was lapping cars at the tail end of the field.

“That’s how you come back from finishing twentieth,” Pembroke said in victory lane. “That probably wasn’t a lot of fun for the fans to watch, but I had a blast.”

Pembroke was clearly relieved to end his losing skid. He said an off-season switch from Chevrolet power to the new Ford S347JR engine — and the resulting changes in chassis geometry and setup — left he and his team scratching their heads.

“It hasn’t been good, we’ve been bad, but we made a lot of changes [this week]. The Ford has definitely thrown us for a little bit of a loop there. We came into the season with a baseline of pretty much what we were running the last couple years when we were really good and thought we’d make a couple minor tweaks until we knew what we were doing.”

Pembroke said his car was always strong at the beginning of races, but rarely stayed consistent to the end. There was one bright spot — a runner-up finish in the 100-lap Memorial Day Classic — but little else to celebrate. The team spent more hours in the garage this week after Monday’s disappointing run, and Pembroke feels they’re turning a corner.

“We’d been fast now and then, but we just couldn’t put a long race together. The car would be fast in the beginning, but then it would just drop right off and we’d be struggling from the midpoint of the race on,” Pembroke said. “Then we got to the point over the last couple of weeks where we weren’t even good at the beginning. Then we really started getting together here, and we made some changes the other night. I’m not saying we’ve got it figured out [tonight], everyone gets lucky now and then, but I’m encouraged by where we’re at. This is definitely a step in the right direction.”

“It’s hard telling. It’s encouraging. I definitely hope this is momentum for the rest of the year. I know we can do it. I know that with the change to Ford, we can make it work. We just need some time.”

Pembroke’s win was the 16th Late Model victory of his career at Thunder Road. Milton driver Scott Payea, who has struggled in his own right this season, finished second with Fayston’s Brooks Clark third. Wheeler, of Waterbury Center, held on for fourth with Jeffersonville’s Joey Becker fifth. None of the top five finishers entered the night inside the top ten in points.

Jamie Aube, Phil Scott, point leader John Donahue, and Jamie Fisher finished sixth through ninth, unofficially, and Derek Ming earned his best finish of the season in tenth.

Barre driver George May won the 35-lap Tiger Sportsman feature with a three-wide move on lap 28. Blair Bessett and rookie Kyle Pembroke — the Late Model winner’s nephew — raced side-by-side for the lead from the opening laps, but held up a host of faster cars behind them. May pushed the envelope out of Turn 2 on lap 28 and ducked under Bessett to make the pass and take over.

North Wolcott’s Brendan Moodie and Joe Steffen of Grand Isle followed May’s lead and completed the podium. Championship contenders Eric Badore and Derrick O’Donnell broke through for fourth and fifth, respectively. Jason Allen and Bobby Therrien were next, while Bessett slipped to eighth at the finish. Mike Ziter was ninth, and Kyle Pembroke was tenth.

Charter Communications employee and fan favorite “Super” Joe Fecteau of Hardwick took his seventh career Street Stock win in a close finish with Hyde Park’s Dan Lathrop, who earned his third-straight top-two finish. Jayme Lee of Barre beat Jennifer Getty at the finish line for third place, with Alan Maynard fifth.

Brock Parrott of Williamstown took his second Junkyard Warrior victory of the year.

Thunder Road’s next event is Thursday, July 14, with the double-points Times Argus Mid-Season Championship. The Late Model event will be extended to 75 laps. Racing begins at 6:30pm.

UNOFFICIAL RESULTS — Charter Communications Night
Thunder Road Int’l Speedbowl, Barre, Vt.
Thursday, July 7, 2011

(# – denotes rookie)

ACT Late Model (50 laps)
1. Dave Pembroke, Middlesex
2. Scott Payea, Milton
3. Brooks Clark, Fayston
4. Brett Wheeler, Waterbury Center
5. Joey Becker, Jeffersonville
6. Jamie Aube, North Ferrisburgh
7. Phil Scott, Berlin
8. John Donahue, Graniteville
9. Jamie Fisher, Shelburne
10. Derek Ming, Island Pond

Bond Auto Tiger Sportsman (35 laps)
1. George May, Barre
2. Brendan Moodie, North Wolcott
3. Joe Steffen, Grand Isle
4. Eric Badore, Milton
5. Derrick O’Donnell, Bradford
6. Jason Allen, Barre
7. Bobby Therrien, Hinesburg
8. Blair Bessett, Worcester
9. Mike Ziter, Williamstown
10. # Kyle Pembroke, Montpelier

Allen Lumber Street Stock/Junkyard Warrior (25 laps)
1. Joe Fecteau, Hardwick (SS)
2. Dan Lathrop, Hyde Park (SS)
3. Jayme Lee, Barre (SS)
4. Jennifer Getty, Cambridge (SS)
5. Alan Maynard, Fairfax (SS)
6. Bunker Hodgdon, Hardwick (SS)
7. Jamie Davis, Wolcott (SS)
8. Dave Whitcomb, Elmore (SS)
9. Greg Adams, Jr., Hardwick (SS)
10. Garry Bashaw, Lincoln (SS)

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