PHOTO: Brooks Clark pulls into victory lane after his first career victory at Thunder Road in Barre on Thursday. (Justin St. Louis/VMM photo)

BARRE — Brooks Clark finally got what many had believed he had been capable of for a long time: A victory at Thunder Road.

The 25 year-old had shown flashes of occasional brilliance during his six years at the Barre track and had been within a few laps of victory in several races, only to have a crash or have the handle slip away from him. Clark’s tight-knit family team has remained in his corner through the disappointing finishes, though, and the Thunder Road fan base has seemed to take a liking to him while waiting for his breakthrough.

Their patience paid off on Thursday night, as the Fayston driver’s No. 68 Casella Waste Management/Jamieson Insurance Chevrolet led all 50 laps of the Vermont ACE Hardware Late Model feature.

After an early battle up front with polesitter Jamie Aube, Clark was dogged by Brett Wheeler of Waterbury Center for the majority of the race.

“I was trying not to [pay attention to Wheeler], and keep my mind in front of me, just be smooth and steady,” said Clark, who credited his fiancee, Lacey Wimble, with keeping him in check during the race. “It was hard to keep [Wheeler] off my mind, but Lacey did a great job spotting and keeping me informed of where he was and what he was doing.”

With just a single caution period on lap 10, Clark and Wheeler began lapping traffic at lap 33, and Clark said having to navigate through the slower cars helped keep Wheeler — and the fast-closing Phil Scott and Nick Sweet — in his wake.

“The lapped cars probably helped us more than anything, they kept those guys behind us a little bit longer,” Clark said.

Clark crossed the finish line a car length in front of Wheeler, with Scott — clearly the fastest driver on the track in the final frames — a close third. Sweet was fourth with Cris Michaud fifth.

“I’ve always believed, from the time he got in a car, that this night would come,” said Tom Clark, the winner’s father and a familiar figure in the Thunder Road pit area. “It took a little longer than I expected, but Brooks works so hard on that car. He puts more time in than anybody else and he’s somewhat of a perfectionist, [and] tonight it paid off. I just can’t tell you how thrilled I am, it’s a great feeling. This helps us out of so many of the disappointments, and there have been a few.”

“[The nerves] crept up a little bit. I tried not to let them get to me, though,” Brooks Clark grinned. “This is huge. Unbelievable. We finally did it.”

Point leader Dave Pembroke finished sixth and carries an unofficial lead of 38 points over John Donahue entering the 100-lap Late Model championship finale next Thursday. Sweet and Scott are tied for third place, unofficially, 45 points behind Pembroke.

Barre’s Jason Allen scored his first career Tiger Sportsman victory in a 35-lap feature. Allen’s No. 29 Capitol City Automart/Roux Electric Chevrolet made contact with leader Dylan Payea at lap 26 and Payea spun out of the lead, but Allen was ruled not at fault for the incident and continued in the lead. Several crashes marred the race, and two more caution flags flew before lap 27 was completed including one that bounced division point leader Derrick O’Donnell into the wall with Joe Steffen.

Once the racing resumed, Allen drove away for the victory, followed by Josh Demers of Middlesex and Williamstown’s Mike Ziter. Tucker Williams finished fourth, with a recovered O’Donnell fifth. Payea finished 12th.

Paul Giacherio of Washington earned his second Street Stock victory of the season with an outside-lane pick move on leader Jen Getty. Giacherio fended off a late charge from Al Maynard and M.C. Ingram for the win.

Giacherio gingerly crawled out of his car in victory lane, still sore after a hard flip while fighting for a win two weeks ago. Ingram nipped Maynard at the line for second place, with Ron Gabaree fourth and Greg Adams, Jr., fifth.

Jason Woodard of Waterbury Center — a crew member for Brooks Clark with a similarly-themed red No. 68 car — posted his seventh win of the season in the Junkyard Warrior feature. Kevin Wheatley and Brock Parrott completed the podium, followed by William Good and Tommy Elwood.

UNOFFICIAL RESULTS — Vermont ACE Hardware Night
Thunder Road Int’l Speedbowl, Barre, Vt.
Thursday, August 18, 2011

(# – denotes rookie)

ACT Late Model (50 laps)
1. Brooks Clark, Fayston
2. Brett Wheeler, Waterbury Center
3. Phil Scott, Berlin
4. Nick Sweet, Barre
5. Cris Michaud, Northfield
6. Dave Pembroke, Montpelier
7. Reno Gervais, Island Pond
8. Jamie Aube, North Ferrisburgh
9. John Donahue, Graniteville
10. Joey Becker, Jeffersonville

Bond Auto Tiger Sportsman (35 laps)
1. Jason Allen, Barre
2. Josh Demers, Middlesex
3. Mike Ziter, Williamstown
4. Tucker Williams, Hyde Park
5. Derrick O’Donnell, Bradford
6. Shawn Fleury, Middlesex
7. Bobby Therrien, Hinesburg
8. # Kyle Pembroke, Montpelier
9. Scott Coburn, Barre
10. Eric Badore, Milton

Allen Lumber Street Stock (25 laps)
1. Paul Giacherio, Jr., Washington
2. M.C. Ingram, Essex Junction
3. Al Maynard, Fairfax
4. Ron Gabaree, Barre
5. Greg Adams, Jr., Hardwick
6. Bunker Hodgdon, Hardwick
7. Jennifer Getty, Cambridge
8. Kyle Streeter, Waitsfield
9. Jamie Davis, Wolcott
10. Nick Pilotte, Jefferson, N.H.

Junkyard Warrior/Street Stock Reserve Feature (18 laps)
1. Jason Woodard, Waterbury Center (JW)
2. Kevin Wheatley, Williamstown (JW)
3. Brock Parrott, Williamstown (JW)
4. William Good, Newport (JW)
5. Tommy Elwood, Morrisville (JW)
6. Sid Sweet, Jr., Williamstown (SS)
7. Danny Brassard, East Randolph (JW)
8. Alex Whitcomb, Montpelier (SS)
9. George Sanders, Northfield (JW)
10. Roscoe Allen, Jr., Morrisville (SS)