PHOTO: Nick Sweet looks on as Dave Pembroke and team prepare to celebrate their 2011 Thunder Road championship on Friday. (Justin St. Louis/VMM photo)

BARRE — Nick Sweet was the ‘King of the Road’.

“I was,” Sweet said. “That’s key. I definitely did not deserve it this year.”

Sweet, who finished fourth in Late Model championship points on Friday night, suffered through arguably the worst year of his career since his first Street Stock season. His winless regular season tally at Thunder Road — with just eight top-ten finishes in 13 starts — was a far cry from his title-winning season in 2010, or his Tiger Sportsman championship year in 2007.

“We just didn’t have a good, consistent year like we did last year,” Sweet said. He’s right; sandwiched in between a half-dozen top-five finishes were four results of 15th place or worse. In Friday’s 100-lap finale, Sweet crashed on lap 13, pitted twice for repairs, and clawed his way to finish tenth.

As hard as his own season was, he took the time to recognize new champion Dave Pembroke, just moments before handing Pembroke the “King of the Road” trophy that rotates from champion to champion each year in a special victory lane ceremony.

“I’m really proud of that team, they did a good job this year,” Sweet said, motioning to Pembroke’s car on the frontstretch. In fact, the two enjoyed a celebratory beer together after the racing program had finished.

“Congratulations, Dave, on such a hard-fought season,” Sweet said during the victory lane ceremony. “You have a phenomenal race team behind you.”

Back to his own team, Sweet said he’s unsure of his plans for the 2012 season. He will drive a No. 57 car for Rick Paya’s RPM Motorsports on the American-Canadian Tour to finish out the rest of the current year. He’ll likely drive his own car in the ACT Invitational at New Hampshire Motor Speedway next month and in the People’s United Bank Milk Bowl at Thunder Road in October.

“We’ll have to see what next year brings, I don’t know what our plans are,” Sweet said. “We’ve just got to get a little bit better for next year. We didn’t have the right things going for us this year, and this race didn’t help us out at all. I just feel like I’m in a slump right now, we can’t get out of this tenth-place finishing. We’ve got to get back up to where we were last year, but we’ve got some more races to try to figure it out and try to get better.”


Blake Earns Best Finish

Sophomore Late Model driver Cody Blake earned his best career finish with a runner-up showing in the Aubuchon Hardware 100 on Friday. Blake led 19 laps and diced with eventual winner Phil Scott for several laps before the halfway point.

The Barre driver was the focus of the race’s sixth and final caution period on lap 60 after he tangled with the lapped car of Matt White. Blake’s No. 99 North Country Federal Credit Union/Cody Chevrolet car began to spin in Turn 4, prompting chief starter Mike Wilder to throw the yellow flag. Blake saved his car, though, and continued on. He eventually held off Mike Bailey and Scott Payea for his finish.

“After a night like tonight I can’t wait for next year,” Blake said. “I don’t know whose mistake that was [on lap 60], but it shouldn’t have been made. I made some mistakes, but Phil Scott didn’t and he had a faster car. It was fun.”

Blake is a second-generation driver, following in the tracks of his father, Greg “Burger” Blake, the 1989 Thunder Road champion. The 19 year-old racer’s finish was his third podium result of the season and vaulted him from 15th in points to finish eighth overall, unofficially, for the year.

Blake believes his success has been part learning, part listening. Blake said he bounces ideas off his father and car owner M.J. Mascitti constantly.

“We’re just throwing new stuff at [the car]. I hope some of it is me getting better,” Blake said. “But almost every night we’re talking about racing.”


Hebert Wins Rookie Title

Jimmy Hebert of Williamstown had a bad night, finishing 24th after a wreck destroyed the body work on his car. The finish was the low point in the year, and, in a close ten-car battle for position, dropped Hebert to 15th in the final points.

The standing, at least on paper, certainly won’t be indicative of the impressive season Hebert had — his first in a Late Model.

Hebert’s first regular-season start netted him a seventh-place finish in the 100-lap Mekkelsen RV Memorial Day Classic, and was backed up by a third-place effort a month later in the 100-lap CARQUEST Vermont Governor’s Cup. All told, he grabbed a pair of top-five finishes and seven top-tens in 13 starts.

Hebert walked away with the Rookie of the Year title and was only 43 points out of sixth place overall.


Thunder Road Statistical Oddities

–Championship runner-up Phil Scott posted the best finishing average in the 13 regular-season events, at 7.615. Champion Dave Pembroke’s average was exactly one position behind, at 8.615.

–Third-place finisher John Donahue had a division-leading three victories. Donahue also had the longest top-ten finishing streak at seven, which all came in the first seven races of the year.

–Only Scott and Donahue posted double-digits in the top-ten column, with ten each. Nick Sweet had a division-high six top-five finishes.

–Pembroke’s four top-five finishes are the fewest ever by a Late Model driver in a championship season.

–Scott Payea finished fifth overall in his first full season of Late Model competition at Thunder Road. Payea, a three-time ACT Late Model Tour title runner-up, posted four top-five and seven top-ten finishes. Payea’s average finish in July’s five events was 6.2, best in the division for the month.

–Ten different drivers won features. Brooks Clark was the lone first-time winner.

–Cris Michaud and Reno Gervais won in back-to-back events on June 30 and July 4, respectively, and tied for sixth in final standings, unofficially. Michaud was also the runner-up in Gervais’ win.

–Every driver in the top-22 in points had at least one top-five finish.

–Brent Dragon finished fifth in both of his starts. Brian Hoar and Joey Polewarczyk, Jr., each made only one start, each finishing sixth.