PHOTO: Dave Pembroke said back in May that racing at Thunder Road is ‘all about luck’. How true that will ring if he comes home the champion tonight. (Justin St. Louis/VMM photo)

-by Justin St. Louis
VMM Editor

Thunder Road’s 20th modern-era Late Model championship is decided tonight, albeit a day later than planned. Dave Pembroke has a 38-point lead, which means it’s his title to lose. That said, of course, anything is possible.

Since tonight’s Aubuchon Hardware event is a 100-lap tilt, it gives racers double the chance to screw up. If Pembroke crashes or has a mechanical failure, he’s out of the race and loses the title. That would leave John Donahue, Nick Sweet, and Phil Scott — who are all just seven points apart in Pembroke’s wake — to grind it out among themselves for the title.

Pembroke told us back in May that the Memorial Day Classic was more than just skill.

“It’s all about luck,” Pembroke said. “We were not going to win last year, and we ended up winning.”

Pembroke really has had an awful year, but fortunately for him, so has everyone else. There was a four-race stretch this year, remember, in which Pembroke’s best finish was 12th place. Then came the wins, the point lead, and bad luck for the other three title contenders.

It’s all about luck. The same will likely be said tonight when Pembroke — barring any major catastrophes — hoists the “King of the Road” trophy for the second time.

Here’s the prediction I made on the “Corm, Coach, and Lana” show on on Thursday morning: The heat races will change the margins by a few points. Donahue wins the 100-lap feature race, but Pembroke hangs onto the title by 22 to 25 points with a sixth-place finish. Sweet finishes inside the top-five, and Scott either challenges for the victory or wrecks.

The points, I think, will probably look something like this when it’s done:
Pembroke — 893
Donahue — 870
Sweet — 862
Scott — 860 (or 820-something if he crashes out)

How’s that for hypothetical analysis?


I haven’t got much else to say about Devil’s Bowl Speedway being for sale aside from what I haven’t already said in Times Argus and Rutland Herald. But in case you haven’t read the “Rear View Mirror” column this week, he’s a re-print:

There’s no reason that Devil’s Bowl can’t work as the beautiful asphalt facility that it is. The surface has great two-groove, side-by-side capability, and every division that races there has proven that over the last two years. The physical plant is in excellent shape with relatively nice restrooms, ample concessions, a clean midway, souvenir booths, and new grandstands.

I have tremendous respect for the Richards family who has built and forged Devil’s Bowl for 45 years, and I believe their intentions have been good, but the next step is getting someone in there who’s willing to go beyond the extra mile.

Here’s my suggestion for the next owner/promoter: Cancel the regular weekly season.

Schedule six Sunday events. Bring back the 358-Modified division for three big-money races, bring in and American-Canadian Tour-legal Late Model division for three 100- or 150-lap races, and keep the current crate-engine Modified, Renegade, and Bomber classes that currently compete and run them at every event for a point fund.

Promote locally, and promote hard. Hype local drivers and attract local businesses to underwrite sponsorships. At the same time, generate outside interest from northern Vermont, New York, New Hampshire, and Quebec.

Do something special. Bring in monster trucks, concerts, fireworks, or a “junk” show with school bus races and rollover contests and crazy stuff. Think about hosting an asphalt-type Modified event or another “outside” series.

Above all, care about it and treat people with respect. Make plans and follow up on them. Earn people’s trust, and keep it.

There will never be another new race track built in Vermont, given our land laws and politics. If we want to keep the racing alive in our state, someone has to step up and do it right.

And do it now.


Hard to believe that it’s been 20 years since the Late Model class was born at Thunder Road.

Some of my favorite moments:
–Upset victories from drivers like Danny Bridges, Ron Weston, Dave Gibbs, Mike Knapp, Clem Despault, Jeff Spooner, Mike Perdue, Jerry Lesage, Marc Curtis, Cal Poulin, and last week, Brooks Clark.
–Chuck Beede beating Jim Cilley on the outside to win a 100-lap feature in 1994. Beede led only the final 50 yards.
–Brian Hoar vs. Mike Bruno.
–Brian Hoar vs. Phil Scott.
–Eric Williams vs. John Donahue.
–Dwayne Lanphear vs. Tom Curley.
–Dave Dion’s return in 1997.
–Tracie Bellerose driving up and over Pat Corbett’s car, stripping the entire body off Corbett’s machine. Both kept going.
–Billy Marsha almost beating Brian Hoar and Chris Fisher to win an American-Canadian Tour race in 1999.
–Bellerose’s magical championship year in 2000.
–Kenny Dufour’s Merchants Bank 150 win.
–Wild wrecks by Steve Craddock, Lanphear, Corey Pittsley, and, of course, Bellerose.
–Jamie Fisher’s “Hurricane” performance to win the 2003 title in a tie-breaker.
–Jean-Paul Cyr winning the 2009 championship in a one-off ride with Joey and Jeff Laquerre.
–The first time the drivers came down through the grandstands at the start of the Milk Bowl.


Bennington is a fun town. Try the “Sucker Pond Blonde” at Madison’s.


Speaking of fun, I’ve made up my mind that the next race car I buy will be a Quad-4 Midget like what races in the USA Dirt Midget Association.

Skip Matczak let me take one of his cars for a spin around the dirt at Bear Ridge Speedway last week, and I had the time of my freakin’ life. If I’d stayed in the car after practice (Kevin Chaffee got in it for the heat, semi, and feature), I certainly wouldn’t have won anything, but I feel like I probably wouldn’t have finished last, either.

I learned some things:

1. Those cars are a tight squeeze, and I could probably stand to lose a few pounds in the butt region.
2. Physics and common sense being what they are, it might make sense to take your foot off the throttle in the corners. Trust me, doing that only makes the car handle worse. Hammer down.
3. I can keep pace with Joe Krawiec. For half a straightaway, anyway.
4. All Chaffee needs in order to win is a warm-up driver. This guy. You’re welcome.