PHOTO: Thunder Road Class Day festivities is one of the highlights of the Merchants Bank 150. (Leif Tillotson photo)

–by T.J. Ingerson
VMM Editor

If there was any doubt racing season has arrived, visit the Green Mountain state this weekend. Quarry Hill will come alive with the crisp sounds of engines, the smell of rubber, and the sight of cars circling the tough quarter mile of Thunder Road.

While the weather hasn’t been the greatest this week — reminding us of the horrid weather that graced us last year — there will be racing this weekend. And I don’t care what the weather is, if there is racing, it’s a good day.

We’ll be there Sunday for the Merchants Bank 150, and we hope you are too. The traditional class day — a sight to see for any race fan — is always a highlight of the day. And the racing is a sight to see as well.

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The New Hampshire Governor’s Cup 150 was one of the better American-Canadian Tour races in recent memory. It had everything a race fan should enjoy and would like to see when attending a race: the strategy of if and when to take tires, the hard charging drives of Austin Theriault, Joey Polewarczyk, Jr., and Eddie MacDonald, and two eight-time champions squaring off for the victory.

I know a lot of people will say Brian Hoar lucked into the win. And, yes, on lap 130, he was handed the lead. I can’t deny Polewarczyk was looking like the eventual winner before MacDonald spun off Polewarczyk’s bumper. But it wasn’t like Hoar had to earn it. Hoar had to hold off the other eight-time champion, Wayne Helliwell. Helliwell did everything he could to beat Hoar, and Hoar had everything he had to hold off Helliwell. Hoar slips and Helliwell is pulling into victory lane. That ending should be just a preview of what should come for the next nine races.

And with Austin Theriault finishing third and Polewarczyk rebounding for fourth, the four teams who everyone has pointed as being the main contenders for the ACT crown finished up front. Those four teams will battle all the way to Plattsburgh. Hoar struck first, but the other three drivers showed they won’t go away easy.

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The last time I checked, Ryan Truex is a two-time East Series champion who is deserving of a Nationwide Series ride and not some never-will-be who brings money.

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The number three will be around Nick Sweet as he tries to write the record books again this weekend.

Yes, Sweet is attempting to win his third straight Merchants Bank 150. His dominating performance in last year’s 150 started his incredible 2011 season that saw two ACT victories, and runner up finishes in the TD Bank 250, ACT Invitational, and Milk Bowl.

But Sweet is also is attempting to do something that only one driver has done in the 21 year history of the American-Canadian Tour Late Models: win three straight races at one track.

Sweet swept both American-Canadian Tour races at Thunder Road last season and has a chance to match what Jean-Paul Cyr did in 2002 and 2003. Cyr won the True Value 150 at Airborne in July, 2002 before taking both the Spring Green 100 and the Fall Foliage 200 in 2003.

Sweet won the Labor Day Classic using strategy, pitting late and taking fresh right-side tires. With this year’s opener being a six tire race, it will be interesting to see what path Sweet takes. He has experience using both.

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The more I watch Jon McKennedy, the more and more impressed I am. McKennedy, who recently celebrated his 25th birthday, should be near the top in the discussion for the best racer in New England. He is already a two-time Valenti Modified Series Champion and sits third all-time in series victories.

McKennedy dominated the season opening race with a new team, leading all 100 laps and facing little challenge. While some would point at the fact McKennedy started on the pole, he went to Monadnock and proved any doubters he had wrong. After starting 18th, McKennedy patiently worked his way to the lead on lap 79, and won.

More impressively though, McKennedy became the driver of the No. 2 Art Barry-owned ride a month before the season and has won in his first two starts. McKennedy may have to rethink his plans to miss two Valenti Modified Racing Series events if he continues the pace he is at.

And he could soon be challenging Kirk Alexander’s three series championships.

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— The 2012 Merchants Bank 150 will mark the 225th race in American-Canadian Tour Late Model series history.

— Only three times in 13 years has the winner started outside the top ten. The winners have also started no worse than 15th. Phil Scott started 15th in 1999, the inaugural event, on his way to victory. Scott Dragon started 11th in 2003, and Nick Sweet started 12th in 2010, the only other two to accomplish the feat.

— Jean Paul Cyr led all 150 laps en route to his first Merchants Bank 150 win in 2002. Cyr also scored wins in 2004 and 2006, making him the only three-time winner of the event.

— Scott Dragon owns the record for the fewest laps led by a Merchants Bank 150 winner. Dragon led 34 laps in his 2003 victory.

— The Merchants Bank 150 winner has only started on the pole once, in 2002, with Cyr. The winner has come from the second position twice, with Cyr in 2006 and Scott Payea in 2008. Five times has the winner started from within the top five.

— Prior to Nick Sweet’s back-to-back Merchants Bank 150 wins, Scott Payea last accomplished the feat, going back-to-back in 2007 and 2008. Payea finished third in 2009.

— There have been nine different winners of the Merchants Bank 150.

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Full disclosure: Friday night was the first time I had attended Albany-Saratoga Speedway. But I wasn’t blind to everything that has happened there in the last three years.

I walked away impressed by what I saw at the track they call ‘The Great Race Place.’ The racing was what it should be and was really good until the very end across all three divisions. Tim McCreadie and Brett Hearn put on a show as they worked from their mid-pack starting positions.

But I had a through cross my mind and have been thinking about it since Friday. Would Albany-Saratoga Speedway’s “Resurrection of Dirt” been just as successful without Howie Commander and Lyle DeVore? Would it have had the same great turnout if some unknown promoter did what Howie and Lyle have done?

I say no, and it has to do with reputation.

I know a lot of people believe that throwing the dirt back on the track made the entire difference. And I’m not denying that it had a great deal to do with it, but having the two main men from one of the most successful dirt tracks in the country have a great deal to do with it as well.

Successful and great management is the key to any business, including race tracks. It’s why Albany-Saratoga will succeed under Howie and Lyle. And why Devil’s Bowl Speedway will succeed under Mike and Alayne Bruno as an asphalt track.