PHOTO: Trampas Demers has overhauled his Thunder Road Late Model team, purchasing a brand new car and bringing in veteran crew chief Rick Paya, giving him, what he says, is his best chance yet. (Eric LaFleche/VLFPhotos.com photo)

–by T.J. Ingerson

BARRE — Dave Pembroke. Phil Scott. John Donahue. Nick Sweet. Scott Payea. Cris Michaud. Those six drivers account for nine Thunder Road Int’l Speedbowl “King of the Road” track championships and 68 race wins in the Late Model division. Those six drivers are all expected to once again contend for the 2012 King of the Road crown.

But there is another driver who hopes his name will be mentioned with those at the end of the season: Trampas Demers.

The South Burlington shoe has revamped his entire racing operation over the winter, tabbing eight-time American-Canadian Tour championship winning car owner and crew chief Rick Paya to build him a new car. Paya will also join Demers and crew chief Charlie Smith, a former NASCAR Nationwide Series crew chief, on Thursday nights at the track.

“This is probably the most excited I’ve ever been for a new season since the early 2000s,” Demers said. “I had a new car then, and honestly, I haven’t had a new car since then, and so much has changed. To get hooked up with the quality RPM [Motorsports] and Rick [Paya] is a dream come true.”

Demers has five wins to his Thunder Road resume, but has been a mid-pack runner in the championship battle. To say Demers wasn’t content with that result any longer would be an understatement.

“I had to make a decision,” Demers explained. “I had to get out [of racing] or do something different. To stay where I was, in the middle, was not fun. But I’m really pumped up. We have a good crew and Rick [Paya] is going to help us Thursday nights. I really feel this year we have a chance.”

That something different was a new car built by Paya, along with his knowledge and experience at the track. Demers isn’t sure how beneficial it will be on that track, but he sees the potential.

“I don’t know how beneficial it is going to be yet,” Demers said, “but I know he has experience and has knowledge of what changes to make and has confidence that he’s going to instill in me. Being able to take workload off of me with sharing responsibilities with [crew chief] Charlie Smith, we now can both relax a bit. I can drive and Charlie can maintain the cars. We had a letdown in the Milk Bowl, and that was me chasing the track. And that’s where I think Rick and his team is going to help us with the setups and confidence to lead us and teach us all of his procedures he has instilled on the ACT side.”

One challenge the team may face is being content with something other than a podium finish, something Demers and Paya have discussed since they teamed up.

“With the handicap system up here, a good finish is a sixth place finish,” Demers explained. “And for Rick, that may be a disappointment, and he may have to adjust to that. We’ve talked about it. If we start 16th and in 50 laps we get to sixth, that’s a good night. This championship is about consistency. You have to finish races, mentally saying that a sixth is good enough, and don’t push it. But when it’s there, I want to win.”

One area Paya will help the No. 85 team is having a consistent handling car throughout the feature. That one area was something Demers and Smith battled throughout their time together.

“We’ve always had a midsummer slump,” Demers said. “I was too free at the end of races and my car would fall off after 30 or 35 laps. And that’s huge. You can’t be turning right going down the backstretch. It doesn’t work.”

Demers pointed to the heat races and the mid-season double point championship night as where the championship is won and lost. Two of the last three “King of the Roads” have won the mid-season track championship event.

Demers knows how great of an impact he has made this offseason with all the changes to his team. He knows there may not be a better opportunity than now to challenge for the “King of the Road” crown.

“This is my best chance,” Demers said. “Without a doubt, this is my absolute, best chance to do as well as I can do in the points.”

Demers’ chance will start this Sunday at the Mekkelsen RV Memorial Day Classic, the first race in the Thunder Road championship battle.