(From track press release)

BARRE — While the Thunder Road season has already officially opened, things will get serious for the Maplewood/Irving Late Model division this Sunday, May 27. The 56th Mekkelsen RV Memorial Day Classic opens the 2018 “King of the Road” chase with a special 100-lap event for the track’s local stars.

Entering the Late Model season, the only certainty is that there will not be a back-to-back champion. Reigning “King of the Road” Bobby Therrien stated recently that he is running a limited Thunder Road schedule in 2018 and will not defend the title.

This leaves the door open for a number of contenders to climb atop the throne. Barre’s Jason Corliss already has a win at Thunder Road this year in the Community Bank 150 for the American-Canadian Tour. He also won four features at Thunder Road last year. South Burlington’s Trampas Demers had the best season of his career in 2017. He finished second to Therrien in points and will try to finish this season one spot higher.

Milton’s Scott Dragon hopes to become a multi-time champion in 2018. The 2016 “King of the Road” is ready to rebound after slipping to fourth in points last year. Barre’s Cody Blake may have been the hottest driver at Thunder Road in the second half of the 2017 season and began carrying the momentum into the new year with a third-place effort on Opening Day.

“I definitely think we have a shot,” Blake said. “We’ve been in the top-5 in points four of the last six years. And I feel like the improvements we’ve made this past year are better than any other year. But everybody would agree with me when I say that you need a lot of luck. You can be the fastest car there every week, and you can still finish fifth overall because you had bad luck throughout the season. I like to say that if you have two DNFs (did not finish), then you’re in trouble. So you have to try and find yourself there at the end of every race.”

Others could enter the fray with the right breaks. Danville’s Tyler Cahoon had a similar hot streak to Blake late last year and believes he can contend for the title. Milton’s Eric Chase returns with 2-time track champion Nick Sweet as his crew chief after a career year in 2017. Marcel J. Gravel, Kyle Pembroke, Darrell Morin, and Stephen Donahue lead a group of younger racers who have had impressive stretches and hope to put things together for the full season.

The Late Models come off a year that saw 11 different drivers visit Victory Lane in weekly competition. Expectations are that the racing could be even more intense this season thanks in part to a year-old track surface that received strong reviews following the opener.

“There were no tire issues in 150 laps, which is a big confidence booster to a lot of the racers,” Blake said. “I think that’s going to lead to better racing. Instead of people backing off trying to save tires, they’re going to be 100 percent all the time. Now that I don’t have to worry about overworking the right front, I’m going to drive a heck of a lot harder to get to the front quicker. It’ll be a lot more fun to watch, I’m sure.”

The drivers mentioned here and many others are expected to take the green flag in the 56th Mekkelsen RV Memorial Day Classic this Sunday, May 27. The Maplewood/Irving Late Models will be part of a 5-division card that includes a 150-lap event for the Pro All Stars Series Super Late Models along with Thunder Road’s Lenny’s Shoe & Apparel Flying Tigers, Allen Lumber Street Stocks, and Burnett Scrap Metals Road Warriors. Post time for the holiday program is 1:30pm. Admission is $25 for adults and free for kids ages 12 and under.

For more information, contact the Thunder Road offices at (802) 244-6963, , or visit www.thunderroadvt.com.

PHOTO: Jason Corliss (66) and Cody Blake (99) are two drivers expected to vie for the 2018 Thunder Road “King of the Road” championship. (Alan Ward photo)