Friday, September 11, 2009

ACT Labor Day Classic 200 Notebook

I can’t describe how lucky I feel to have been at Thunder Road on Sunday, Sept. 6, for the 31st annual Bond Auto Labor Day Classic 200. I’ve attended literally hundreds of races at ‘The Nation’s Site of Excitement,’ but can honestly say I’ve never seen anything quite like that.
Some may find it hard to believe that 30 Late Model stock car drivers managed to go 181 laps around a tight little 1/4-mile oval without a caution. Yet I saw it with my own two eyes, and it was the finest demonstration of respectful, heads-up driving I’ve ever seen.
If it hadn’t been for Joey Polewarczyk’s spin in turn 2, Dave Pembroke would have never had to crack the throttle en route to his impressive wire-to-wire victory. And while Pembroke was building as much as a half-track advantage, all eyes were on Patrick Laperle as he charged toward the front.
Laperle started eighth on the 30-car grid and drew cheers from the Canadian fans as he powered his way to third behind runner-up John Donahue. Five-time ACT champion Brian Hoar, a two-time winner on the circuit this year, had the No. 37 machine dialed in and finished fourth ahead of Eric Williams. While only five cars completed all 200 laps, all 30 starters were running at the finish.
I’d like to draw attention to the efforts of Cris Michaud in the Labor Day Classic. As the only driver to have won a feature at Thunder Road in 2009 with the new Ford crate engine, Michaud is one-of-a-kind. He piloted the Kendell Legendre-prepared No. 6 to a solid sixth place finish, the first car one lap down.
Brent Dragon carried the momentum from winning two straight ACT events (the non-points Showdown at Chaudiere and last Friday’s ACT 100 at Twin-State Speedway) and turned it into a fine seventh-place run. I must say that Chip Grenier and Craig Bushey (finished 8th & 9th) were two pleasant surprises to see inside the top 10 for a 200-lap contest. Nick Sweet, who is on the latest list of invited drivers for the inaugural ACT Invitational at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, rounded out the top 10 with another solid effort.
While some may feel a 200-lap race with only one caution and five cars on the lead lap is less than entertaining, I say just the opposite. How can you not respect the give-and-take it requires to go that long without wrecking? I thought about how tired their arms must have been after 150 laps or so without a rest. We all know how ACT president Tom Curley preaches respect in his pre-race driver’s meetings, but the guys took it to a whole new level last Sunday afternoon.
And after so much rain during the summer that affected so many events, it sure was nice to have wall-to-wall sunshine for the Labor Day Classic. With a crystal-clear view of the Green Mountains off to the West, fans at Thunder Road enjoyed a memorable day atop Quarry Hill.
As a proud member of the ‘gray beard’ club, I’m always pleased to see veterans like Jamie Aube show up at a racetrack. Sadly, Aube failed to put the No. 67 entry into the show, but in his defense, neither did nine other guys who’ve run at Thunder Road a lot more recently and often than he has. If Aube shows up at Airborne this weekend for the Fall Foliage 300, I’ll bet he makes the race. It never did take him long to adapt to a specific car or track, I’ve always admired his skills and knowledge of the sport.
All in all, the Labor Day Classic provided a great day of racing and a chance to share the passion we all have for this sport. I even had the opportunity to chat with Vermont racing historian Cho Lee, who is assisting Richard Lucas and me with a DVD documentary project on Northeastern Speedway. Even T-Road founder Ken Squire has agreed to tape a piece for us on his memories of the historic little 1/5-mile oval in Waterford. Look for details later this fall.