Thunder Road International Speedbowl in Barre, Vermont will open its 58th season of racing on April 30 under new ownership. Long-time track owners Ken Squier and Tom Curley have sold the track to former racer Cris Michaud and local businessman Patrick Malone for an undisclosed amount.
The sale was completed on Tuesday and Michaud opened the gates at the track for a practice day on Tuesday afternoon.
Michaud is a three-time track champion at the “Nation’s Site of Excitement” and a winner of the prestigious Milk Bowl held at the track each year. Malone has been a fixture around the central Vermont area his entire life and has sponsored cars at Thunder Road throughout the years.
“We’re equal partners. I think our partnership is going to be a great partnership because I have the knowledge on the racing end and he has the knowledge on the infrastructure, the buildings and stuff like that,” Michaud told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “The way it’s set up, it should be a great partnership because we both have our own expertise.
“I will be in charge of the daily operations and I’ll also be the race director like I had been doing the last couple years. There are some great people and most of them are remaining here. (Director of Competition) Dean (Gallison) and (Administrator) Tina (Gallison) and all of those people. They do a great job. Dean runs a great pit and this place just runs so well and those guys are a big part of it.”
Thunder Road originally opened in 1960 under the ownership of Squier, who is also a legendary motorsports broadcaster. He sold the track to Tommy Kalomiris in 1978 before taking the track back over shortly after and bringing Curley in as a partner in 1982. Since joining forces, the dynamic duo promoted events at the historic facility for 35 years.
After ending his driving career, Michaud began working with track management as the Race Director during recent seasons. He left that position last August before entering talks to purchase the track this offseason.
When asked what made him want to enter the role of track owner, his answer was quite simple.
“Because I’m a little nuts,” Michaud joked. “No, I mean, the background I kind of gave you on it with me growing up and racing at the track. I’m up for a new challenge. I’ve raised a great daughter who played elite hockey and we were busy traveling all over Quebec and the Northeast. She’s on her way to college now and this opportunity came up.
“I just love the place. I do understand how the racing has, in general all over the country, gone in a downswing. We’re up for the challenge to make it strong in the Northeast again. We’d love to see the car counts and the fans go up.”
Plans for the 2017 season will remain somewhat status quo with the schedule already released by Curley, Squier and the previous management group.
The track will continue to use its successful ladder system that includes three divisions – Street Stocks (entry level), Tiger Sportsman (intermediate level) and ACT-type Late Models (premier division) – competing on a weekly basis during the summer months.
“Tom had a schedule made up for Thunder Road and a lot of sponsors were in place, so he has left us in a good place for this year,” Michaud stated. “In the short term, I have to say that it’s pretty much going to be as it is, as it was. We’ll put a little touches on it that we can and hopefully see a little growth for something this year.
“Long term, I was brought up on Tom’s system and Tom’s system works. His systems and his beliefs on the rules, keeping the costs down with spec shocks and spec motors, those are my beliefs too. His tour has been around with this type of car for 26 years now, so obviously, it works. The ACT Tour still has some of the highest car counts around. My belief, and I’ve done a lot of reading and research on stuff that goes on at other tracks, is that Tom has done a great job with this and I want to continue to keep that train of thought for Thunder Road.”
Although Michaud plans to keep the racing side of things as is, he and his business partner do hope to improve the track’s infrastructure. Although they haven’t had enough time to put together a list of planned improvements, they will be evaluating a number of things including the track’s racing surface and lighting system.
“As far as the infrastructure, Thunder Road has been around here a long time. We’re going to do a little sprucing up and take it from there. As far as the racing and the types of divisions, etc. we’re really going to focus to keep it the way Tom has always done it.
“Obviously, we’re going to look at the pavement. I’m not 100-percent sold on it. We’re going to look at the lighting, we’re going to look at everything. We really haven’t had a chance to look at the stuff and see how we can improve on that. We’re just actually starting to do that now. I know Pat will come up with a plan for that and we’ll go over it and hopefully make the best decision for the track and the fans.”
Michaud, who has spent a countless number of hours with Curley over the years, will continue to lean on him for advice as he begins his transition to a track owner.
“Tom’s knowledge on the racing, I mean, I’m sure I’m going to be shooting him emails and phone calls more than he wants to hear from me,” Michaud said. “I’ve sat with Tom for hours and listened in on his philosophy on things and talking about things and his reasoning. He has a great mind for this.”
Thunder Road International Speedbowl opens its 2017 racing season on Sunday, April 30 with the Merchants Bank 150 for the American-Canadian Tour. For the first time in 36 years, the gates to the facility will be opened by a new owner.
-By Brandon Paul, Speed51.com Editor – Twitter: @Brandon_Paul51
-Photo credit: Speed51.com