It was a storyline that only the best in Hollywood could create on Sunday afternoon in Barre, Vermont. But this story didn’t need actors. It didn’t need producers. It didn’t need a script. All it required was a whole lot of heart, and maybe a special angel watching from above.
That special angel was 17-year-old Joey M. Laquerre, who tragically passed away in an ATV accident last fall. Laquerre was the grandson of Thunder Road veteran Joey Laquerre, who owns the No. 15VT piloted on the American-Canadian Tour by Brad Babb.
On Sunday, in the first race held at Thunder Road since the younger Laquerre’s death, Babb survived a wild battle for the lead through lapped traffic to score his first career American-Canadian Tour win. While winning his first ACT event is a feat that Babb is happy to accomplish, the win was really “all for ‘Lil’ Joey.’”
“It’s unbelievable,” Babb told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “I don’t even know how we did it. The car was just awesome all weekend. The tires weren’t where we wanted them, so we had to adjust to that. Under the caution my father came over the radio and asked if I was saving anything. I told him last year at Hudson we won a Pro Stock race and just dominated. I asked him if he remembered that and I told him the car was just that good. I can’t even believe we won today. It’s unbelievable to win at Thunder Road for my first ACT win out of all places.”
Babb took the lead for the first time on lap 133 after early leader Scott Dragon struggled to get through slower traffic. From that point on it was a slugfest between Babb, Dragon and Wayne Helliwell, Jr. as they were forced to fight through an insane amount of lapped traffic while battling for the top spot.
“There was so much lapped traffic,” said Babb. “There was one group where the lapped traffic just bunched up all the leaders and my car just wasn’t as strong on the top. It took a few laps to come up in up there, but once it did it was OK. I still felt like we were stronger on the bottom, so every time I could get clear I’d just move back down and just keep picking away. It was unreal.”
Helliwell was able to sneak by Dragon in the later stages of the race to claim the second spot. Although no race car driver is ever happy to finish second, this may be a rare instance where Helliwell is okay with it.
“I’m really happy that we can come home with second,” said Helliwell after the race. “We had a chance to do something for the win, but there’s nothing I can complain about.
“There’s a lot there behind the scenes. It’s definitely good for the whole Babb family and the whole Laquerre family.”
Dragon led 39 laps of the 150-lap event before giving the lead up to Babb on lap 133. The driver from Milton, Vermont made a strong charge early on in the feature, but thought that he had saved enough for the end.
“I was trying to save it the whole time,” said Dragon. “I thought I was and I really feel I did. To see those guys coming, I kind of expected it, but with about 40 laps to go I said, ‘I think we’re going to win this thing.’ Our Richard Green Trucking machine was awesome. I’m real happy with a third.”
One week ago at Lee USA Speedway (NH), Babb made a charge late but had to settle for the second spot. He once again attempted to save his equipment for the end on Sunday afternoon, but when the race lead fell into his hands he was ecstatic.
“I was just riding along behind the 16 (Dragon) and then all of a sudden I was at his door and then all of a sudden I was clear,” Babb stated. “I was like, “You’ve got to be kidding me. We’re leading Thunder Road with 15 or 20 to go.”
Babb teamed up with Laquerre last season for the first time to run his No. 15 during an ACT event at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway (ME) in August. Sunday’s race was just their fourth race together as a team. So far in 2015, Babb and team have recorded a win and runner-up finish in three events.
“Joey bought (the car) at the end of the season for me to drive on the tour and right after that was when ‘Little Joey’ got killed,” said Babb. “I pretty much decided right there that if Joey let me run the whole year than I was going to give him a hell of a fight to try to win a championship.”
At the end of the day, Babb just couldn’t seem to find another word besides “unbelievable” when trying to describe the feeling of winning the Merchants Bank 150.
“It’s just completely unbelievable to win one for ‘Lil Joey’ at his home track and for ‘Big Joey’ at his home track.”
-By Brandon Paul, Speed51.com Editor – Twitter: @Brandon_Paul51
-Photo credit: Speed51.com