The decision made by Bobby Therrien and the Maplewood No.5VT Late Model team to run a homebased racing schedule centered around Vermont’s Thunder Road Late Model championship paid off in full in 2017. Therrien was crowned “King of the Road” last Sunday night after wrapping up his first career Thunder Road Late Model title after a consistent season at the “Nation’s Site of Excitement.”
Now the countdown has begun for one of the greatest Late Model prizes in all of North America, the Vermont Milk Bowl. With a little more than two weeks remaining until Thunder Road roars once more in 2017, the celebration for Therrien and company has ended, and the preparation is well underway.
“The prep started the next day. We still have got a few big races. Even though it means a lot to get the championship itself done, it allows us to have some fun for the rest of the year,” Therrien told Speed51.com powered by JEGS.
This year’s edition marks the 55th running of Vermont’s great race, featuring a unique format that has changed very little since its early years in the 1960’s. Time trials and multiple 50-lap qualifying races set the field on Saturday, while on Sunday 30 drivers race in three 50-lap segments. While the first segment is set heads-up from Saturday, the second and third segment lineups are set by inverting the lead-lap cars from the previous segment, with all other cars in the back. In all segments, every driver is given the same points as the finishing position in that segment. The driver with the least combined score is the Milk Bowl champion.
Therrien knows that this format puts survival as the biggest key to victory along with speed. He also feels that all the 50-lap features he has run this season at Thunder Road may just pay off.
“You’ve got to survive all the qualifying races Saturday, then each segment on Sunday. As far as racing at Thunder Road weekly this year with these 50-lap dashes, it should help us. We should have a really good car over 50-lap runs. I think we’ll have a little bit of an advantage over a lot of the guys.”
The 2016 Milk Bowl looked to be going Therrien’s way until mechanical troubles ended the day early and opened up the door for Nick Sweet to win it for the third time. Like Therrien, Sweet has a lot of laps on the quarter-mile high-banks, but not so much in 2017, as Sweet has run less than a handful of events. Therrien believes that he, along with all the other drivers that ran weekly in Barre, VT this season will be on top of the new and still changing asphalt surface.
“Last year was really close, we were sitting in a good place in the third segment and we had a mechanical failure. Out of all the years that I’ve been driving Late Models, it’s the first one we’ve ever had. We are going to get that behind us, as far as running weekly at Thunder Road this year, it’s going to be a huge advantage. The track has changed so much, even from week to week with the new pavement,” Therrien explained.
“Over the weeks of it getting worn in and more rubber getting laid down, it’s changed a lot. We’ve been able to figure out what the car needs for adjustments fairly quick each week we show up. Hopefully going into the Milk Bowl, we’ll be able to get those changes before anyone else and have a good car.”
While Therrien has put the home track drivers as the favorites, he knows that the full-time competitors of the American-Canadian Tour will be tough to contend with as always, such as Scott Payea who swept both ACT points events at Thunder Road in 2017. But, Therrien is used to running with the American ACT drivers and knows what most bring to the table. He feels that the Canadian drivers that frequent the Quebec based Serie ACT will be some of the biggest wildcards, including three-time Milk Bow champion Patrick Laperle.
“You got a lot of guys that will come down from Canada, Patrick Laperle being a prime example, he was at the Labor Day race. I know Alex Labbe and the Larue team are coming back down. Anytime those guys show up at a track they’re there to win, they’re going to be contenders regardless. From a racing standpoint the competition is awesome. I love it. It gives you a chance to race all these guys that you don’t get to race with a lot during the summer. To have a race like the Milk Bowl at the end of the season is a great way to wrap things up.”
As for the Milk Bowl tradition of the winner kissing a cow at the end of the weekend, Therrien will not be the first to turn down the opportunity should he win.
“I would love to kiss the cow. If I get the opportunity to do it, I will be more than happy.”
The 55th Vermont Milk Bowl rolls at Thunder Road in two weeks, with Qualifying Day on Saturday, September 30 and Race Day on Sunday, October 1.
-By: Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com CT, MA, RI & Long Island Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo Credit: Alan Ward