While Vermont fans and drivers are naturally the most well represented every year during Milk Bowl weekend at Thunder Road, the contingent from the Canadian Province of Quebec is always visible, in part due to fan enthusiasm and the talented corps of drivers that put their full effort in before hanging up their helmets for the winter.
Once again the province bolsters an array of experience and age, including within its class of champions. One of the veterans leading the charge is three-time Milk Bowl winner Patrick Laperle, who has made trips south of the border only a couple times this season.
Laperle’s last trip onto American soil was for the Labor Day Classic at Thunder Road. Things did not go according to plan setup wise, but he hopes that his No. 91QC will be up for the challenge this time around, especially with the return of the Friday practice.
“We did one race there and we went over and practiced the week after. For the race, the car was not that good, so we went and made some changes to make it better,” Laperle told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “We’ll see, you need to start up front for the first segment. We will be there Friday to test in the afternoon, and see what we got for the pole.”
It is the first time Laperle has made the trip to Barre, VT in October in three years. While he would like to concentrate on the goal of starting up front, he has learned that sometimes just making the show can be difficult enough, especially this season with only 26 starting spots available.
“Last time I went there to try was three years ago and we didn’t make the show. Every time I won the Milk Bowl I was racing in the U.S. so I knew the guys, but now I’m not racing much anymore,” he stated. “It’s hard, you need to know the people you are racing against, so it can help you survive.”
Like all other drivers, Laperle is still coming to grips with Thunder Road’s new asphalt surface laid down in early May. In just the two races he has run this year, he has already noticed a remarkable difference from race to race, but is confident it will produce one the best shows in years.
“When we went for the PASS race in May there was a ton of grip and when went for the last race on Labor Day there was not that as much grip, it changed a lot. It’s one reason we are going back early, I think we got a good shot with the new asphalt. I think it is going to make a better show for the fans.”
While Laperle wants to put the Canadian flag back in victory lane for the first time since his last Milk Bowl win in 2008, he along with defending Milk Bowl winner Nick Sweet and racing veteran Kevin Lepage are each trying to join Robbie Crouch in the four-wins club.
“Jean-Paul Cabana won it many years ago, so I’m one of two guys Quebec to win the Milk Bowl. To tie Robbie Crouch would be nice, I’m tied with a lot of guys now but I want to be with Crouch now.”
But Laperle will not only have to worry about the “Green Mountain State” home guard, he also has to keep an eye on his fellow countrymen, one of which is coming off a major championship.
It has been a career year for Alex Labbe, scoring five wins and the 2017 championship during his second full season in the NASCAR Pinty’s Series which runs all across Canada. Now he is ready to ride the momentum to Thunder Road, despite little time in the Late Models.
“Pretty good year up in Canada, the championship and the wins were pretty awesome. I didn’t run as much as I wanted this year with the Larue’s because I was busy with the Pinty’s Series,” Labbe explained. “But I think we found some pretty good speed at the end of the year the last couple of races we did. I think it will be good for this weekend at the Milk Bowl.”
It is also a final opportunity for Labbe to win at “The Nation’s Site of Excitement” for possibly some time as he and his sponsors now seek a full-time ride in the NASCAR Xfinity Series for 2018.
“We are looking at doing Xfinity full-time, so I’m going to be pretty busy and not have time for Late Models anymore. It is going to be one of my last shots in the next couple of years. But I’m looking forward to going back. We had success in 2013, we sat on the pole and finished third. I can’t wait to run the track with the new asphalt, never been there since they resurfaced it.”
Like Laperle, Labbe believes that the new surface may prove a bit of an equalizer and he is also happy for the Friday practice for more than one reason.
“Before it was really challenging the track was so worn out, and the locals were pretty good because they were used to racing it every week. I don’t know if it will give us an advantage or not but at least we will have Friday to practice,” he said. “The last two years we were not allowed to practice on Friday but 2013 and 2014 we were allowed to practice and those were our two best years.”
While he would like to add his name to the names on the rock of past Milk Bowl winners and join Laperle and Cabana as Canadian winners, he knows that everyone else, including his fellow Canadians will try to top him.
“It would be special, but guys like Patrick Laperle are going to be pretty good there; he’s always good there and he’s won a bunch there,” Labbe stated. “This year’s Serie ACT champion Jonathan Bouvrette is going to be there. Quebec will be well represented there that’s for sure.”
Race fans from Quebec who are unable to make it to Barre, Vermont will be able to watch all of the racing action this weekend via a live pay-per-view broadcast on Speed51.com. Live video tickets can be purchased today by clicking here.
-By: Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com CT, MA, RI & Long Island Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com