Barre, VT — The 57th Vermont Milk Bowl presented by Northfield Savings Bank continues to draw closer and closer on the calendar. The historic event this Saturday, September 28 and Sunday, September 29 has attracted entries from the biggest stars in the region and country with former Milk Bowl winners, series champions, and track champions ready to do battle.
But for some drivers, Vermont Milk Bowl Weekend will be unlike anything they’ve experienced before. Several drivers are making their first attempt ever to be part of a race that goes back to 1962.
Senoia, GA’s Bubba Pollard is an obvious first-timer at this year’s Milk Bowl. The Super Late Model veteran has never raced at Thunder Road before. But for racing veterans at a local level, such as Joel Hodgdon, Tom Carey III, Alexandre Tardif, and Michael Benevides, the chance to be part of the Milk Bowl can mean just as much if not more.
“The Milk Bowl means a lot to me,” Craftsbury Common’s Hodgdon said. “It’s the biggest race at Thunder Road, which has been my home track since I was 16. It’s pretty cool – I never imagined having a Late Model, let alone trying to make it into the Milk Bowl.”
“It’s something we’ve always wanted to do.” Warwick, MA’s Carey added. “It’s something my dad always wanted to do, too, and he never got the chance to do. I’m also a big Bubba Pollard fan, and when I found out he was going to run after I talked to him at Oxford, that cemented my deal. I wanted to have a chance to race against him in my lifetime, and this might be the only chance. I figured I’d better take advantage of it.”
Drivers can take many paths to their first Milk Bowl, and this year’s crop of first timers is no exception. Pollard has been racing Super Late Models around the country for the past decade, winning major races such as the Oxford 250, All-American 400, Canadian Short Track Nationals, and Rattler 250.
Hodgdon, on the other hand, is in his first year behind the wheel of a Late Model. He spent 15 years racing Street Stocks and Flying Tigers at Thunder Road, which culminated with him winning the Flying Tiger track championship and Tiger Mini Milk Bowl in 2018. His past experience in segment racing could give him some help – as long as he makes it into the field.
“My biggest problem is going to be time trialing,” Hodgdon admitted. “I can’t put a lap together in practice or qualifying that’s even close to the fast guys. That’s something we’re going to work on (at practice) Friday – trying to figure out a good time trial groove and see if we can’t get our times down a little bit. That’s the key to making the show and doing well. If you start last in the Milk Bowl, you aren’t really going to amount to much.”
Notre-Dame-des-Pin, QC’s Tarif is another driver relatively new to the Late Model ranks. He has competed regularly at Autodrome Chaudiere this year and made trips across the border to run with the American-Canadian Tour (ACT) at Virginia’s Richmond Raceway and Maine’s Oxford Plains Speedway. Not only is he attempting his first Milk Bowl, but he is also making his first visit as a racer to Thunder Road.
Carey, meanwhile, won a Super Stock championship at Monadnock Speedway before making the jump to the Late Model ranks. He spent the last few years competing at Connecticut’s Thompson Speedway with select events at New London-Waterford Speedbowl and on the ACT Late Model Tour. Carey has just two starts at Thunder Road and encountered the wall both times. He also is looking for better segment racing luck after previous attempts ended with a blown engine and a crash.
“Even in my dad’s (Tom Carey Jr.) career at Thunder Road, we’ve never really had a good handle on the place,” Carey acknowledge. “It always seems like it’s a track that we should be good at, but he’s struggled there, and I struggled the times I was there. Still I enjoy quarter-milk high-banked tracks. The first track I ever raced on and won a championship at was Monadnock, and I won a lot of races there. It’s not like Thunder Road, I will say that. But of all the tracks I’ve been too, Thunder Road isn’t like any of them!”
The first-timers will undoubtedly have different goals than some of the heavier hitters this weekend. For accomplished racers such as Patrick Laperle, Joey Polewarczyk, Jason Corliss, Bobby Therrien, Scott Dragon, and Brent Dragon, anything less than being in contention for the overall win is arguably a disappointment. For some people in their inaugural Milk Bowl attempt, however, simply making the race will be an accomplishment.
“It’d be awesome just to qualify for the Milk Bowl,” Hodgdon said. “We came into the season with some goals. We wanted to qualify for every show we went to, and we’ve done that so far. We had a goal of getting a top-10, and we have two of those. Basically, our biggest goal this weekend is to make the show and bring it home in one piece. A top-10 would be pretty neat, too.”
No matter how they do, the maiden Milk Bowl racers get to go up against the best the Northeast has to offer. They will do so at the final event of Thunder Road’s 60th season in front of a huge expected crowd that is there to see them put on a great show.
“Thunder Road is such an awesome track,” Carey gushed. “It’s where this type of car was born. Being a Southern New England guy, everywhere we go, we’re always the back of the bus to the Modifieds. So it’s cool going to a race track where your division is the headliner and everybody’s excited to see your cars and your guys race. It’s an awesome atmosphere. Me and my dad love it when we go up there, even though we’ve struggled, and our car owner fell in love with it, too.”
The action of Vermont Milk Bowl Weekend kicks off at 3:00pm on Saturday, September 28 with Booth Bros./H.P. Hood Qualifying Day. The Maplewood/Irving Oil Late Models have time trials and 50-lap qualifying races to help set the Milk Bowl starting field. Thunder Road’s Lenny’s Shoe & Apparel Flying Tigers, Allen Lumber Street Stocks, Burnett Scrap Metals Road Warriors have qualifying and Mini Milk Bowl action. The night ends with a 150-lap event for the Pro All Stars Series Super Late Models, a fireworks show by Northstar Fireworks, and live music. The pits open at 9:30am and the front gates open at 12:00pm
Sunday, September 29 is the 57th Vermont Milk Bowl presented by Northfield Savings Bank. The Last Chance “B” Feature at 12:15pm decides the final spots on the Milk Bowl grid. The three-segment Milk Bowl follows along with the conclusion of the Flying Tiger and Street Stock Mini Milk Bowls plus the 7-Eleven Dwarf Cars. The pits open at 8:00am and the front gates open at 10:00am.
Adult admission for Vermont Milk Bowl Weekend is $45 for a two-day ticket, $30 for Sunday-only, and $20 for Saturday-only. Kids ages 12 and under are admitted free both days.
For more information, contact the Thunder Road/ACT offices at (802) 244-6963, [email protected], [email protected], or visit www.thunderroadvt.com or www.acttour.com. You can also follow on Facebook and Twitter at @ThunderRoadVT and @ACTTour.
-Thunder Road Int’l Speedbowl Press Release
-Photo Credit: Alan Ward