The swiftness of recent upgrades and renovations at Thunder Road International Speedbowl have at times surprised even the most seasoned competitors and fans at the now 60-year-old Barre, Vermont quarter-mile oval. The latest project under the ownership of Cris Michaud and Pat Malone was the complete encirclement of the race track by a full perimeter concrete wall.
After six decades with only the lone frontstretch wall, known infamously as the "Widowmaker," coupled with the steep drop from atop the high-banked turns, the new wall created quite the pre-race conversation for drivers who competed at "The Nation’s Site of Excitement" during opening day back on May 5.
This also included the drivers who competed in the American-Canadian Tour Late Model feature, a good chunk of whom compete or have competed at Thunder Road on a weekly basis.
When it was all said and done though, it was just another action-packed day of racing. The winner of the ACT feature, Jason Corliss, wrapped up his third straight Late Model win at Thunder Road. This weekend he is ready to pursue his first "King of the Road" title in the Maplewood/Irving Oil Late Model division, after nearly missing out in 2018 to Scott Dragon.
Corliss dominated the ACT race but had to cope with heavy lapped traffic. Overall, wall or no wall, it was just another day at "The Road" for the two-time Vermont Milk Bowl winner.
“I don’t feel like it was a factor, at least not for us. There weren’t really a lot of instances in the Late Model race for the wall to become a factor,” Corliss told Speed51 Thursday. “I know some of the lower divisions there were some wrecks where things were tightened up. Obviously, you loose some runoff room on the top of the track. But other than that it’s a non-factor. During the course of the race, you don’t plan on going beyond the pavement.”
The ACT race runner-up Nick Sweet had a similar take after battling up from the middle to the front of the field on May 5. The two-time ‘King of the Road’ even went as far as saying that the wall added a certain comfort while racing.
“It didn’t affect (the racing), I don’t believe," Sweet said. "It’s still the same circle, just don’t hit the wall. It didn’t feel tighter, in a way it was more comforting because you now have an even better idea of where the edge of asphalt is, and you don’t have to worry about rolling off the top or ending up in the parking lot."
This weekend at the Memorial Day Classic, Sweet will be in his Super Late Model for the 150-lap Pro All Stars Series event, and he is confident that their competition should be the same as it has been since the track was repaved in 2017.
“I would say it’s going to be the same, it shouldn’t change at all. I’m more worried about us having the same kind of race at Star, but that was only because no one was using their heads, which can happen anywhere. So, if everyone races like normal, it’ll be a good race.”
Sweet, a native of Barre, added that he is happy to see his home track get the care it deserves to ensure its survival.
“You see a lot of places on the verge of closing their doors. This is kind of abnormal, to see people investing money into a race track. It shows life and that it's going to be here for a good long while.”
Corliss is also thankful to see the continued upgrades as well; upgrades that will benefit not just driver safety, but also make for an even better experience for Thunder Road’s loyal fanbase.
“It’s a testament to the effort that Cris and Pat are putting into this race track," he stated. "It’s not cheap to do what they have done, but it’s good to see someone come in with a vision and not just ride the track out as is and make some money. They are respecting the tradition while also enhancing the facility for safety and the fan experience.”
It is a tradition that looks to be set to go on to another generation, one of which Corliss intends to share with his son.
“The more they invest and do with it, the more likely it is to stay around. For me, having a son now, I hope we can enjoy it for a long time to come, and that he can enjoy it for years to come as well.”
This Sunday, May 26, the Maplewood/Irving Oil Late Models begin the Thunder Road ‘King of the Road’ title hunt with their 100-lap Memorial Day Classic feature. It’s also a big day for the Pro All Stars Series Super Late Models as not only are a check and trophy on the line, but also a guaranteed spot in the Oxford 250 later this summer.
-Story by: Connor Sullivan, Speed51 Northeast Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo credit: Big Al's Photos / Alan Ward