Fresh off of two straight Thunder Road “King of the Road” Late Model championships, Derrick O’Donnell decided to make a big change during the offseason. Despite winning the 2013 and 2014 track championships at the historic Barre, Vermont oval, he thought that change was necessary in order to increase his chances of staying on top.
O’Donnell made that change by working countless amounts of hours over the winter to build a brand new race car. Thus far, one race into the Thunder Road season, that change is one that appears to be paying off.
In front of a huge Memorial Day weekend crowd, O’Donnell took the lead from Nick Sweet on lap 8 and pulled away from Scott Dragon late to win the Memorial Day Classic 100 on Sunday afternoon.
“It’s a brand new car, it’s been fast from day one but I’ve been fighting the balance trying to get it comfortable,” O’Donnell told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “ It was really good for about 75 laps. I was really working at it at the end there. Luckily, I think he fell off the same amount we did, so we were kind of maintaining. Getting through lapped cars was key, but we did it just right I guess.”
After taking the lead from Sweet early on in the race, O’Donnell began to check out from the rest of the field until he encountered heavy lapped traffic. With rows of cars two-by-two in front of him, Dragon was able to reel him in and lead a lap during the middle stages of the 100-lap event.
Once the two drivers were eventually able to clear the slower traffic, O’Donnell once again began building up a lead that Dragon wouldn’t be able to erase.
Dragon would end up crossing the finish line second with two-time “King of the Road” Nick Sweet, Merchant’s Bank 150 winner Brad Babb and “Irish” John Donahue completing the top-five.
“I was riding up until that point trying to stay disciplined and not go full throttle and all that,” said O’Donnell. “Once we got stuck there and he caught me, that was kind of about the time the car started to go downhill even driving it full bore. It all worked out and we were just a bit bitter than him but we’ve got to get a little bit better for the longer races.”
The longer races on the Thunder Road schedule such as the Memorial Day Classic, Vermont Governor’s Cup and Labor Day Classic are actually the reason why O’Donnell built a new car during the offseason. Because despite winning the last two track championships, he wasn’t able to find the same amount of success in longer distance races. His only “Classic” win at the track came two years ago in the Memorial Day Classic.
“That’s actually the main reason why we built the new car,” O’Donnell stated. “We’ve had a 2007 car all along and I just felt like we were getting beat on these bigger races. We can do good in the 40 or 50 lappers, but these big races we were getting outclassed. This new car is pretty dominant when it comes to that it feels like. It doesn’t fall off on old tires like the old one did, so I’m happy with it.”
In addition to having a fast car Sunday at Thunder Road, O’Donnell displayed a lot of speed during the American-Canadian Tour Merchant’s Bank 150 held at the track on May 3. He led a total of 24 laps before falling victim to a mechanical issue that ended his day early.
“I think we would have done it at the last race if it lasted 150 laps,” said O’Donnell. “The car was a bullet then, too. So it feels good. You question a lot of the stuff you do. We changed a lot of the stuff for the better. We couldn’t stay where we were at.
“You always question if you change too much, so it’s always good assurance that you did it right.”
-By Brandon Paul, Speed51.com Editor – Twitter: @Brandon_Paul51
-Photo credit: Speed51.com