The dream Late Model season continued for Scott Payea on Monday evening at Vermont’s Thunder Road International Speedbowl. Despite being involved in an early crash and suffering visible damage, Payea battled back to score his fifth American-Canadian Tour win of the 2017 season in the Labor Day Classic 200.
For the first time since 2013, the Labor Day Classic returned to the ACT banner after three seasons as a track points race, rejoining the springtime Community Bank 150 – a race also won by Payea – on the 2017 ACT schedule. Not only did Payea complete the ACT season sweep at the “Nation’s Site of Excitement,” but he now adds his name to the list of Labor Day winners.
“It feels good. I love Thunder Road, it’s my home track. I’ve raced the whole ladder system that Tom Curley made for us, so it’s a lot of fun any time you can come back and win,” Payea told Speed51.com powered by JEGS.
Back in the spring, Payea’s road to victory was a rough one with the No. 37VT sustaining damage early in the race. On Monday, it was déjà vu after Payea had started in the back for the feature, pitted early and ended up getting rear ended hard in an early pile-up. But once again, it was not enough to stop him.
“We were behind to start. We got wrecked in the heat race and were down a good right-side (tire). Car was terrible in that first 48 lap run or so, just bad, bad loose,” Payea explained. “We came in, changed tires, went back out, immediately got in a wreck, came back in, and the guys just worked hard to get it all right and I just went back out there and wheeled it.”
Bobby Therrien and Dillon Moltz led early on, but Nick Sweet snagged the lead from Moltz with 75 laps to go, electing not to pit for his two fresh American Racer tires. After the final restart with 15 to go, Payea had climbed to second, starting to the outside of Sweet, who was seeking his fourth straight Labor Day win. The two would trade paint in an exciting duel for the next 10 laps, but Payea would eventually pull away and prevail in the final laps.
“That was everything I had. We laid it right out there and he was using us up pretty hard. I thought we were going to grab the lead, then I thought we were wrecking, and then we came back and got the lead,” Payea recalled.
For Sweet, there was some disappointment, but at the same time he was happy to be in the mix, returning to Eric Chase’s No. 40VT after running less than a handful of races throughout 2017.
“I was trying hard; I just couldn’t do it. We didn’t have enough racecar at the end. I tried my best, led a lot of the race, and just didn’t finish on top at the end,” Sweet said. “Still a good day, wish we could’ve finished first for Eric, but sometimes you just can’t win them all. I haven’t been in a racecar hardly at all this summer, so I guess to finish third today isn’t that bad.”
Sweet would be unable to hold second place, as he would slide back one more position behind 2016 Thunder Road Late Model champion Scott Dragon, who was also in the running over the closing laps.
“The car was really good, just tried to conserve as best I could the whole race,” Dragon stated. “Kept trying to hit my marks and not overuse the tires. We never came in for tires, which worked, just didn’t have enough for the 37 at the end, but pretty darn close.”
The 2017 American-Canadian Tour schedule has only one points race left on Saturday, October 14 during World Series weekend at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park in Connecticut. Payea increased his points lead to 37 points, unofficially, over Moltz who faded to seventh on Monday. While things are tipping in the direction for Payea’s first ACT title after four runner-ups, he feels far from comfy heading to Thompson.
“It’ll never be comfortable enough, we’ll go in and approach that race just like the rest of them,” Payea said. “This team will give me the best car that they can and we’ll go out there and get it done.”
But before the final title fight, Payea is looking to finally score another elusive prize, the Vermont Milk Bowl, which is set for September 30 and October 1 at Thunder Road. Given that Payea has won both times at Thunder Road in 2017 with a damaged racecar at the end, he says that it is often part of the winning formula.
“The Milk Bowl is one tough race and anybody that comes through that without a scratch on their car hasn’t raced hard enough.”
Full race results and additional notes are available at Speed Central.
-By: Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com CT, MA, RI & Long Island Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo Credit: Alan Ward