It has been 23 years since the last makeover of the track surface at Thunder Road International Speedbowl in Barre, Vermont. With a new asphalt surface set to debut during this weekend’s Memorial Day Classic, racers and fans in the area are beginning to get antsy to see just how fast the new surface will be.
The announcement of new asphalt, the first resurface since 1994, was made just two weeks after the sale of the track to Cris Michaud and Patrick Malone. The project commenced a week later when Pike Industries brought their equipment to Quarry Hill and wrapped up within a few days.
Since that time, a handful of cars have been on track for a test and the reaction so far has been great.
One of those drivers that tested the fresh pavement is former Thunder Road Late Model champion Nick Sweet who felt everything is ready to go for this weekend’s Memorial Day Classic featuring the Super Late Models of the Pro All Stars Series and Thunder Road’s Late Models.
“I had a chance to drive on it with the ACT Late Model at an open practice last week and it has a pile of grip, it should be fun,” Sweet reported to Speed51.com powered by JEGS.
As for what Sweet thinks this will bring, especially for the PASS drivers, he thinks most aspects will be wait and see, but that speed is assured.
“It’s going to be extremely fast, but it’s hard to tell, brand new asphalt is funny. I know when we went up there, the asphalt itself stayed down great, the track has more grip with the more rubber you put in it. It was good to see that. The speeds are extremely high because of the side grip, it will be interesting to see how the tires hold up on the surface, more grip means more heat, which means more tire wear.”
Speed is a big talking point, with some drivers believing that Super Late Model lap times could dip below 12 seconds over the weekend. Defending Thunder Road Late Model champion Scott Dragon sees that as a realistic possibility and noted that a lack of track experience for a number of PASS drivers could make things tricky come race time.
“I don’t know, it’s going to be different for everybody. The PASS guys don’t have a lot of experience around there anyways,” Dragon said. “I think they’re going to get around there, they are going to be quick. I wouldn’t be surprised if a new track record is set this weekend.”
The official track record at Thunder Road is a 12.245 second lap set by Canadian Sylvain Metivier during an ACT Pro Stock event in 1995. Joey Polewarczyk, Jr. holds the ACT-type Late Model record after turning a 12.935 during qualifying for the 2006 Milk Bowl.
As for how both the PASS and Thunder Road Late Model races will go, Dragon is certain that the bottom will be the place to be and that if a second groove does form up, it will not be on the tip top of the turns.
“I think you’ll find that the high line that we’ve all been running for quite some time now is going to be a lot lower on the track now than where it was before. You were getting the most grip on the bottom and way up top so everybody stayed out of the middle. Now your high line is probably going to be the middle,” Dragon explained. “Me and a handful of guys really run the top rim, I don’t think it’s going to be safe to do that, it’s going to leave the middle line open for somebody to come rolling in there. Three wide doesn’t work at Thunder Road really well, it closes off pretty quickly coming off four; you can’t run three wide off four so you’ll have to be thinking about that.”
While things will most likely be tight on Sunday and for the first few weeks of the season, Sweet expects the surface to get better and better with each passing event. With time, he expects a very competitive surface like Thunder Road has had throughout its existence.
“I think it is going to get better and better. It’s going to take time for it to race great. In the beginning, there is going to be one lane that’s more dominant than the other. Where that lane is, I don’t know. At the test the bottom was where everybody is running, as the rubber laid down it got faster and faster,” Sweet recalled. “If you moved out of that rubber lane, you’d get slower. Hopefully the practice the day before will help the groove move up so it becomes two lane racing.”
While the speed and timing of the project has taken both drivers by surprise, the two champions are more than happy to see it happen.
“They are really enthusiastic up there right now which is great to see. The new owners are doing a great job, hopefully it will continue to run as smoothly as when Tom Curley ran the place and it’s going to continue to be a great place to race,” Sweet remarked.
“I think it took us all a little by surprise that they did it that quickly,” Dragon replied. “Pike Industries is a pretty well-known paving outfit, from what I heard it’s done really well, super smooth, should be fun. It will change the racing there; the racing was good but it’s going to continue to be good.”
Thunder Road’s new surface will open for business this weekend with the 55th Memorial Day Classic featuring the season opening Mekkelsen RV 100 for the Thunder Road Late Models and the third Thunder Road appearance for the PASS North Super Late Models who will go 150 laps.
-By Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com CT, MA & Long Island Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo credit: Thunder Road International Speedbowl