There are race car drivers who make a lot of “noise” on the racetrack. The phrase “checkers or wreckers” comes to mind. Some are content with being a headline story after the race, even if it is because they wrecked in spectacular fashion while fighting for the lead.
Shawn Fleury is not that kind of driver.
Throughout his career, Fleury has made a name for himself by being a driver who uses his head as much as his hands and feet. With handicapping putting the good drivers at the back of the pack each week, it takes the right mix of patience and impatience to make it to the front by the end of the race. A driver who also works on the cars is more likely to pay attention to not wrecking the car while going through the field, as the driver knows full-well how much time and money are required to repair damaged racecars.
Like most drivers, Shawn Fleury came to racing by his genes. “My uncle is Ron Bettis” Fleury says, referring to the legendary Thunder Road driver. “My father and uncles crewed for him and my grandfather owned the car so I was always around race cars as a kid.”
“I started in 1992 I think” Fleury says, recalling when he went from twisting a wrench to twisting a wheel. “I ran half the season in the NAPA Legends division that turned into the Tiger B division. I had a few good runs in the Tiger B’s. The next year I built a Flying Tiger. I was in the way more than anything but by my second year in the Flying Tigers (and third year racing) things went much better.”
In the years that followed Fleury was a consistent threat to win races (and he did win races) but did not win a championship. Drivers like Ricky Dennis, Jimmy Young, Dave Pembroke, John Donahue, Joe Steffen and Reno Gervais (most of who eventually went through Flying Tigers on their way to Late Models) claimed the season-long titles while Fleury continued to fill the role of the hard-working underdog.
Fleury won his first Flying Tiger championship in 2005, then backed it up with another one in 2006. Heading into 2007 he was already in the double-digits for wins in Flying Tigers and was one of only four drivers who had two championships in the division.
For 2007 Fleury moved up to the Late Models with a car owned by Scott Fearn. It was a big learning curve but he seemed to be catching on to the bigger, faster cars.
With a full year behind him in Late Models, Fleury was improving rapidly during the 2008 season (driving his own car) when fate took an ugly turn. An ugly turn into the turn 3 wall, really. Fleury was fine (sore but OK) after the grinding crash but the car was destroyed. With not enough funding to replace it, Fleury finished the season driving a car on loan from fellow driver Pete Fecteau.
In 2009 Fleury returned to Flying Tigers (now called Tiger Sportsmen) and also returned to his winning ways. Just as he had in the years before, Fleury won races and threatened to win every time he hit the track.
Sticking with the Tigers from 2009 through 2013 Fleury went back to winning races and working toward another championship.
In 2013 Fleury won the championship and in doing so accomplished something no other driver had ever done at Thunder Road—win 3 Tiger championships. He also moved to second on the all-time wins list just 3 behind track legend Joey Laquerre.
For 2014, a new opportunity arose for Fleury. An open seat in the #1 Hallstrom Motorsports Late Model (a multi-time winning car at Thunder Road) led Fleury to make changes in his racing program.
Hallstrom Motorsports is owned by Louie and Lisa Hallstrom. Louie Hallstrom had been a crewmember on race teams starting in 1986 and worked on the crews of Clem “Desperate” Despault and “Stormin” Norm Andrews, among others.
In 2009 Louie and his wife Lisa started Hallstrom Motorsports based out of Northfield, Vermont.
In the seasons that followed they won races with different drivers but had not yet found the spark they felt was needed to turn occasional wins and good finishes into championships.
Putting Shawn Fleury into the driver’s seat seemed like a great choice. Fleury had tens of thousands of laps at Thunder Road both in Tigers and Late Models, he was popular among fans, he was good with sponsors, he knew how to take care of his equipment and he worked on his own cars.
“The two racing families of the Hallstrom’s and the Fleury’s have both come from very little and have worked for everything they have to get to where they are today” says Lisa Hallstrom. “We both have a strong desire to show that we can compete at the top level and that hard work and perseverance pays off. We’ve all worked hard to get what we have. Nothing was handed to any of us. The similar backgrounds between Shawn and us helps define us as a group and keeps a constant fire burning for us to do well.”
Fleury kept his Tiger equipment but combined his team and non-Tiger equipment with that of the Hallstrom team. Combining two winning teams was yet another thing that just made sense in the Fleury/Hallstrom pairing.
“The team is my family and friends mixed with new people that were with the Hallstrom’s” says Fleury. “Troy Wheeler is my Crew Chief. Louis Hallstrom, Scott Guyette, Todd Keller, Brian Powers, Steve Grandfield, Gary Powers, Jason Jarvis, Hank Lavanway, Scott Powers, Pete Fleury and Mike Pendergast make up the team. Sponsors are 802cars.com, Oil N Go, EA Greenfield, Spherion Staffing, Depot Square Pizzeria, Classic Ventures, Vianor Essex, Yates Auto Body, R&R Property Management and New Horizons Embroidery. We couldn’t do what we do without all of them. I have a ton of support from my family, my wife Dawn, my son Logan and my daughter Brynn, my parents who have been with me from day one…the list goes on and on. We have a big following. ”
Fleury and the Hallstrom team entered the 2014 season with lots of enthusiasm. A 12th place finish in the Thunder Road opener was not spectacular but respectable. A similar finish of 10th in the Memorial Day race was also not spectacular but respectable.
On the first Thursday night race of the season, Fleury and the team came oh-so-close to getting Fleury’s first win in a Late Model and their first win together as a team. Ironically the victor that night—Joey Laquerre--is the same man who is ahead of Fleury in all-time Thunder Road Tiger wins.
A slump came in the next 3 races where Lisa Hallstrom says “we could not figure out what was wrong with the car and the finishes were horrible.
That all changed in the July 6th race where Fleury and the Hallstrom team earned the win in dominating fashion.
Since then the #1 Late Model has tried for consistency with their finishes. It is that word—consistency—that leads to that other big “c” word in racing; championships. “We feel we are a championship team” says Lisa Hallstrom. “If not this year, it will happen soon.”
Each part of the Fleury/ Hallstrom pairing feels that the other brings something important to the effort. For Fleury, The Hallstrom’s bring winning equipment and a crew savvy with Late Model racing. For The Hallstrom’s, Fleury not only brings a crew and equipment but something that not everyone has; “Shawn has a drive to drive every lap” says Lisa Hallstrom. “Shawn's drive and will to do well have made the team step up their game. The drive and determination of the driver fuels the drive and determination of the team.”
Fleury backs up what Hallstrom says. “My driving style has always been to charge hard every lap” Fleury says. “Now, because of the longer races in a Late Model, I'm learning to save my car more for the end of the race. It's not easy for me. I think the hardest thing to do as a driver is to be patient and not get in bad situations. You have to finish in order to win, either the race or a championship.”
At Barre, VT’s Thunder Road International Speedbowl it’s tough to get even one win and tougher than that to get a championship, much less be a multi-time champion. For a Late Model team, it’s tough to compete with other teams with more resources and more experienced drivers. Rather than defeat either Fleury or The Hallstrom’s, it instead motivates them even more.
“I definitely started from the bottom and worked hard to get to this point” says Fleury. “I think it has made me a better driver because of it.” The Hallstrom team has followed the same path from nothing to success.
The pairing of a very driven driver and a very driven team will most certainly produce even more wins (and hopefully a championship) in the future.
Story and Photo By Leif Tillotson