When legendary motorsports broadcaster and NASCAR hall-of-famer Ken Squier speaks, people listen. Years ago, the former owner of Thunder Road International Speedbowl (VT) introduced the slogan "Toughest Short Track Race in America" to describe the Vermont Milk Bowl. Since that day, the slogan has stuck and is often used to describe the unique three-segment race held at the track known as "The Nation's Site of Excitement."
With the 57th running of the Milk Bowl set to roll of Sunday afternoon in Barre, Vermont, we decided to investigate and find out from drivers what exactly makes the Milk Bowl so tough.
Is it the high-banked, quarter-mile bullring itself? Maybe it's the competition that competes each year? Or could it be the unique format consisting of three 50-lap segments with a full-field invert after each segment?
For two-time defending Milk Bowl winner Jason Corliss, it all comes down to the fact that a perfect combination is needed in order to reach Victory Lane and kiss the Vermont dairy cow.
"The Milk Bowl is so tough because it takes a perfect mixture of luck, driver performance, and car performance," Corliss told Speed51. "There is no saving from lap one of the first segment to the last lap of the final segment. You gotta get up on the wheel and get it done. There's no race quite like it with the inverts. If you're lucky enough to win, it means you've had a perfect day and passed a lot of cars. There is no better feeling!"
One driver who knows exactly how tough and heartbreaking the Milk Bowl can be is last year's runner-up finisher Bobby Therrien. One year ago, Therrien crossed under the white flag as the leader in the overall Milk Bowl standings. He also entered the third and final segment with the overall points lead. However, the difference between kissing the cow and not kissing the cow came down to one position that he lost to Corliss on the final lap.
"To be successful on a weekly Thursday night show for Thunder Road, it takes a decent car, staying out of trouble, and a good percentage of luck," Therrien began. "Having those nights where it all comes together are typically few and far between. The challenge of the Milk Bowl is that you're asking for those all to happen three times in one afternoon."
Another driver that knows plenty about the ins and outs of the Milk Bowl is eight-time American-Canadian Tour champion Brian Hoar. The currently retired racer from Williston, Vermont scored three Milk Bowl victories ('98, '99 & '11) during his career, with a 12-year gap between his second and third wins.
"Like any historically prestigious race there is added mental pressure to make the race and qualify well (which is the only time all year the ACT & Thunder Road guys time trial). After the anxiety of qualifying is done, you’ve then got three weekly 50 laps races stacked on top of each other at a tiny but very fast bullring," Hoar said. "Anything can happen to take you out and everybody knows it. They are all sprint races so you are balls to the wall from lap 1. You have to be fast, have a strategy with tires and a whole lot of luck. It’s simply a mentally and physically exhausting race because of the format. And one of the reasons it means so much to win."
For 2010 Milk Bowl winner Joey Polewarczyk, Jr. the Milk Bowl is a short track race unlike any other. He admits that many thoughts go through a driver's mind throughout the day as they try to navigate to the front of the field and earn a lower score than the competition.
"It's one of the most stressful, that's for sure. It's tough because it's not a normal race," Polewarczyk said. "It's not like the Oxford 250, where that's a really tough race but it's 250 laps straight. You know what you're going into, you've got to come up with your strategy of when you want to take tires and that stuff. The Milk Bowl is three 50-lap segment and 50 laps goes by unbelievably fast at Thunder Road. You've got to have your plans ready to go. You're allowed eight tires and you can pretty much choose whatever tires you want; it's your strategy. You'll run that first 50 laps and now you have to invert the field. If you win it, now you need to start last and use the right tire strategy to get back up through there. Take a little break and then go back and do it another 50 laps, with an invert again. It's stressful trying to keep in your mind how many cars you've got to pass, have a lower number than this guy and a lot can change in a lap. It's definitely tough, but it's a different kind of tough."
If you've never watched the Milk Bowl, there's no time better than now to experience the race Ken Squier billed "The Toughest Short Track Race in America." If you can't make it to Barre, Vermont this weekend, you can catch a live pay-per-view broadcast Saturday and Sunday right here on Speed51. Click here to purchase your live video ticket today.
-Story by: Brandon Paul, Speed51.com Editor - Twitter: @Brandon_Paul51
-Photo credit: Alan Ward