Thunder Road is getting ready for the final point-counting event of the year this Friday when Efficiency Vermont Championship Night will decide which drivers get to call themselves 2021 track champions.
The Maplewood/Irving Oil Late Models, Lenny’s Shoe & Apparel Flying Tigers and RK Miles Street Stocks are crowning their title winners in the Friday night special. The Burnett Scrap Metals Road Warriors wrap up the last weekly racing event of Thunder Road’s 62nd season. The event is the final prelude to Vermont Milk Bowl Weekend on Oc. 1-3.
Barre’s Jason Corliss is one night away from earning his third straight “King of the Road” title. Only two previous drivers have pulled off the “three-peat” at Thunder Road. Chuck Beede won the first three Late Model titles from 1992-1994. Derrick O’Donnell matched the feat in 2013-2015.
Corliss, on the strength of a record five Late Model wins in one season, has a 43-point lead over Graniteville’s Christopher Pelkey. If Corliss finishes 15th or better in the extra-distance 62-lap feature on Friday, he will clinch the title no matter what Pelkey does in the feature or qualifying.
One other potential factor looms, though: Saturday is the due date for the birth of Corliss’s second child. Corliss will have Mike Ziter on standby as a substitute driver should he need to leave prior to qualifying. Ziter is a multi-time Flying Tiger winner at Thunder Road and was a solid competitor for several years on the ACT Late Model Tour. Should Corliss depart to be with his wife, his championship bid will be in capable hands.
Although Corliss and Pelkey are virtually assured of finishing 1-2 in some order, the rest of the top-10 could be a jumble. Shelburne’s Trampas Demers maintained the third spot despite a mid-race crash last Friday. However, ninth-place Stephen Donahue still has a mathematical chance of finishing third overall.
Tyler Cahoon, Marcel J. Gravel and Brendan Moodie are all gunning for career-best point positions. Morrisville’s Brandon Lanphear sewed up the Rookie of the Year award with his victory at WDEV Radio/Calkins Portable Toilets Night and now wants more.
The closest point battle of all is in the Flying Tigers division, where the Martin family feud has come down to the wire. Michael Martin has a seven-point lead over his son Stephen. Although Stephen Martin leads the division in top-5s and top-10s, Michael Martin has outpaced him in qualifying to gain a slight advantage so far.
If the Craftsbury Common duo holds serve in qualifying, Stephen will have to either beat Michael by four spots in the feature or win it outright to be the champion. On the other hand, Stephen Martin could take the points lead during the heat races and change everything. Fans will want to stay in their seats for the entire 40-lap Flying Tiger showdown to see who prevails.
It will also be exciting to watch as the rest of the Flying Tiger top-10 order is decided. Ten drivers are in contention for the final eight spots. Cameron Ouellette leads the herd, but he has Derrick Calkins, Bryan Wall Jr. and Jaden Perry hot on his tail. The Flying Tiger Rookie of the Year title is also up in the air. Tanner Woodard took the rookie lead from Brandon Gray last time out, but Gray can take it back with a good run.
In the Street Stocks, Shelburne’s Kaiden Fisher is on the brink of becoming the youngest champion in Thunder Road history. Fisher, who will turn 14 next weekend, holds a 61-point lead over Berlin’s Kyler Davis. Even after figuring in heat race points, the only realistic way for Davis to catch the leader is for Fisher to break down in practice or qualifying.
That’s not to say there won’t be any drama. Josh Lovely, Jamie Davis and Justin Blakely could all steal a spot in the overall top-five from Jeffery Martin or Dean Switser Jr. Luke Peters has the final banquet invite as of now, but Kyle MacAskill and Will Hennequin both want it. Several notables, including Kyler Davis and James Dopp, are still looking for their first win of the year, and this is their last chance on the weekly schedule to get it.
The Road Warriors don’t run for points, but they’ve had one of the most intriguing years of all. Six drivers are now first-time Road Warrior winners. Two of them, Fred Fleury and Mark Beaulieu, have made return trips to Victory Lane. All the while, veterans such as Josh Vilbrin, Nate Brien and Frank Putney continue to show the ropes week in and week out.
Post time is 7 p.m. Friday.