blake

Cody Blake drives his No. 99 car during a race at Thunder Road.

BARRE — The pits were bustling at Thunder Road on Saturday as teams from throughout the Northeastern U.S. and Canada converged for Community Bank N.A. 150 practice. A total of 113 cars across four divisions took to the high banks — 98 of them also appeared in the morning’s Thunder Road Car Show.

The American-Canadian Tour and Maplewood/Irving Oil Late Models had 37 cars on hand in preparation for Sunday’s 150-lap event. Times steadily picked up throughout the day as drivers shook the winter rust off and got accustomed to the new outside retaining wall.

When it was all said and done, Fayston's Brooks Clark stood atop the charts. The multi-time Thunder Road winner ran a lap of 12.560 seconds in the day’s final session, which was just 0.015 seconds ahead of Barre's Cody Blake.

Many drivers who have historically been fast at Thunder Road lived up to those expectations. Reigning “King of the Road” Scott Dragon, of Milton, was near the top of the charts in multiple practice sessions, as was Barre’s Nick Sweet. Montpelier’s Kyle Pembroke topped the second session and maintained that speed throughout the day. Marcel J. Gravel, Jason Corliss, Matte White, Jimmy Hebert and Tyler Cahoon also showed good pace.

There were a few pleasant surprises as well. Lebanon, New Hampshire’s Rich Dubeau has yet to record a top-five finish at Thunder Road, but was in the top-five for each of the final three sessions. Multi-time Devil’s Bowl Speedway champion Josh Masterson, of Bristol, and 2017 Serié ACT champion Jonathan Bouvrette, of Blainville, Quebec, also looked like potential threats on Sunday.

In the Lenny’s Shoe & Apparel Flying Tigers, 32 drivers took time during practice. In the end, the top dog was a former contender picking right back up where he left off. Hardwick, VT’s Jaden Perry, the 2017 Rookie of the Year, took the year 2018 off from racing. But he rolled into the pits on Saturday and set the fast time of the day during the second session at 14.189 seconds.

Essex's Mike Billado led the first practice session while Marshfield’s Matt Potter topped the final stanza. When it came to consistent speed, two-time Flying Tiger champion Jason Woodard, of Waterbury Center, was one to watch — he ranked in the top-three on the charts every time. Former Flying Tiger winners Jason Pelkey, Tyler Austin, Cooper Bouchard and Joe Steffen were also impressive in their first 2019 look at the track.

The Allen Lumber Street Stocks also had a solid field on hand. As one might expect, they saw a mix of young stars and veterans setting the pace. Speeds got faster and faster throughout the afternoon, and when the final session ended, sophomore Tyler Pepin, of Barre, was the one-lap leader at 14.917 seconds.

Three-time 2018 winner Jeffrey Martin, of Barre, was the only other driver to break the 15-second barrier when he ran 14.990 seconds in the second session. St. Johnsbury’s Kasey Beattie, who became the youngest winner in Thunder Road history in 2018, was fastest out of the gate in the first session. Teammate Dean Switser Jr., Tim Hunt, J.T. Blanchard and rookie Hunter Garduno were quick in one-lap spurts and will try to be fast for 25 laps on Sunday.

The lovable Burnett Scrap Metals Road Warriors rounded out the day of practice. Berlins Eric “Pork” Chase and Chris Davis were neck-and-neck at the top of the charts, separated by just 0.001 seconds. Brad Kelley, Brian Putney, Josh Vilbrin and Nate Brien were just some of the other drivers who hauled out their four-cylinder rides to get ready for the season ahead.

A handful of on-track incidents were scattered throughout the day. Early in the second ACT Late Model practice, Duxbury's Peyton Lanphear got into Graniteville's Chip Grenier while the latter was heading to pit road. Later in the session, St-Georges, Quebec's Michael Lavoie looped his car in turn four and was clipped by Craftsbury Common's Joel Hodgdon. All four were able to make repairs and get back out by the next session.

Trouble struck for Milton’s Robert Gordon in the Flying Tigers when his car’s transmission broke during practice. Meanwhile, Road Warrior newcomer Trevor Jacques found out in the second session that, while the front stretch wall isn’t new, it still doesn’t move when you hit it. Several other solo spins occurred across all division, but none of those drivers suffered any notable damage.

In the pit stop competition during the car show, the #37VT of Scott Payea and RPM Racing won the battle of 2018 Thunder Road and ACT champions. The Payea team completed their pit stop in just over 25 seconds, a full two seconds ahead of reigning Allen Lumber Street Stock Champion Stephen Martin and his team.

The best of the ACT Late Model Tour and Thunder Road will open the track’s 60th season of racing on Sunday at 1:30 p.m. The 21st Community Bank N.A. 150 pits the top ACT and Maplewood/Irving Oil Late Model competitors against each other for 150 green-flag laps. They’ll be joined by the Lenny’s Shoe & Apparel Flying Tigers, Allen Lumber Street Stocks and Burnett Scrap Metals Road Warriors.

General admission for the Community Bank N.A. 150 is $25 for adults and free for children 12-and-under. The pits open at 8 a.m. and the front gates open at 1:30 p.m. Class Day Ceremonies and the Car Show winner announcements begin at 12:55 p.m.

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