Late Model driver Christopher Pelkey attempts to pass another driver with a move along the outside of a corner during a race at Thunder Road.

The battle to be the 2019 “King of the Road” will begin May 26 at 1:30 p.m. with the 57th Mekkelsen RV Memorial Day Classic.

The event started in 1962 and is one of the oldest races at Thunder Road. Once again it will be the opener of a 14-round Late Model schedule that will run through mid-September.

While many Thunder Road Late Model competitors start their season at the Community Bank N.A. 150, the Memorial Day Classic has been their first points-counting race in recent years. The winner’s name will be carved into one of the granite monuments that sits behind the main grandstands.

“My family is actually the one that goes up and sandblasts the letters onto the stones,” Graniteville’s Christopher Pelkey said. “I don’t know if we’re ready to have our names put up there quite yet, but just the thought of the chance of that ever happening is pretty neat. No other tracks really do such a thing, so it’s a pretty cool opportunity. And hopefully we can make a good run.”

Some of the top ACT Late Model racers will be on hand for 100 laps of green-flag action at the Memorial Day Classic. All the drivers who took the 2018 title fight down to the final laps of the season are expected back to do it again in 2019. When the final checkered flag fell last year, 30 points separated Milton’s Scott Dragon, South Burlington’s Trampas Demers and Barre drivers Jason Corliss and Cody Blake. It was one of the closest multi-way battles in track history, and this year’s edition could easily match that.

While it was Dragon claiming his second “King of the Road” crown in three years, the other three all turned in championship-caliber seasons in 2018. Corliss had a division-leading 11 top-5 finishes. Demers recorded two wins and nine top-5 results, while Blake was the division’s only three-time winner.

All of the returning top drivers intend to be front-runners again this season. However, they’ll have more to compete with than just each other. The Late Models are full of top-caliber competitors capable of winning on any given night. Last season, 10 drivers visited Victory Lane at Thunder Road.

“The competition is definitely going to be there,” Pelkey said. “There’s a lot of good guys, and I know we’re hoping to surprise some people and maybe put our name up there with some of the top dogs. I definitely think we’ve taken the steps this winter to improve our equipment as much as possible. Rodney Rood has given me the best chance to have the year that we’re looking to have. If we can put it together, we should be able to compete against the top four or five guys we had last year.”

Several racers are coming off career years and look to do even better this season. Barre’s Jim “Boomer” Morris finished a personal-best fifth in points, while Pelkey was named the Thunder Road Most Improved Driver after placing sixth overall. Rookie of the Year Brendan Moodie, Graniteville’s Stephen Donahue and Wolcott’s Marcel Gravel earned their first Late Model wins in 2018 and are hungry for more.

Others are hoping to rebound from a tough 2018 campaign. Former Memorial Day Classic winner Tyler Cahoon struggled to sustain his speed last year but has showed flashes in multiple non-point shows to start 2019. Darrell Morin will try to regain the form he showed in 2017, as will Eric Chase.

The Late Models are also welcoming several old and new faces. Graniteville’s John Donahue is returning to weekly Late Model competition at Thunder Road for the first time since 2016. The 16-time Late Model winner is still searching for his first “King of the Road” crown to join his two Flying Tiger titles. Montpelier’s Josh Demers was back in action at the Community Bank 150 after a long absence and plans to run the full season. Hinesburg’s Trevor Lyman has moved up from the Flying Tigers, as has 2018 Tiger Champion Joel Hodgdon.

During the Memorial Day Classic the Late Models will go 100 laps while the Pro All Stars Series Super Late Models return for a 150-lap affair. The Flying Tigers, Street Stocks and Road Warriors join a full holiday weekend of racing. Admission is $25 for adults and free children 12-and-under.

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