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Pelkey claims ACT Tour Community Bank, N.A. 150 win after late-race pileup

The 2022 “King of the Road” and Vermont Milk Bowl winner earned his first ACT Tour win when he dodged a late-race dust-up among the race leaders.

After finding success at Thunder Road in a return to weekly competition, Chris Pelkey made the most of an ACT Tour reappearance, winning the Community Bank, N.A. 150 last Saturday. (Photo courtesy ACT/Alan Ward)

In almost forty starts with the American-Canadian Tour, Christopher Pelkey had never gotten closer than a third-place finish to standing in the winner’s circle.

But last Saturday, Pelkey was in the right place when the seas parted.

The 2022 Thunder Road International Speedbowl “King of the Road” took advantage of a late crash among the leaders to capture his first ACT Late Model Tour win in the Community Bank, N.A. 150 at the “Nation’s Site of Excitement.”

The third race of the ACT Tour schedule was no more fortunate than its two predecessors in avoiding the threat of inclement weather. However, unlike the first two races of the season, Saturday’s race was proactively moved up a day from its original date, sharing Saturday at the Barre, Vt. speedplant with the Kenley Dean Extravaganza, a celebration of the life of former Thunder Road owner and motorsports broadcaster Ken Squier.

After Squier’s memorial service, attention turned to the annual Thunder Road lidlifter, pitting plenty of the track’s weekly Late Model competitors against the strong touring contingent.

Indeed, three-time track champions Derrick O’Donnell and Jason Corliss brought the 29-car field to the green for the first running of the race under the lights. Jimmy Hebert took the early lead, but O’Donnell and Corliss were joined by fellow Thunder Road regulars Pelkey and Scott Dragon in a torrid battle at the front of the field.

Suspension problems brought an early end to Dragon’s night, but Hebert held firm out front, seeking a long-overdue home-track win for the 2020 ACT Tour titlist. While Thunder Road stars raced at the front, Gabe Brown led the touring charge all the way back in fifth.

Trouble for Oxford Plains Speedway winner Jesse Switser bunched up the field with 36 laps left on the scoreboard, bringing Marcel Gravel into the conversation. Gravel slipped by Pelkey on the restart, taking second and pressuring Hebert for the lead. O’Donnell settled into third, hoping to steal the win if the battle for the lead turned violent.

And with six laps to go, it did. With the three leaders running fender-to-fender, Gravel bobbled on the inside entering turn three, slipping up and tagging Hebert into a spin. O’Donnell vaulted over Gravel’s right rear and into the turn-four concrete, riding on his driver’s-side door before skidding to a stop, flames shooting from under the car.

Pelkey and Brown skated past on the inside, dodging the conflagration as the red flag flew.

Chip Grenier challenged Brown for second on the restart, allowing Pelkey to drive away and claim his first ACT Tour checkered flag in his 37th start.

Grenier scored the runner-up spot, with Brown’s third best in class among the ACT Tour regulars. Jamie Swallow, Jr. was fourth, with rookie Kaiden Fisher finishing a season-best fifth.

Point leader Derek Gluchacki was sixth, only his second ACT Tour top-ten finish at the track that has proven to be his Achille’s heel. Keegan Lamson and early frontrunner Corliss were seventh and eighth. Two-time and defending champion D.J. Shaw, who spun in the final incident, recovered for ninth, with Shawn Swallow rounding out the top ten.

Hebert, Gravel and O’Donnell were relegated to 20th, 21st and 22nd, with O’Donnell telling FloRacing reporters that the wreck likely spelled the end of his racing season.

While the high-banked quarter-mile showed its usual favoritism to its weekly challengers – only Shaw and Rich Dubeau have claimed Thunder Road wins as ACT Tour full-timers over the last five years – six of the top ten finishers were Tour regulars this time around. Plenty suffered hardships in the race; Jonathan Bouvrette was the best-finishing Canadian in 14th, Brandon Barker finished off the lead lap in 18th, and rookie Jeremy Sorel was an early exit. Cam Huntress, rookie Cole Littlewood, and Canadian racers Claude Leclerc and Remi Perreault were among the ten drivers who missed the field altogether.

Pelkey, however, is among the successful Thunder Road regulars who have more than a few races’ worth of Tour experience. The Graniteville, Vt. racer tested the waters in 2016 and 2017 before joining the Tour full-time in 2018. Aside from a seventh-place finish at White Mountain Motorsports Park in 2019, Pelkey finished no better than twelfth in his first two seasons.

The young racer improved in his third full season, notching his first top-five finish and two more top tens, while putting Brown in his car for one race due to a scheduling conflict. But after three full seasons of touring, Pelkey returned to weekly competition for 2021, focusing on Thunder Road with the occasional ACT Tour start.

Weekly racing was a better fit for Pelkey’s budget, and he came into his own in 2022, winning the track championship and following up with a big win in the Vermont Milk Bowl that fall. Pelkey was winless last year, but finished in the top ten in all but one weekly feature to finish sixth in the final standings.

Oddly, Pelkey did not bring his familiar number to the winner’s circle. Sophomore Tanner Woodard opted not to run the race, allowing Pelkey to run his car number to maintain his position in the owner’s standings. Woodard took advantage of the rule last year as well, with Brooks Clark collecting points for Woodard at Stafford Motor Speedway after a driveline failure sidelined him for the evening.

Gluchacki’s sixth-place finish keeps the Massachusetts star atop the points race, 36 points ahead of Brown with three events complete. The Kulwicki Driver Development Program finalist is the only driver to have finished in the top ten in all three races so far, with Shaw and rookie Kasey Beattie among those digging themselves out of an early-season hole. Sixteen drivers have attempted all three races, but only a dozen have made every green flag.

Pelkey and his Thunder Road associates will not be at the Tour’s next stop, but local flavor remains the story as the Tour treks to Autodrome Chaudiere for the Claude Leclerc 150. In addition to the four Quebecers racing full-time so far, a strong contingent of the province’s toughest Late Model racers will look to earn supremacy after American drivers swept both Canadian points races last year.

Who comes out on top at the tough Quebec oval is anyone’s guess.

Unofficial Results
American-Canadian Tour Community Bank, N.A. 150
Thunder Road International Speedbowl

1. (68NH) Christopher Pelkey
2. (9VT) Chip Grenier
3. (47NH) Gabe Brown
4. (4NH) Jamie Swallow, Jr.
5. (18VT) Kaiden Fisher
6. (03MA) Derek Gluchacki
7. (55VT) Keegan Lamson
8. (66VT) Jason Corliss
9. (04VT) D.J. Shaw
10. (04NH) Shawn Swallow
11. (45NH) Kasey Beattie
12. (68VT) Brooks Clark
13. (77NH) Bryan Wall, Jr.
14. (41QC) Jonathan Bouvrette
15. (7VT) Cooper Bouchard
16. (36NH) Erick Sands
17. (25NH) Jesse Switser
18. (0NH) Brandon Barker
19. (21QC) Alexendre Tardif
20. (58VT) Jimmy Hebert
21. (86VT) Marcel J. Gravel
22. (60NH) Derrick O’Donnell
23. (16VT) Brandon Lanphear
24. (01VT) Stephen Martin
25. (28ME) J.R. Robinson
26. (5VT) Bobby Therrien
27. (7MA) Jeremy Sorel
28. (0VT) Scott Dragon
29. (99VT) Cody Blake

Jeff Brown is a contributor to Short Track Scene. A native of New Hampshire and a long-time fan of New England racing, Brown provides a fan's perspective as he follows New England's regional Late Model touring series.

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