A quick glance at the results from Sunday’s American-Canadian Tour Community Bank, N.A. 150 at Thunder Road International Speedbowl would suggest that Nick Sweet prevailed in a battle against one of his old home-track rivals.
But it was never quite that close on the track.
The Thunder Road veteran dominated the second half of the afternoon showdown to pick up his first ACT Tour win since 2016 and his 24th Late Model victory at the legendary Vermont bullring.
Sunday’s action on the high banks opened the season for the historic quarter-mile, the last paved oval remaining in the Green Mountain State. And with the usual lineup of Thunder Road weekly challengers on hand before their points season opens, the finishing order was likely to look a lot different from that of the Tour’s season opener at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Indeed, Marcel Gravel and Christopher Pelkey brought the 28-car field to green, with Gravel showing the way for the first third of the race. Three-time track champion Derrick O’Donnell rode in third, while Sweet picked his way through traffic from his 12th-place spot on the grid.
When a struggling Patrick Laperle brought out his second caution of the race with a spin on lap 43, Sweet had climbed all the way to fourth. Sweet dispatched O’Donnell on the restart, then made a bold charge on the outside on lap 53 to take second from Pelkey, then the lead from Gravel.
A multi-car incident on lap 64 slowed Sweet’s escape temporarily, but he reasserted control at the drop of the green, leaving Gravel, Pelkey and O’Donnell to swap paint for second. Pelkey slipped by Gravel for the runner-up spot, but Sweet had distanced himself from the field, leaving a train of lapped cars in his wake.
Sweet’s advantage began to ebb with forty laps left on the scoreboard, though, as a battle between Derek Gluchacki and Erick Sands left Sweet without a through lane. Pelkey was able to shave off some time while Sweet found a hole through the slower traffic.
Gravel’s strong day came unraveled with a spin on lap 116, drawing the race’s final caution flag. Despite the blockade a few laps earlier, Sweet had taken the yellow with a handful of cars between him and Pelkey, giving him a buffer zone for the restart.
Pelkey and O’Donnell were ultimately able to clear the lapped traffic, but by then, Sweet was home free. In his first ACT Tour start for car owner Eric Chase since last year’s Community Bank, N.A. 150, Sweet sailed to an uncontested victory.
O’Donnell nipped Pelkey at the line to finish second, his best Tour finish since a second-place at Riverside Speedway in 2015. The New Hampshire driver, dubbed “the Black Knight of the White Mountains” as a counterpart to Sweet’s local favorite aura, returned to Thunder Road last year after spending several years working in North Carolina.
Pelkey’s third-place run was a career best for the former Tour regular, who enjoyed a resurgent 2021 at his home track after spending two years on the road.
Fellow weekly racer Kyle Pembroke was fourth at the finish, just ahead of three-time reigning “King of the Road” Jason Corliss.
Touring drivers filled out the back half of the top ten, with Stephen Donahue crossing the line sixth ahead of 2020 ACT Tour champ Jimmy Hebert. Rich Dubeau was eighth after a disappointing finish at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Title runner-up DJ Shaw was ninth at the line for car owner Arnie Hill. Evan Hallstrom brought home a tenth-place finish in his first run with backing from Vermont legend Robbie Crouch.
NHMS winner Derek Gluchacki, who has struggled to find good fortune at Thunder Road, finished 11th, his best Tour finish at the track. Brothers Jamie Swallow, Jr. and Shawn Swallow were 16th and 23rd, with sophomore Erick Sands coming home 18th. Rookie Cody LeBlanc pulled his car to the infield with electrical issues just past halfway.
Fate was unkind to the visiting Canadians as well; Alexendre Tardif was 25th, Patrick Laperle parked his car early after struggling in the opening laps, and Jonathan Bouvrette spent his second race on the sidelines after a heat-race crash.
With their deep fields of local talent, ACT Tour races at Thunder Road always prove monumental in the Tour’s title chase. Indeed, absences helped to shape the championship battle in the Tour’s home state. Tom Carey III, a podium finisher at NHMS, was not at Thunder Road, nor was defending Tour champion Ben Rowe. DJ Shaw, a runner-up two years running, is the apparent title forerunner, with the developing Gluchacki and returning Dubeau on the short list of challengers.
But as with so many other Thunder Road races, Sunday’s event was more about the local stars than the touring invaders.
Sweet, a Barre, Vt. native, is easily one of the most accomplished drivers of the modern era at Thunder Road. Only Corliss and Phil Scott have more Late Model wins at the track since the division’s 1992 debut. Sweet’s wins include multiple trophies in the Vermont Governor’s Cup and the Milk Bowl, as well as two track championships in 2010 and 2012.
And Sweet was not content to keep his success local. He teamed with car owner Eric Chase to run the full ACT Tour schedule in 2016, picking up three wins and the Tour title. Sweet and Chase moved up to Pro All Stars Series Super Late Model competition the following year. While challenged in their first two partial seasons, Sweet broke into PASS victory lane at Thunder Road, adding two more wins in 2019. Sweet came into his own in 2020; while mechanical gremlins kept the team from a PASS championship, Sweet led the series with five victories, closing the year with a third straight Super Late Model win at Thunder Road.
The touring success, though, impacted Sweet’s local performance, as he struggled to win in a Late Model in limited starts at Thunder Road. Then came the 2021 season. Forced to pare back his schedule to accommodate life away from the track, Sweet made only a handful of touring starts before a mid-summer illness put his driving career on hold for a few months.
Sweet was a last-minute entrant for October’s Milk Bowl, where he nursed an expiring engine to the finish to tie Robbie Crouch with his fourth win in Thunder Road’s signature event. And back in Eric Chase’s car for Sunday’s race, Sweet was back to his old form.
Championships may not be on Sweet’s agenda in 2022, but victories certainly are.
Unofficial Results, ACT Community Bank, N.A. 150 at Thunder Road International Speedbowl:
1. (40VT) Nick Sweet
2. (60NH) Derrick O’Donnell
3. (64VT) Christopher Pelkey
4. (27VT) Kyle Pembroke
5. (66VT) Jason Corliss
6. (2VT) Stephen Donahue
7. (58VT) Jimmy Hebert
8. (30NH) Rich Dubeau
9. (04VT) DJ Shaw
10. (48VT) Evan Hallstrom
11. (03MA) Derek Gluchacki
12. (00NH) Jimmy Renfrew, Jr.
13. (38VT) Tyler Cahoon
14. (16VT) Brandon Lanphear
15. (01VT) Stephen Martin
16. (4NH) Jamie Swallow, Jr.
17. (68VT) Brooks Clark
18. (36NH) Erick Sands
19. (0VT) Scott Dragon
20. (94VT) Brendan Moodie
21. (17VT) Darrell Morin
22. (62VT) Chip Grenier
23. (04NH) Shawn Swallow
24. (7VT) Cooper Bouchard
25. (21QC) Alexendre Tardif
26. (86VT) Marcel J. Gravel
27. (7NH) Cody LeBlanc
28. (91QC) Patrick Laperle