Each week, Short Track Scene looks back at results and news from northern New England’s Late Model and Super Late Model competition, from the region’s premier tours — the American-Canadian Tour, the Granite State Pro Stock Series, and the Pro All Stars Series — to the tracks and drivers that support them. Thanks to the local journalists and fans who report in from the track each week to keep their fellow fans informed.
MILK BOWL: Perhaps the most legendary race on the American-Canadian Tour calendar is the annual Vermont Milk Bowl presented by Northfield Savings Bank. The tough race at one of America’s toughest bullrings celebrated its 55th running in 2017.
Hosted at the ACT’s home track, Thunder Road International Speedbowl in Barre, VT, the Milk Bowl is unlike any other race on the schedule. The 26-car starting lineup is set first by time trials, then by 50-lap qualifying races to establish the first 22 positions. A last-chance qualifier advances two more cars to the field, plus provisionals for a top Tour performer and a top Thunder Road weekly competitor.
The race itself is staged in three 50-lap segments, each segment ending in a 24-car field invert. Scoring is “Monza-style,” with a point per position awarded to each driver at the segment’s end. The driver with the lowest combined score across all three segments is the overall winner.
A field of 38 cars set qualifying times on Saturday, with Thunder Road regular Marcel J. Gravel claiming the Milk Bowl pole award over fellow track regulars Trampas Demers and Bobby Therrien. Scott Payea in seventh was the fastest Tour regular; Jonathan Bouvrette in eighth was the fastest driver from the Série ACT ranks.
The field was cleaved down the middle into two 50-lap heats of 19 cars each. Nick Sweet, in his own #88VT entry for the Milk Bowl, drove to victory in the first heat over Payea, Therrien, Josh Masterson and Darrell Morin. In the second heat, 2016 Thunder Road track champion Scott Dragon took the win over Tour racers Jason Corliss and Jimmy Hebert, with Cody Blake and Mike Bailey rounding out the top five.
With the bulk of the field set, sixteen cars were eligible to battle for the last four positions in the field in Sunday’s last-chance race. Oren Remick and Stephen Donahue, the first drivers to finish outside of a transfer position, lined up first and second for the LCQ. Donahue wasted no time in taking the lead, ultimately winning the last-chance feature over Bryan Mason. Provisionals were awarded to Alex Labbe, who just clinched the 2017 NASCAR Pinty’s Series championship, and weekly regular Tyler Cahoon.
Failing to make the field were a number of big names in weekly and Tour competition. Vermont Governor Phil Scott, a two-time Milk Bowl winner, went home early, along with weekly competitor Boomer Morris and Série ACT rookie Mathieu Kingsbury. Quebec contender Patrick Laperle, who struggled through qualifying on Saturday, was eligible for the ACT provisional, but opted to pack up and head home Saturday evening.
Also missing the field was Kevin Lepage. The Shelburne, VT racer and former NASCAR star returned to the Green Mountain State with the hopes of making his final start behind the wheel in the Milk Bowl. Unfortunately, he was not able to race through the LCQ field.
The first segment of the Milk Bowl kicked off with Trampas Demers getting past Marcel Gravel for the early lead. Demers held the lead over Gravel while Nick Sweet worked through the field. The defending ACT Tour champion dueled with Demers for the final ten laps of the segment, ultimately prevailing to take the segment victory. Demers finished second, followed by Bobby Therrien, Jason Corliss and Scott Payea.
The field was inverted, with last-place finisher Scott Dragon (who went off-course before the end of the first segment) leading the field to green alongside Darrell Morin. A major crash a few laps into the segment left several cars bruised and battered, including polesitter Gravel. Another crash found Tyler Cahoon’s car resting atop the hood of Jonathan Bouvrette’s #41QC. At the front of the field, Dragon continued to lead, pursued by Darrell Morin.
Morin finally took the lead from Dragon with ten laps remaining in the segment. A lap later, Dragon lost a tire, collecting Nick Sweet and Trampas Demers in the aftermath. Sweet was able to hang onto third, but Scott Payea moved into second place for the restart. Payea pounced at the green flag, taking the lead from Morin. The ACT Tour points leader held on through one more restart to take the second-segment win. Morin held on for second, with Matt White finishing third, Sweet fourth, and Corliss fifth.
With two segments complete, the battle for the Milk Bowl trophy had evolved into a four-way race. Segment winners Nick Sweet and Scott Payea had the lowest point scores, with Demers and Corliss third and fourth. Jimmy Hebert and Bobby Therrien, who had struggled with traffic in the second segment, were tied for a distant fifth.
Marcel J. Gravel and Christopher Pelkey inherited the front row after the invert, leading the field to green for the final fifty-lap segment of the Milk Bowl. The four “leaders,” mired in traffic, would have to fight through the field. While Gravel held the lead out front, Demers carved his way through traffic, with Corliss and Payea in tow. Nick Sweet was unable to keep pace with the other three, dropping back as the laps ticked down. With 20 laps remaining, Demers and Corliss were battling inside the top five, while Payea remained on the edge of the top ten.
With Payea and Sweet effectively out of contention, the battle was between Trampas Demers and Jason Corliss, with the better finisher of the two the likely winner of the Milk Bowl. Demers and Corliss waged battle for fourth place for several laps, with Corliss taking the position for good with five laps to go. Out front, Scott Dragon had taken the segment lead, and coasted home to a victory ahead of Bobby Therrien and Marcel J. Gravel.
But it was the battle for fourth place that settled the 55th Milk Bowl. Corliss and Demers tied with thirteen points each, but Corliss’ fourth place in the final segment was the tiebreaker that earned him the trophy, a $10,000 check, and a kiss from a cow. The win was the cherry on top of a season that already included three feature wins at Thunder Road in 2017, a third-place finish in the track championship, and a likely top-five in points with rookie honors in the ACT Tour.
Scott Payea fought his way to tenth at the end of the third segment, good enough to secure third in the final standings. Bobby Therrien’s second-place finish netted him fourth overall, with Jimmy Hebert fifth after an eleventh-place segment-three finish. Nick Sweet finished 23rd in the final segment on bad tires, dropping him to sixth in the standings. Cody Blake, Brooks Clark and Stephen Donahue were seventh through ninth, with polesitter Marcel Gravel finishing tenth in the overall standings despite finishing last in the second segment.
Scott Dragon’s final-segment win was only good enough for 18th in the race standings, after poor finishes in the first two segments. Alex Labbe, after making the field on a provisional, finished 25th in the final segment and was scored 21st overall. Jonathan Bouvrette, the 2017 Série ACT champion, finished 26th in the final standings after crashing out of the second segment.
Interestingly, a number of the ACT Tour regulars—Dillon Moltz, Rich Dubeau, and Rowland Robinson among them—were not among the entries for the Milk Bowl. Also missing from the entry list was Eddie MacDonald, who was instead in Dover, Delaware competing with NASCAR’s K&N Pro East Series (finishing second in the series’ 2017 finale). With other Tour competitors making the trip to Barre, it seems surprising that at least Moltz was not on hand for the event.
The Milk Bowl closes out Thunder Road’s 2017 season, its first under the ownership of Cris Michaud and Pat Malone. The ACT Tour teams have a week off before ending their season on October 14th at Thompson (CT) Speedway, as part of Thompson’s World Series of Speedway Racing.
COMING UP: The ACT, PASS and GSPSS teams are all off this weekend as they prepare for upcoming races at Thompson Speedway (ACT and GSPSS) and Oxford Plains Speedway on October 14th.
In the absence of tour races, Seekonk (MA) Speedway hosts its annual D.A.V. Fall Classic this Saturday, featuring a 150-lap, $5,000-to-win feature for Pro Stocks and Super Late Models. Among the anticipated entries are Derek Griffith and Wayne Helliwell, Jr. Meanwhile, in New Hampshire, Lee USA Speedway hosts its annual Oktoberfest celebration, with Saturday and Sunday features in all divisions from the weekly entry-level classes to Sunday’s Modified, Super Modified and SLM feature events.
For those trapped by the television this weekend, MAVTV is replaying this year’s Oxford 250 on Saturday evening. If you missed the legendary event this year, now is your chance to relive every green-flag lap.