Nick Sweet, Thunder Road International Speedbowl, and a Friday-night Pro All Stars Series Super Late Model race are becoming something of a sure bet.
For the third straight year, the Barre, Vt. native drove to victory in the Mekkelsen RV-sponsored kickoff to the legendary track’s annual Vermont Milk Bowl weekend.
Sweet, a three-time winner of the Milk Bowl main event, now has matching wins in the PASS preamble to the grueling three-stage ACT Late Model showdown.
For the bulk of the race, it looked like DJ Shaw had the car to beat. The reigning PASS champion assumed the lead when 2017 Thunder Road track champion Bobby Therrien slowed on a lap-39 restart, then drove off from youngster Evan Hallstrom while Sweet worked his way from the middle of the field.
Sweet cleared Ben Ashline for third with just over fifty laps remaining, then ran down Hallstrom as the leaders worked around lapped traffic. Hallstrom put up a fight to keep Sweet in his mirror, but the two-time Thunder Road Late Model champion took to the high line, setting up a pass that he completed effortlessly with 34 laps left.
A few laps later, recently-crowned “King of the Road” Jason Corliss went around, drawing the caution and moving Sweet to Shaw’s door.
Sweet got the jump on Shaw, and despite a couple quick yellow flags to keep the four-time champ in contention, the local star never looked back. Pressure from Hallstrom kept Shaw from mounting a charge, and Sweet drove away over the final 21 laps to take his fifth win of the 2020 season.
Shaw finished second, the fourth time this year he has finished second to Sweet in a PASS feature. Hallstrom held on for third after getting physical with Shaw in the closing laps. Ben Ashline crossed the line fourth, while Jeremy Davis charged back to fifth after pitting for mid-race adjustments.
Ryan Kuhn was sixth at the line, with Kyle DeSouza rebounding for seventh after getting off course early on. Early leader Travis Benjamin was eighth, with Ben Rowe and Anthony Constantino rounding out the top ten.
Sweet was the early-season story, winning three of the first four races of a pandemic-delayed PASS season and adding a fourth win in early August to lock down his status as the championship favorite. But with only two finishes outside the top ten, it seemed likely that misfortune was due to come calling.
And misfortune indeed came calling at the Oxford 250, when a year’s worth of effort and excellence went up in smoke only seventeen laps into the year’s biggest race with the year’s deepest field. Sweet finished 44th and last in the field, putting him up against the ropes in the year-long championship battle.
Fate’s knockout punch came a few weeks later at White Mountain Motorsports Park, where Sweet had won three of the year’s four prior visits. Only a couple laps into practice, Sweet blew another engine, forcing him to the trailer and keeping him from earning credit for the start. After leading the points for much of the season, Sweet left WMMP sixth in the standings with a points deficit that seems insurmountable.
But if there were any place for Sweet to turn the tables on fate, it would be Thunder Road.
Shaw’s fourth runner-up finish of the year, all to Sweet, and off-nights for challengers Clark and Benjamin will pad his points lead heading into next Sunday’s visit to Thompson (Conn.) Speedway Motorsports Park, a track where Shaw opened the 2019 season with a victory. A recent schedule adjustment leaves three events to close out the title battle, with a double-feature weekend at Oxford Plains Speedway deciding this year’s PASS North champion.
Unofficial Results, Mekkelsen RV PASS 150 at Thunder Road International Speedbowl:
1. (40) Nick Sweet
2. (60) DJ Shaw
3. (1VT) Evan Hallstrom
4. (99) Ben Ashline
5. (09) Jeremy Davis
6. (72) Ryan Kuhn
7. (1) Kyle DeSouza
8. (7) Travis Benjamin
9. (4) Ben Rowe
10. (14C) Anthony Constantino
11. (66VT) Jason Corliss
12. (47) Gabe Brown
13. (81) Dan Winter
14. (14) Scott McDaniel
15. (54) Johnny Clark
16. (10) Kate Re
17. (07) Mark Patten
18. (5X) Bobby Therrien
19. (53) Alan Wilson
20. (41) Logan Melcher
21. (76) Jerry Gomarlo