1. Jean-Paul Cyr, Milton, VT, #32 Ehler's RV/Stick & Stuff Chevrolet Late Model. Jean-Paul is simply the best driver in ACT. No disrespect
to any of the other drivers, but Cyr is just unbeatable. In ten races on the
ACT Late Model Tour, he won four and only finished worse than eighth in one race - the Merchants Bank 150 at Thunder Road, when a broken hub
left him 15 laps down in 20th place. If Cyr can put together another season in
2006 like he did this year, Brian Hoar's all-time win record may be in jeopardy. His
championship record already is.
2. Shawn Fleury, #31 Classic Auto/Roberts Electric Oldsmobile Tiger Sportsman. Finally - finally! - Shawn Fleury did what a lot of Thunder Road
veteran drivers and fans knew he could do, and win himself a "King of the Road" crown.
Since he began racing, Shawn has had a patient-aggressive style about him that few posess, and he always takes the
outside lane on his way to the front. Shawn has been one of the best for years,
it just never showed as much as it has until now.
3. Joe Small, #60 Sun Ray Fire & Security Ford Street
Stock. It seems weird to have a Street Stocker in third place, but Joe earned
it. With four wins at Thunder Road
and a win at Lee, Joe took his second-straight T-Road title and the first Triple Crown championship since 2002. Joe can really manhandle a car and make it look easy, but let's see anyone else charge through the pack
without the benefit of a left-rear tire touching the track. The word on the street
is that Joe will not go for the three-peat, but rather make a run at the Tiger Sportsman Rookie of the Year title.
4. Cris Michaud, #6 Merchants Bank/Burrell Roofing Ford Late Model.
Michaud was "King of the Road" again in the Late Models, and it came as almost no surprise. Although he only took one
Thunder Road victory in 2005, he still
had an incredible nine Top 5 finishes. Michaud also won the ACT opener at Lee
USA in May and had two more podium finishes on the Tour. He's only the second
driver to win back-to-back Late Model titles at Thunder Road... could he tie Chuck
Beede's record of three straight? You bet.
5. Nick Sweet, #50 Eastman Auto/Fortier's Community Care Home Chevrolet Tiger Sportsman. A rookie that was better than most of the veterans, Nick picked up in the Tigers right where he left off
in the Street Stocks. Listen to this ridiculously amazing stat - Nick Sweet has
never finished lower than second in points at Thunder
To boot, he finshed fifth overall on the Sportsman Series, and took a total of four wins on four different race tracks
in his freshman season. The only reason why Nick won't win the Doc Nielsen Rookie
Achievement Award is because he already did, two years ago.
6. Brent Dragon, #55 Furniture World of VT/Kinney Drugs Dodge Late Model. "If it wasn't for that 32 car..." must be what Brent Dragon is thinking to himself. Other than Cyr's dominance, no team was more deserving of the ACT crown than Dragon's, and no other team
has been more deserving over the last five years. If it wasn't for other people's
mistakes at Canaan, Oxford, and Lee, Brent's five Top 3 finishes would have won him the ACT title. Rumors have Brent moving the Busch North Series in 2006. People say that if Brent sticks with ACT, "next year" is his year if Cyr doesn't win everything. I think they're right.
7. Scott Payea, #89 AC Sports/Wendell's Furniture for Less Ford Late Model. Scott may have been a Late Model rookie, but you'd never know it by watching him. "Wonderboy" earned a jaw-dropping five Top 5 finishes on the ACT Tour, and finished fourth in points -
by far the best season ever for a Tour rookie. If Scott doesn't win the Doc Nielsen
award this year, there'll be rioting in the streets of Milton.
8. Mike Martin, #01 Peter D. Watson/Martin Auto Ford Junkyard Warrior. Again, it's a little unorthodox to have a Warrior driver this far up the list, but Double M was THE MAN
in 2005. In 17 starts, Mike finished out of the Top 5 just four times, and he
started at the rear of the field every single time. Sure, his car was fast, but
he also drove it very well. Mike is a talented racer, and not many people can
cleanly fill holes like he was able to (most of the time) this year.
9. Robin Wood, #61 Ganienkeh Territorial Bingo Chevrolet Tiger Sportsman. A long, long, long time past his due, Robin finally won his first championship in 2005, on the ACT Tiger
Sportsman Series. Robin easily took the win in the Spring Green 100 at Airborne
to open the year, and then remained consistent enough to be fourth in points entering the finale at Lee USA. By doing everything perfectly that day (and all year), Robin brought the Sportsman title home to Plattsburgh. Oh and by the way, he won three regular shows at Airborne to boot.
10. Dave Pembroke, #44 VSECU/Cabot Chevrolet/#52 Second Storey Homes/TWINSTATE Chevrolet Late Model. Jumping into not just one brand new car, but two this season was a challenge for Dave
Pembroke and his family team. They rose to the challenge, taking three wins and
finishing as the runner-up on the Tour in David Storey's #52. Dave is certainly
one of young guns that could go far beyond the reaches of Thunder Road, and it's only a matter
of time before he is "King of the Road" again.
11. Roger Brown, #99 Roger Brown Trucking/Central Asphalt Paving Ford Late Model. For perhaps the first time in his career, Roger Brown had a solid year from start to finish, despite a
pair of hard wrecks. The Rocket was one of the Tour's title contenders from the
outset of the season, and was a force to be reckoned with even after his primary ride was destroyed. If Roger can keep everything together at every race next year, he has what it takes
to be an ACT champion.
12. Chad Wheeler, #92 Land Air Express of New England Pontiac Late Model. Chad Wheeler will be the "King of the Road" some day, but
when? He's finished fourth, third, and now second this year. As soon as Cris Michaud makes a mistake, Chad will
be there to capitalize on it. There is no driver in the pits that is hungrier
for the Thunder Road title than Chad, and he'll
keep the 6 crew on their toes next year - even more than he has in the past two seasons.
13. Chris Gendreau, #72 Phil's Machine Service Pontiac Tiger Sportsman. For the first third of the season, it looked like Thunder Road may have a surprise championship contender in the Tiger Sportsman division, and that driver was Chris Gendreau. After that opening part of the year, the surprise began to wear off - Gendreau was
absolutley what it took to be a championship contender. If you think Chris' breakout
2005 season was just a flash in the pan, think again.
14. Rich Lowrey, #8 Imagistics/Green Mountain Office Machines Chevrolet Late Model. Were it not for a few bad nights on the Tour, Rich Lowrey could have challenged Cyr, Pembroke, and Dragon
for the championship. Were it not for an early-season violation in the Thunder Road tech line, Rich WOULD have challenged Michaud and Wheeler for the championship.
Rich's team really had their stuff together this year, and was fast right out of the box at almost every track. A good darkhorse pick for either title in 2006 would be Lowrey.
15. Phil Scott, #14 Northfield Savings Bank/Sonomax.com Ford Late Model.
Phil just kind of seemed to "be there" in 2005. There wasn't much flair
to his performance, there weren't more than two classic Phil Scott charges up the outside lane, and there was only one win. In fact, for the first time in a long time, Phil was beaten for a win on the outside,
too. Worse, it was by a guy almost nobody had heard of (A.J. Begin) at a track
he'd never been to (Canaan), and Phil had won there. Yet, he still quietly racked
up a total of nine Top 5 finishes between Thunder
Road and the Tour, and finished in the
Top 5 in both title chases. Will the old Phil Scott come back next year?
16. Cooper MacRitchie, #3 Lowery's Auto Dodge/#68 Subway Dodge Late Model. Coop took the biggest win of his career in the reborn Vermont Governor's Cup 100 in July, a true display
of his driving talent. Should Cooper continue to run on the ragged edge of the
outside groove like he did to win the Governor's Cup, he will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the greatest racers in Thunder Road's long history.
17. Marcel Gravel, #86 Foley Services/Cabot Creamery Chevrolet Tiger Sportsman. After racing at Thunder
Road for a full decade, Marcel finally
had the breakout season he'd been searching for in 2005. The youngster was on
rails for the majority of the Tiger Sportsman campaign, running second in points before failing to qualify on Milk Bowl weekend. He also made his debut in the Late Model division, and nearly stole the show in Pete
Fecteau's backup car on his first night behind the wheel. Marcel will race for
Fecteau's operation full-time in 2006, and is already the favorite to win Rookie of the Year.
18. Chuck Beede, #54 Got Milk?/VT State Colleges Ford Tiger Sportsman. After sitting silent in the pit stands for three years, four-time "King of the Road" Chuck Beede made his
return behind the wheel of his daughter Rachel's car. Chuck raced on the ACT
Tiger Sportsman Series, and was a championship threat from start to finish, ending the year third overall just a dozen points
shy of the title. Chuck will win at least two events on the Tiger Tour next season.
19. Doug Murphy, #4 Ultramar HomEnergy/Yipes Auto Accessories Oldsmobile Tiger Sportsman. Doug was perhaps the sentimental favorite in the four-man battle for the Tiger Sportsman Series championship. Having raced with his family team for nearly 15 years, Doug was looking to cement
his first career championship when a thick pack of traffic in the season's final event at Lee USA held him back. Rumors have him eyeing the Late Model division for 2006, but if he decides to remain in the Sportsman class,
he'll be a contender again for sure.
20. Pete Ainsworth, #80 Heritage Automotive Group/Froggy 100.9 Ford Tiger Sportsman. Pete was the only two-time winner in the regular season Tiger Sportsman events at Thunder Road, and held off a great 50-lap challenge by Nick Sweet to win the Milk Bowl feature.
Pete was a title contender from start to finish, and keeps inching closer and closer to finally grabbing the brass
ring. If he catches the right breaks in 2006, he'll be battling Shawn Fleury
to the wire again.
21. Ryan Nolin, #78 Mountain Air Systems/vtshifterkarts.com Chevrolet Late Model. With second-hand equipment and a wet-behind-the-ears crew, Ryan Nolin had an impressive rookie season at
Thunder Road. Finishing 12th in his debut against
the Tour regulars, Ryan turned around the next week and finished 5th in the Memorial Day Classic 100. A pair of podium finishes in July put Ryan solidly in the Top 10, but lots of bad luck and a dump job while
leading on the final night dropped him to 11th overall. Nonetheless, Ryan is
now the only driver in history to win Rookie of the Year titles in Thunder Road's
Late Model, Tiger Sportsman, and Street Stock divisions, and all in a span of only four years.
22. Joel Hodgdon, #36 Watson Real Estate/Tofani's Used Furniture Street
Stock. Still in high school, second-generation racer Joel Hodgdon put together
a solid, consistent season to finish as the runner-up in Street Stock points. Were
it not for Joe Small mopping up at will, Joel would have had (and won) a great championship battle during the final six weeks
of the campaign. Rumors have him moving up to the Sportsman division in '06,
and I bet he'll be tough to beat for the Rookie of the Year crown.
23. Dave Whitcomb, #25 Sun Ray Fire & Security/Ferguson Waterworks Chevrolet Late Model. Dave Whitcomb still has the fire, the talent, and the tenacity to win another "King
of the Road" crown, but he needs the equipment and the consistency. The night
he won in July (his first win since 2002), Dave and Pete Fecteau beat the crap out of each other, but kept it clean, all at
the same time. In a time where hoods and tails are beat in from the popular bump-and-run,
it was to see some actual door dings and tire donuts. With a car capable of running
as fast as its driver, Dave could absolutely win it all again.
24. Eric Williams, #7 Unicel/Polow, Polow, & Mahoney Chevrolet Late Model. God help me, I like Eric Williams. I've never been a full-blown
"fan" (except for 1999), but I've never really hated him, either. This year,
I think I was equally as happy with Eric's on-track conduct as I was disgusted, and that's a major improvement from years
past. The patience he showed in a few situations was outstanding, while at other
times he was, well, good old Eric. One thing is for sure: He can drive the wheels
off any race car, even if only three of them are full of air.
25. Ray Stearns, #89 Wing's Market & Deli/Webster Tree & Lawn Chevrolet Tiger Sportsman. Ray Stearns was (and always sort of has been) another one of those quiet racers that
somehow crept into the limelight as the season wore on. Back-to-back podium runs
at Canaan on the Sportsman Series, including a win in August, boosted Ray into a sixth-place tie overall, while four Top 5s
at Thunder Road brought him within legitimate reach of the "King of the Road" during the final weeks of the season. Ray Stearns may steal it all in 2006, and it wouldn't be that big of a shock.
And now, the ten best that didn't make it...
David Allen, #11 Starr's Transportation/Hayes Ford, Inc. Ford Street
Stock. During the past two seasons, people began to doubt Dave's drive for the
Street Stock championship. At the start of the 2005 season, that all changed. Four Top 5 finishes in the first six races put him in the hunt, but for the third
year in a row, another tough middle of the season left him out of the championship picture.
A pair of wins in the final five races, however, has Dave looking like a favorite - finally - for the crown in 2006.
Maynard Bartlett, Sr., #23 Power Shift Online VW Junkyard Warrior.
Nine Top 5s is impressive in any division, but to survive the weekly carnage of the Warriors and still come out smelling
like roses at the end is nothing short of true greatness. Okay, so that may be
a little exagerated, but Maynard, Sr. did a phenomonal job each and every week, and will be a strong contender for the Street
Stock rookie title next year.
Eric Chase, #40 Gary Clay Builders/Mansfield Heliflight Chevrolet Late Model. Remember when Eric Chase began racing Late Models a few years ago?
He was downright terrible. Now, with a little luck, he could be a legitimate
Top 5 championship contender. Eric only finished in the Top 10 twice, but was
consistent enough to land himself ninth in the final ACT Tour points. A sure
vote-getter in the "Most Improved" category.
Dennis Demers, #86 Shelburne Limestone Corp. Chevrolet Late Model.
Never one to lift off the throttle when he's three-wide, veteran Dennis Demers kept everyone on their toes this year,
and broke through for his first Thunder Road win since July 1992. I think that
if Papa Dennis could put all of his ducks in a row on a more consistent basis, he'd play a major role in the championship
Trampas Demers, #85 Coleman Racing Products Chevrolet Late Model.
A little less over the top than his old man, Trampas suffered through some mechanical woes and crashes that clearly
hindered his performance. When he was on top of his game, though, he was almost
unstoppable. An excellent battle with Dave Pembroke and Cooper MacRitchie in
the Memorial Day Classic landed Trampas on a prestigious winner's list, and helped to usher in a sort of changing of the guard,
becoming the second "new school" driver in a row to win the race.
Pete Fecteau, #75 Riverview Garage/Fecteau Homes Chevrolet Late Model. In perhaps the final full year of his long, successful career, Pistol Pete took feature win #14 in July,
showing young Ryan Nolin how it's done at the Barer highbanks. Pete's Independence
Day battle with Dave Whitcomb was one that survive in the memories of Thunder Road
fans for years, and his decision to put young Marcel Gravel behind the wheel of his cars is making him look like a genius. If it's actually over, Pete, we'll miss you greatly.
Justin Hart, #44 RG Paving/McCarthy Construction Oldsmobile Tiger Sportsman. Again, Justin was "this close" to breaking into the Tiger Sportsman winner's circle, taking a best finish
of second behind veteran Doug Murphy in June. Justin also made his Late Model
debut, and did a respectable job in the ACTion Super Series events, showing the talent to run up front. For the second year in a row, the youngster finished fifth in Thunder Road
points, and for the second year in a row, people are anxious to see what he will do next season.
Eric Johnson, #2
Keystone Roofing/Randolph Auto Supply Street
Stock. If he had some luck and consistency to go along with his three wins, Eric
Johnson would have been the only guy to give Joe Small a run for the title. In
fact, Eric was THE only driver to beat Small in the Triple Crown Series, holding him off to win at Canaan. Engine woes and a hard crash took him out of the points picture, but not before he
moved into third place on the all-time winners list among active Street Stock racers - and that's in just two years behind
Patrick Laperle, #91 Demers Ambulances/Precision JLM, Inc. Chevrolet Late Model. Patrick ran only half of the ACT schedule, and that makes him inelgible for the Top 25, but what he accomplished
during those five ACT races was spectacular. After winning the Fall Foliage 150
at Airborne, Patrick was a favorite to win at Lee before a flat tire cost him, but he rebounded in a big way by earning a
heart-stopping victory in the Milk Bowl, bringing the honor back to Canada
for the first time in a decade. Patrick also won a PASS event at Unity, Maine, and the 100-lap open Late Model show at Airborne.
Steve Quenneville, #4
Quenneville Racing Mercury Street Stock. "Mudflap" Quenneville picked up in Street Stocks right where he left off in the Warrior
division - up front. The Flap earned five Top 5s throughout the season, while
racing his way in a mostly wrinkle-free Mercury Tracer to third overall at Thunder Road,
fourth in the Triple Crown Series, and Rookie of the Year in both. With Joe Small
and Joel Hodgodon heading out of the Street Stock class, Quenneville is certainly an early favorite for the title.