We recently surveyed a group of American-Canadian Tour (ACT) and Thunder Road fans, officials, and members of the local and regional media, asking their collective opinion on the performances turned in by the drivers they watched race every week in 2007.  Out of their selections of the ten best across the ACT Late Model Tour, Série ACT Castrol, and Thunder Road’s Late Model, NAPA Tiger Sportsman, Allen Lumber Street Stock, and Power Shift Online Junkyard Warrior divisions, we have compiled a list of the “Top 25 ACT Drivers of 2007.”

Beginning next week, this column will recognize five drivers each week from the list, ranked in order, beginning with positions 25 through 21.  The idea sprang from a list originally created in 2003 by this writer as a “solo project” that has since continued each winter.  For the first time last year, five extra people were called upon to help rank the drivers, and the survey was, by all accounts, quite successful.

This year, we’ve received over a dozen ballots from invited participants in Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, and Québec, and you’ll find the results here each Wednesday from December 12 through January 9.  There will also be a list of the best ten drivers that just missed the cut for the “Top 25” released with the results.

For now, let’s take a brief look back at the previous years’ top drivers…

2003: Jean-Paul Cyr, fresh off winning his first ACT Late Model Tour championship since 1996, captures the #1 spot.  Comment from the list: “(Cyr) was absolutely unbeatable in 2003.”  Phil Scott and Jamie Fisher, who tied for the Thunder Road Late Model title in ’03 – Fisher won in the tiebreaker – finished second and third, respectively.  Fellow Late Modelers Patrick Laperle and Mike Olsen rounded out the top five.

Other notables from the 2003 list: Tiger Sportsman racer Craig Bushey in 6th; Late Model Tracie Bellerose in 8th; Sportsman drivers Reno Gervais and John Hayes in 12th and 13th, respectively; Airborne Raceway (Airborne was part of the list in 2003-04) Renegade division driver Richie Turner in 14th place; Street Stock driver Jamie Rabideau in 17th; St. Albans, VT neighbors Jason Bonnett and Taber Gagne, 21st and 22nd; and Warrior driver Matt Richardson
in 25th.

2004: Late Model “King of the Road” Cris Michaud beats Tour Champ Cyr for the #1 position.  Michaud’s dismal 2003 season was bucked by a dominant 2004 campaign.  Comment from the Know-It-All writer: “Michaud's skeptics from last year – myself included – can now open their mouths and insert at least one of their feet.”  Brent Dragon finished third, while Laperle is fourth for the second time.  Tiger Sportsman Series Champion Robin Wood is fifth.

Notables from ’04: Then-Sportsman drivers Scott Payea in 7th and Ryan Nolin in 9th; Street Stocker Nick Sweet in 10th; Late Model Todd Stone in 12th place, down five spots from the previous year; Joey Laquerre in 16th, known at the time for his Late Model prowess; first-time Tour winner Steve Fisher in 23rd; Sportsman racer Chip Grenier in 24th; Matt Richardson carries the Warrior banner in 25th for the second-straight year.

2005: Jean-Paul Cyr again is the top dog, having won his third consecutive ACT Late Model Tour crown.  A prophetic comment, perhaps?: “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.”  Thunder Road divisional Champions Shawn Fleury (Tiger Sportsman), Joe Small (Street Stock), and Cris Michaud filled spots 2-3-4, and Sportsman rookie Nick Sweet completed the top five for the year.

Notables from ’05: Milton, VT Late Model drivers in 6th and 7th – veteran Brent Dragon ahead of freshman Scott Payea; Warrior Champion Mike Martin in 8th place; Chad Wheeler’s second “Top 25” appearance, 12th place for the Late Model star; Governor’s Cup 100 winner Cooper MacRitchie in 16th; Sportsman racers Marcel Gravel, Chuck Beede, Doug Murphy, and Pete Ainsworth in positions 17-20; Late Model Eric Williams in 24th; steady Sportsman veteran Ray
Stearns in 25th.

2006: With the help of a handful of fans and media folks, Jean-Paul Cyr takes the cake for the third time in four years.  Comment: “Jean-Paul Cyr has yet again been the man everyone HAS to beat.”  Fleury, now a two-time Sportsman Champion, is second again, ahead of Milk Bowl winner Brent Dragon, Late Model “King of the Road” Chad Wheeler, and Street Stock titlist Eric Badore.  Badore’s fifth-place showing is his first appearance on the “Top 25” list.

Notables from ’06: Part-time Tour racer Ben Rowe in 6th place, on the strength of four victories; Late
Models “Rocket” Roger Brown and Eric Williams, along with Warrior Champion Maynard Bartlett, Jr. each earned their first Top 10 rankings in spot 7 through 9; Sportsman driver Matt White in 13th; Late Model Joey Becker 14th; Tour runner-up Dave Pembroke in 17th; Tour racers Mark Lamberton (19th) and Joey Polewarczyk (20th) make their first “Top 25” appearances; Late Model veteran Dennis Demers 23rd; former Sportsman Champion Joe Steffen rounds out the Top 25.

The 2007 “Top 25” list will be all-inclusive and unbiased, and hopefully a lot of fun.  And trust us, there will be some big surprises.  Part of the surprise, in fact, was discovering that a few of the surveyed folks made their top ten selections based on the overall attitude of the drivers and their race teams, and not so much performance.  Stand-up move, we think.

The challenge, then, is ranking the Top 25 drivers – and then selecting the next 10 best – in the appropriate order without missing anyone.  Like was said, the list is intended to be a fun and different way to salute the best drivers of the 2007 season.  More than 75 drivers received votes, so stay tuned next week, as we honor the
first five!


Information regarding the ACT/Thunder Road 2007 Banquet of Champions was released this week, including the date and time, ticket order forms, and dress codes.  The annual dinner, honoring drivers and teams competing on the ACT Late Model Tour or in one of the four weekly divisions at Thunder Road, will be held at the Sheraton Burlington Hotel & Conference Center in Burlington, VT on Saturday, January 12, 2008.  Social hour begins at 6:00pm, with dinner served at 7:00pm.  Award ceremonies follow.

Tickets are $35.00 per person, payable by cash, check, or Visa, MasterCard, or Discover at the ACT/Thunder Road office in Waterbury, VT, or by phone, Monday-Thursday, 8:00am-5:00pm.  The order deadline is Tuesday, January 1, 2008.

Attendees should dress in semi-formal or business-casual attire (meaning no jeans, t-shirts, or ball caps).  For more ticket information, call (802) 244-6963.  To reserve rooms, call the Sheraton at 1-800-325-3535 or (802) 865-6600, or follow the Sheraton Burlington Hotel & Conference Center link on the ACT website at www.acttour.com.


Did you know…?

-With a dozen victories in the Thunder Road Late Model division and 15 more in the NAPA Tiger Sportsman ranks, Joey Laquerre’s 27 “modern era” wins (since 1982) are tops all-time.  Additionally, Laquerre is the only Thunder Road driver in the modern era to win in two divisions in the same season, pulling down a 100-lap Sportsman special and a regular 50-lap Late Model feature in 2006.  Bucko Branham won in both divisions in 2003 at Airborne Speedway under ACT sanction.

-Add in Laquerre’s four ACT Late Model Tour victories, and he’s got 31 wins to his credit.  Only Brian Hoar, with 34 combined wins, has more.  Go one step further and add Street Stock wins, and Steve Renaudette (27), Jim Cilley (26), Dave Whitcomb (26), Phil Scott (25), Mark Barnier (24), Jamie Fisher (22), Jean-Paul Cyr (21), Pete Fecteau (21), Steve Miller (21), and Cooper MacRitchie (21) look to be doing pretty well, too.  Hey, Renaudette won an Enduro, too, does that count?  Okay, never mind…

-Chevrolet’s Monte Carlo model has won 85 times in ACT Late Model Tour competition since the series’ inception in 1992, trouncing all other marques in that category.  Stacy Cahoon’s first career win at Oxford Plains Speedway in May 1995 marked the first, Travis Adams’ first career win at the same track last October marked the most recent. The Pontiac Grand Prix’s 17 wins rank second all-time, but are first in the “longevity” class – Grand Prix’s first win was in 1992 with Steve Miller at the Sanair Super Speedway tri-oval, while Eddie MacDonald grabbed the brass ring at Oxford in August ’07.  Ford Taurus is third with 14 wins, one better than the Dodge Avenger’s 13.  Odd ducks with just one win are the Buick Regal (Billy Holbrook, Thunder Road 1996), the Chevrolet Celebrity (Greg Blake, Thunder Road 1992), and the Chrysler LeBaron (Brian Hoar, Airborne 1995).

Folks, remember that a Thunder Road 2008 Season Pass makes a great holiday gift that any race fan will love! Season Passes are available as Adult General Admission ($190), Child General Admission ($50), and Gold ($250), which includes reserved seating at all 18 stock car events during the season!  For more information, call (802) 244-6963 or click www.thunderroadspeedbowl.com!