-by Justin St. Louis

A major transition is happening at Barre, VT’s Thunder Road for 2008; as said in a recent story on the track’s website, www.thunderroadspeedbowl.com, solid groups of three or four drivers will leave their 2007 racing divisions and make jumps to the next level of competition.  NAPA Tiger Sportsman drivers Nick Sweet and Matt White, along with White Mountain Motorsports Park veteran and former Thunder Road Champion Tyler Cahoon, will move

to full-time American-Canadian Tour/Thunder Road Late Model racing this year.  As they head for the upper-tier division, three Allen Lumber Street Stock drivers, Champion Bobby Therrien, and race winners Josh Demers and Mike Ziter, fill the space opened by Sweet and White.  They will be joined by another White Mountain runner, Cody Blake, who at 15 years old last year, was a three-time winner in Strictly Stock racing at the New Hampshire 1/4-mile.  With Therrien, Demers, and Ziter gone from the Street Stocks, that leaves room for Power Shift Online Junkyard Warrior standouts Lenny Sanborn, David Whitcomb, and Champion Bunker Hodgdon to move up.  And taking their places in the Warriors will be newcomers that include early entrants Justin Hathaway, Lance Donald, and Merrill Bashaw, Jr.

“Drivers change divisions every year, but I can’t remember an off-season that has seen this many solid racers move from one division to the next and have the transition be so evenly distributed among the four groups,” said Thunder Road promoter and ACT President Tom Curley.  “It’s positive and encouraging that our weekly racers are getting the experience and confidence they need to be competitive at a higher level.  I don’t know of any other track or series that is enjoying the growth we’re seeing this year, especially with the high quality of the drivers and equipment that will be making the ‘big jump.’  It’s a very exciting time for us.”


Speaking of newcomers, ACT fans should get used to seeing the name Urlin again.  Ontario youngster Jonathan “J.W.” Urlin, son of 1989 ACT Champion Russ Urlin, will pilot Ron Hohl’s Shear Metal Products #9ON car formerly driven by Robbie Thompson.  Jonathan Urlin, 21, has filed full-season entries for both the ACT Late Model Tour and the Série ACT Castrol.

While Russ Urlin may be familiar to long-time ACT fans, Jonathan Urlin might be as unfamiliar to them as he is to stock car racing.  The second-generation driver has been behind the wheel for a long time, but his experience up until last year was entirely open-wheel.  In fact, Urlin raced a season in the IRL Indy Pro Series, earning top -five and top-ten finishes at tracks like Homestead-Miami, Phoenix, Kansas, Pikes Peak, and the mecca of motorsports, Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  He ran his first season of full-fendered racing last year at Delaware Speedway in his native Ontario, with added events at Flamboro, Sauble Beach, Kawartha, Holland, NY, and Lake Erie Speedway in Pennsylvania.

“Last season went pretty well after the halfway point.  The problem in the beginning of the year was that I had never raced with fenders before, and I was way too excited to use them,” Urlin joked.  “We had a pretty tough time early on, but we really got going and even won a couple of races.  I’m looking forward to racing with ACT, and Burt and Mike McColl (of McColl Racing Chassis) have been a huge help to me.  Burt will be our engineer for the season, and he needs an inexperienced driver like me who can tell him what the car is doing, but doesn’t know how to fix it.  That’s when he’s at his best, fixing chassis problems, and it’s going to be a lot of fun working with him this summer.”

Urlin said he’s glad to have raced a full season at Delaware in order to get ready for his ACT debut.

“The local Late Model drivers say that if you can win at Delaware, you can win anywhere in Ontario, so that gives us some confidence,” Urlin said.  “I’ve raced Kawartha and I really like it, it’s more like the oval racing I did with the open-wheel cars, if you can really compare the two.  But I’m looking forward to seeing how Thunder Road compares to a place like Indy, that should be fun.”


Among the latest full-season entrants for the ACT Late Model Tour is Charlie Smith, long-time member of the father-son team of Dennis and Trampas Demers.  Smith will carry points in the ACT Owners Championship standings for the #85 car, which will be piloted by both Demers drivers during the Tour season.  Both Dennis and Trampas were Thursday night feature winners at Thunder Road last year.


Did you know…?

-Combining the ten current ACT/Thunder Road drivers mentioned in the opening paragraphs of this week’s ACTion News column, 20 feature victories were earned by the group in 2007 alone.  All told, they have at least 48 wins, and no less than four championships and six rookie titles between them.  We’ll see if the three inexperienced Warrior racers can help add to that tally this season!

-Russ Urlin’s 1989 ACT Pro Stock Tour Championship season was one of utter domination.  In 21 events, he won seven times (on seven different tracks), never finished worse than seventh in a race, and completed all but one of the 3,297 laps run that season.  He set records (for the time) by winning over $114,000 that season, and by clinching the championship with three races remaining on the schedule.  He was also the first Canadian driver to win the ACT

-The Demers gang combined for 23 “weekly” starts at Thunder Road in 2007 with a pair of victories coming back home to Shelburne, VT.  While Trampas had a luckless season that saw him get collected in no fewer than three major pileups, he still finished in the Top 10 in half of his 14 starts and ranked 11th after winning the Fisher/Federated Auto Parts season finale.  Papa Dennis took the month of August off, but still managed to place 22nd in points with a win on Ferguson Waterworks Night in June.

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