Together At Last: PASS Making Thunder Road Debut At Memorial Day Classic

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Travis Barrett ~ RaceDayCT Northbound Editor

Thunder Road International Speedbowl

Thunder Road International Speedbowl

It was nearly eight years ago, in the midst of the summer of 2007, that the most hotly-contested debate in New England short track racing was reaching its zenith.

One year before, Oxford Plains Speedway’s owner Bill Ryan broke the news that his track’s signature event — the Oxford 250 — was being handed over to the Late Model ranks, ushering out the track’s weekly Super Late Model division in favor of the ACT Late Model Tour-style Late Models that were growing as a premier weekly division in the northeast and Canada. As that announcement came down, battle lines were drawn between Super Late Model and Late Model drivers, owners, teams and fans. There was little middle ground to be had between the two sides.

As ACT Late Model Tour teams descended on Oxford Plains that July, PASS North Series haulers headed north to Canada for the IWK 250 at Riverside Speedway in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. The move to hold a similar race with a similarly large purse served to widen the growing divide.

At that time, and in the years that followed — capped by PASS owner Tom Mayberry’s purchase of Oxford Plains in October of 2012 — it seemed there would never be a cease-fire between the two sanctioning bodies and their rabid fanbases.

And then came the announcement this winter that Mayberry and ACT owner Tom Curley had entered into a working agreement, including a season-opening twin bill of 150-lap events (one for each touring series) at Oxford Plains last month. But perhaps the move that garnered the most attention from the moment the PASS North Series schedule was released, was the the running of the 53rd annual Memorial Day Classic at Thunder Road International Speedbowl.

The hub of the ACT Late Model Tour, Thunder Road — also owned by Curley and Ken Squier — opens its collective arms to PASS this Sunday for a 150-lap event alongside a 100-lap Late Model race. It is the first-ever visit for PASS to Thunder Road, and the first Super Late Model race at the facility in two decades.

Before becoming a Late Model tour dictated by crate engines, a strict shock rule and 8-inch wide tires in the early 1990s, ACT teams competed with Pro Stocks. Pro Stocks eventually morphed into Super Late Models.

“It is surprising in a sense, because the two tours have been absolute rivals for a long time,” six-time PASS champion Johnny Clark said. “But it doesn’t have to be that way. It shouldn’t be that way. No matter what divisions you’re in, we should all be working together.”

Clark, who has 34 career PASS victories, has never been to Thunder Road. He’s never seen the track in person — and it’s safe to assume that until a few months ago, he assumed he never would.

Johnny Clark (Photo:

Johnny Clark (Photo:

“I am (surprised), but at the same time — racing’s been in a downward spiral for a long time,” said Clark, of Hallowell, Maine. “There’s no denying that. If something like this didn’t happen, if the guys (involved) didn’t do something to fix that, we’d all be in trouble. It’s really good that they have.”

Though PASS is slated to host another first for the series this season with a trip to New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 5, by all accounts this weekend’s trip to Thunder Road has trumped that.

On both sides of the fence.

“Absolutely. I’d agree with that,” Clark said. “There’s a lot of chatter about this race out there. I know a lot of Super Late Model fans that are going, people that even I’m surprised are going, people who wouldn’t normally make a trip 3-4 hours away from one of our ‘home tracks’ for a race.

“I think it’s going to be huge for the PASS tour and for racing in general.”

Reigning ACT champion Joey Polewarczyk Jr., who has made a handful of PASS starts with his family-owned team over the last few seasons, said the buzz is being heard on both sides of the proverbial fence.

Late Model teams seem just as interested in the Memorial Day Classic as Super Late Model teams.

“I think (Thunder Road) is a lot different,” said Polewarczyk, of Hudson, N.H. “It’s unlike any place I’ve ever been to, and a lot of (PASS) guys have never been there before. It will be weird to see bump stops at Thunder Road, to see cars right on the ground, with so much more tire under them. But Thunder Road is pretty worn out, and there’s not a lot of grip. It’s definitely going to be interesting.

“There’s a ton of buzz from the Late Model group in general. Even people that aren’t going to race it are going to go and watch. I think the place is going to be absolutely packed. It’s going to be exciting.”

Polewarczyk will be among the ACT regulars expected to field a PASS entry Sunday. Others include Wayne Helliwell Jr. of Dover, N.H., and Brian Hoar of Williston, Vt. Hoar was the 1999 Thunder Road track champion, as well as an eight-time ACT champion with 16 career victories on the high-banked quarter-mile.

“I’ve always wanted to race a Super Late Model at Thunder Road,” Hoar said. “I grew up watching the old ACT Pro Stock Tour there with the Junior Hanleys and Robbie Crouches of the world. When I saw the race on the schedule, (car owner Rick Paya) and I needed about 30 seconds to say, ‘Let’s put that on our schedule.’”

Hoar certainly wasn’t alone. One of the largest PASS North Series car counts of the season is expected.

“It’s a clean slate for everyone,” said Clark, who is no stranger to Victory Lane on quarter-mile tracks, with wins at White Mountain Motorsports Park, Autodrome Chaudiere and Star Speedway on his resume. “No one’s been there for a long time other than maybe Brian Hoar and the other ACT regulars. But for the regulars on the PASS tour, it’s pretty much a clean slate. With four hours of practice (Saturday), there will be plenty of time to try and figure the place out.”

Not that four hours will necessarily be enough. Polewarczyk knows that all too well.

“I haven’t figured it out yet,” said Polewarczyk, a former Milk Bowl winner at Thunder Road.

Qualifying for the Memorial Day Classic begins at 1:30 p.m. Sunday.


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