Scott Joins The Ranks Of Thunder Road Greats

SpeedReading

By DAVE MOODY

Barre/Montpelier (VT) Times-Argus

 

A quarter century ago, Phil Scott sat in the Thunder Road grandstands and dreamed of driving the track they call “The Nation’s Site of Excitement.” He’s achieved that dream, and much more.

A second-place finish in Sunday’s Dodge Dealers “Fall Foliage 200” at Thunder Road earned Scott the 2002 ACT Dodge Tour championship, the first of his career. It also clinched the 2002 Thunder Road Late Model title - Scott’s third -- making him only the second driver in the track’s long and storied history to wear the “King of the Road” crown more than twice. And perhaps more important, it elevated the “Sailing Senator” from Washington County to the upper echelon of drivers ever to turn a wheel on the Barre highbanks.

Scott’s resume includes nine career ACT Dodge Tour victories -- second only to Brian Hoar on the all-time list - and dozens of wins at tracks across the northeast. His 1996, `98, and `02 Thunder Road championships leave him just one shy of Chuck Beede’s all-time mark, pushing him past legendary names like Robbie Crouch, Dave Dion, Stub Fadden, Jean-Paul Cabana, and the Dragon brothers, Bobby and Beaver.

“Winning three Thunder Road championships is way beyond what I ever dreamed of accomplishing,” said Scott this week. “In the beginning, my goal was to win a single race. There are a lot of great drivers who go their entire careers without carrying the checkered flag at Thunder Road, so for me, that was the ultimate goal.”

At first, a lot of people wondered if he would make it. His status as a national champion snowmobile racer counted for little in the Thunder Road pits, and the early years of his stock car career featured more wreckers than checkers. While drivers like Dave Whitcomb, Ron Lamell, and Burger Blake ran for the championships, Scott and his team clung to the back of the pack, struggling to learn the inner workings of the sport. It got so bad at one point that his own crew began calling him “Rollie,” after a season punctuated with multiple rollover crashes.

Even then, Scott never quit.

At his Middlesex shop, body panels from past seasons hang from the rafters, with career highlights and season statistics scrawled crudely in magic marker. Recent years list multiple races and championships won, but the oldest panels - the ones long on dents and short on writing - tell the real story. They tell of a driver who refused to abandon his dream of racing at Thunder Road; a driver who kept coming back when nobody else could understand why. They tell of a driver who juggled business, family, and community commitments in one hand, and a racing career in the other, consistently raising the bar until he became one of the best ever.

In an era where kids start racing go-karts at age five, then drive full-fledged racecars before they’re legal to drive on the street, Scott was a late arrival to the dance. And now, at age 44, his career in measured in years, not decades. There’s a mosh pit of youngsters poised to take his place at the top of the heap, but when they draw-up the short list of 2003 championship contenders, Scott’s name will once again be right at the top.

If the 2003 ACT and Thunder Road titles somehow become the last of Scott’s career, the Montpelier driver can rest comfortably on his laurels. Don’t bet on that happening, however. After all, there are more body panels to be hung from the rafters, more races to be won, more championships to be chased. Beede’s mark of four Thunder Road titles is still out there, waiting to be eclipsed.

And Phil Scott may be just getting started.

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It’s a three-man battle for the Busch North Series, NASCAR Touring division championship Saturday at Connecticut’s Lime Rock Park, with Maine native Andy Santerre leading Matt Kobyluck by 38 points, with two-time series champion Brad Leighton 80 points back.

This marks the tenth consecutive year that Lime Rock has hosted the BNS finale, but in each of the last five seasons, the title has been decided before the transporters rolled into town. This year, the crown is up for grabs, though Santerre will have to stumble while Kobyluck wins the race for the lead to change hands. Leighton, who recently announced that this will be his final season of full-time Busch North racing, needs help from both Santerre and Kobyluck to claim his third championship. The Center Harbor, NH, driver has dominated the series’ road course events in the past, but has somehow never won at Lime Rock

Bud Pole qualifying is set for tomorrow at 4:35 p.m., with Saturday’s 82-lap, 125-mile race scheduled for a 2:15 p.m. green flag.

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Short (Track) Subjects…

…Apparently, the phone lines between Waterbury and Beaver Falls, NY, do work, after all. Recently in this space, we reported that rumors of Airborne Raceway being sold to Adirondack Speedway owner Paul Lyndaker were unfounded, quoting Airborne owner/promoter Tom Curley as saying he had not heard from Lyndaker since May of 2001.

This week, however, Curley and Lyndaker finally got together via telephone, after Lyndaker reportedly told racers at his track that he would indeed own and operate Airborne next season. When those comments were relayed to Curley, the ACT President phoned Lyndaker, and the two discussed terms of a possible sale. While declining to reveal specifics of the conversation, Curley said the pair did settle on an asking price for the embattled Plattsburgh oval. No final agreement was reached, however, and Curley said time is growing short.

“I can’t afford to wait three or four months to get this deal done,” he said. “If it’s going to happen, it has to happen within the next two weeks. After that, we have to start working on the 2003 season.”

Curley has previously said that if Airborne is not sold - to Lyndaker or someone else -- it will likely reopen for at least a limited schedule of events in 2003, under ACT management. In his words, “If we don’t sell it, we’ll probably open it.”

Curley said the track is in turn-key condition and waiting a new owner. “Lyndaker could put the key in the lock, open the gates, and be ready to go on opening day 2003,” he said. “The bathrooms are clean and everything.”

Now, all that is required is for Lyndaker to put his money where his mouth is.

…Rusty Wallace’s drive for the NASCAR Winston Cup championship suffered a blow Tuesday, when Wallace was penalized 25 driver points, and crewchief Billy Wilburn was fined $25,000 for running an unapproved spoiler during preparations for Sunday’s EA Sports 500 at Talladega. NASCAR discovered the illegal part prior to Friday's opening practice, and immediately confiscated it.

Wallace remains fifth in the standings, but is now 172 points behind leader Tony Stewart.

…These are difficult days for anyone who owns a Pro Stock racecar. Last week, officials at the Claremont (NH) Speedway announced that they will drop the Pro Stock division from their weekly program next season. Now, sources say New Hampshire’s Lee USA Speedway is also looking to eliminate the class, as soon as 2003. The rumored move was the talk of the pit area at last weekend’s Pro All Stars Series event at the Thompson (CT) Speedway, won by Nova Scotia youngster Scott Fraser. With the exception of Maine’s Oxford Plains Speedway, Pro Stock car counts have plummeted across the region, with many former Pro Stock hotbeds now attracting just 12-15 cars for weekly events.

Claremont owner Sherrie Fleury-Lanou called the ousted Pro Stock division “a form of racing that has been steadily fading away,” and the rumored loss of Lee USA - which reportedly drew less than 400 fans to last weekend’s season-ending, $10,000-to-win Pro Stock Nationals, would be another major nail in the Pro Stock coffin.

…Steve Park will return to the NASCAR Busch Series wars next season, running approximately five races for a team entered by his Winston Cup teammate, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Earnhardt will own the team along with his stepmother, Teresa, and will also drive the car in the series’ three restrictor-plate events. Another driver - as yet unnamed -- will steer the car in approximately seven more races, with an eye toward a full-time Busch Series effort in 2004.

"I don't see the team becoming a Winston Cup team in the near future, but it's a good possibility down the
road," said Earnhardt recently. "At this point, it's a way to bring drivers, crewchiefs, and crew members in, work with them, and move them up the company into the Winston Cup programs.”

…The American-Canadian Tour will present a Racer’s Flea Market on Saturday, October 19 at the Champlain Valley Exposition in Essex Junction. The event, which runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., will take place in the State Building, and will allow racers to eliminate unused inventory, upgrade their stock, or even change divisions, all in one fell swoop. Admission is set at $5, and if you’re interested in reserving vendor space, reservations must be made by October 15 to ACT’s Darla Hartt at (802) 244-6963.