Former Racer Says Thunder Road “Dirty”
By DAVE MOODY
Barre/Montpelier (VT) Times-Argus
A decade or so ago, Kevin Cyr was a weekly competitor at Barre’s Thunder Road. Now, he wants local officials to take a long look at the track before allowing it to reopen in 2002.
Cyr, an outspoken opponent of the now-abandoned plan to build a regional landfill adjacent to the Barre Town speedway, appeared before the town’s Select Board last week, urging board members to take a close look at the facility before issuing permits for the coming season. Cyr, a former Flying Tiger competitor at the speedway, cited concerns over past dumping on track property, along with allegations of inadequate access, alcohol abuse, and noise pollution.
“I’m not trying to prevent racing, or even camping on the property,” said Cyr this weekend in an exclusive SpeedReading interview. “My point of view is, the sandbox needs to be cleaned up.”
Cyr, one of the leading members of UBAD, United Barre Against the Dump, said his main bone of contention is alleged dumping on the property, something he claimed has been happening “for years.” He also questioned the safety of two wells located in the track’s pit area.
“They’ve got problems and they should be forced to take care of them,” said Cyr, who said he did not contact Thunder Road management with his concerns before taking them to the Select Board. “There is a lot of activity that has been going on for years at that location, and nothing has been done. People should know the sandbox is dirty.”
Cyr questioned whether the speedway is being taxed for recent physical plant improvements, and called for a number of additional changes to the track; including an upgraded entrance and a parking lot lighting system. In addition, the Barre Town resident criticized a track policy that allows fans to carry a single a six-pack of beer into race events, but does not prevent them from returning to their cars for more later in the evening.
“The BYOB policy at Thunder Road should be eliminated entirely,” he said. “The town is shouldering a huge liability, and it’s only a mater of time until someone gets burned. Thunder Road should be required to purchase a state liquor license and sell beer to the fans, just like a restaurant. They should have to deal with the Liquor Control Board and maintain their own liability insurance. The way it is now, if some guy gets drunk on Thursday night and kills someone, it’s coming out of my pocket (as a taxpayer).”
Cyr also blasted town government, accusing them of allowing the track to do things that ordinary citizens cannot.
“It’s blatant favoritism, and it’s been going on for years,” he said. “ If I park 100 campers on my lawn and start blasting music half the night, the town is going to shut me down. When the neighbors complain, the cops will show up and put a stop to it. The town doesn’t enforce (Thunder Road) the way they should.”
While saying that his latest campaign is not an official function of UBAD, Cyr said the organization is squarely in his corner. “UBAD is there for me if I need them,” he said. “They are willing to back me 100 percent. I’m just the front man.”
Cyr said he believes Squier and Curley should modernize the speedway grounds, work with the town to upgrade and rebuild Fisher Road, and “reclaim” the nearby Fairmont Park area, despite being forced to drop plans for the accompanying landfill.
“They talked about wanting to do something nice for the neighborhood, and I think they should follow through,” he said. “They obviously have to fill that hole with something, and they can’t fill it with trash. If they really want to fill it, I’ll find them the material. Let’s make a business deal with the local granite sheds.”
For his part, Thunder Road’s Squier said Cyr’s tactics were predictable, since members of the UBAD group have repeatedly threatened to organize a backlash against the track and Squier’s Waterbury radio station as part of their opposition to the landfill.
“It’s unfortunate after all we’ve been through,” said Squier, “but they’re doing what they said they’d do.”
Cyr stopped short of calling his actions a personal vendetta, but admitted he is looking to send a message to Squier and Curley.
“On the surface, it may look like a vendetta, but the bottom line is this,” he said. “They had the power, they had the money, and they thought they could flex their muscles and jam this (landfill) down own throats. We showed them the power of the public, and now we’re going to flex a little muscle of our own. If they hadn’t gone as far as they did, maybe I wouldn’t go as far as I’ve gone, either.
“They say they’ve pulled the plug (on the landfill project), but those are just words, and they’ve lied to us before,” said Cyr. “We’re not trying to put anyone out of business, per se, but we are trying to ensure that financially, they’re never in a position to try this kind of thing again.”
The former racer said he is not concerned about a possible backlash against him and his group by irate race fans.
“Some people may look at me as the bad guy, but I’m not nervous. If this makes me unpopular, I’ll live with it. Squier and Curley can obviously afford to build a state-of-the-art landfill,” he said. “I think they can afford to build a state-of-the-art race track, and also do something good for the neighbors.”
For the record, a couple of public disclosures.
This writer has been employed as Thunder Road’s public address announcer since 1979. In addition, I serve as Sports Director at WDEV Radio in Waterbury, owned by Ken Squier. As such, I am admittedly biased in my view of the speedway and it’s ownership. For the record, I know Ken Squier. I like Ken Squier, and I think his racetrack has been -- and should continue to be -- an important, vital, and productive part of the Central Vermont community.
Despite a public outcry that has polarized many in this community, I have refrained from discussing, endorsing, commenting on, or even mentioning the proposed landfill in this space, for two reasons. First, this is a motorsports column, and the landfill, per se, was not a racing endeavor. Second, and perhaps more important, I believed strongly that people in this community had a right - and a responsibility - to educate themselves and make an informed decision on their own. There are very few people in this community, outside my own immediate family, who knew where I stood on the landfill, and that was an intentional choice on my part.
Now, however, I’m going to say my piece, with the clear understanding that it is one race fan’s opinion, and nothing more.
I have listened to Kevin Cyr’s allegations and demands. I’ve read the newspapers, talked to many of the parties involved, and spoken directly with him. I’ve listened to everything he has to say, and asked a few pointed questions along the way. At the end of it all, I really have just one simple question.
Kevin, where were you a year ago?
Until Squier and Curley unveiled their plans for a regional landfill, Kevin Cyr was a big fan of Thunder Road. He drove race cars there, he worked on pit crews there, and - if memory serves - he spent a Thursday night or two perched on the track’s historic “Bud Hill” with the same folks he now seems to find unruly and in need of policing.
I’ve had many, many conversations with Mr. Cyr over the years, and not once did he raise a single red flag over the safety of Thunder Road International Speedbowl. In all those years, I have never seen Mr. Cyr wear earplugs to protect himself from the noise he suddenly seems so concerned about. Not once have I seen him refuse to use the restrooms; restrooms he suddenly implies may be contaminated. He never had any problem drinking the water, rolling in the dirt, doing all the things that racers do. In fact, he actually seemed to enjoy it.
Now, however, Kevin Cyr has decided - for himself, and the rest of us as well - that Thunder Road may no longer be safe. He has taken a public policy fight and made it personal, following through on UBAD’s oft-stated threat to destroy anything and everything to do with Ken Squier and Tom Curley.
The timing, to me, is beyond coincidence.
An angry, emotional community is a powerful thing. Cyr and his UBAD colleagues proved that. Now, however, people are getting angry again, and Cyr may find himself hoisted on his own petard