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Road Warriors Continue to Make Racing Fun While Grooming the Next Generation of Champions

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Road Warriors Continue to Make Racing Fun While Grooming the Next Generation of Champions

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Barre, VT — Since their return in mid-2017, the Burnett Scrap Metals Road Warriors have been one of the most popular divisions at Thunder Road. The reason is simple: they’re a lot of fun. In an age where the action on the track is frequently overshadowed by the drama off it, the Road Warrior class gets back to the basics of why people fall in love with racing in the first place.

In 2020, they did more than ever to help introduce a new generation of racers to the sport. And with several of them planning to make the next step in 2021, it’s clear the Road Warriors are also serving a big role in preparing the futures Kings and Queens of The Road.

It took less than two weeks of racing to see that the Road Warrior season would play a bigger role at Thunder Road than years past. Following the delayed season opener on June 18 — and with fans not allowed at the time due to the COVID-19 pandemic — the Road Warrior division volunteered to become part of the weekly program rather than a bi-weekly division. The request was made to help generate more money and keep the track going while also giving fans another reason to watch on pay-per-view.

“With the pandemic and everything surrounding that, we wanted to do everything we could to help out our local track,” Wiliamstown’s Sean “Chubby Rambo” McCarthy said. “It was Nater Tater (Nate Brien) that really stepped up and said, ‘Cris (Michaud), if you need us, let us know.’ We were all on board. It’s racing — it’s what we love to do. If we’re not there on a Thursday racing, you can probably find 90 to 95 percent of us in the stands watching.”

Even after limited fan attendance was allowed beginning in July, the Warriors remained on the weekly card — and continued to show up in droves. Veterans like McCarthy, Brien, Josh Vilbrin, and the Putney cousins were joined by new faces such as Justin Prescott, Trevor Jaques, Clay Badger, and Luke Marcheski who were ready to learn the ropes of stock car racing.

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“I really didn’t know what to expect going into it,” Williston’s Prescott recalled. “I was building the car by myself and working on it by myself, so I was only going off of my knowledge, which I was not too confident in. But when I showed up to the track the first week and ended up being semi-competitive, it was one of those feelings that you just can’t really explain. It was kind of a, ‘Wow, this is so much fun!’ That really set the tone gone forward. I said, ‘okay, now that I know I’m competitive, let’s get it to that next step.’ I started picking brains about what I could do to try and make myself a little bit faster and get to that level where I could maybe win a race.”

Even without the off-weeks, the division banded together to keep car counts strong all year long. Drivers would go to each other’s shops to work on cars, lend parts to those in need, and even build new cars for their friends to try out the sport. Drivers from other tracks started showing up late in the year, too. The season peaked at the Northfield Savings Bank Mini Milk Bowl with 27 Road Warriors rolling through the gates.

Both McCarthy and Prescott spoke to the togetherness of the division as what they like most about it. It is the only adult division at Thunder Road that doesn’t race for points. That lack of pressure has allowed everyone to focus on having fun and learning what goes into racing. In turn, it has bred a culture where nearly everyone is willing to help each other out and make sure they get spend time on the track instead of on the trailer.

“I’ve said it to many people — the camaraderie is just unbelievable in the Warriors,” Prescott declared. “It’s like everybody’s on the same team. The competitiveness is there, and maybe it’s just because we’re not running for points, but it’s really a thing where everybody is there to help each other out. I remember the fourth race of the season, I broke in practice and was pretty much ready to just load it up because I didn’t have the parts. Then everybody came over and said, ‘What do you need? What do you have? Let’s get you back out there so you can go have some fun.’ And ironically enough, that was the night I got my first win. I was literally heading home — I was going to load it up on the trailer. But a bunch of the guys from the pits came and offered a hand, we got it back together, and then I went out and won that night.”

“I think a lot of it is that you get a mixture of the old guys and then these young kids coming up through,” McCarthy added. “The older guys are there helping out. I remember back in 2006 where it was kind of intimidating. There had to have been over 30 of us, and with the points system, everybody was kind of looking out for themselves. Now we don’t run for points — we just all go out there and have fun and try to win trophies, and it makes it less intimidating. It’s just people having fun.”

While enjoying the night is something everyone can do, going home with a trophy is nice, too — and plenty of drivers did so. In 15 events — which included a road trip to New Hampshire’s White Mountain Motorsports Park on August 9 — nine different drivers won a race and 16 earned at least one top-3 finish. Plenty of others went from being a mid-packer or back-marker at the start of the season to being a consistent top-5 threat by the end of it. For many veterans such as McCarthy, contributing to this driver development is just as good as their own success.

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“When you’re racing guys that show respect on the racetrack in a beginner class, you might give a foot, whereas in those upper classes they might not give the inch,” McCarthy noted. “But it’s allowing that new driver the chance to learn, figure out how to run a line, and giving them plenty of space. At the end of the day, these cars are all pretty competitive. There’s not a huge secret to making them super-fast — it’s just adjustments like air pressure. But it’s about being able to help these drivers, because I want to see them all succeed. Just watching these young guys succeed is the most important thing, along with getting the car counts up. A lot of local tracks are struggling, but it seems like as far as us at Thunder Road, our car counts are growing in every division. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

That’s not to say a racer will turn down a chance to win. McCarthy and Prescott were both two-time winners in 2020 along with Brian Putney and Trevor Jaques. Chris Davis won the first three races while Haidyn Pearce, Clay Badger, Luke Marcheski, and Frank Putney claimed one win each. Prescott’s two victories were especially notable in that they came with two different cars. After destroying his original vehicle at the August 27 event, he and Jaques built a new car in time for the Labor Day Classic. Prescott then drove that car to victory on Championship Night, again showcasing the spirit of teamwork and friendship in the Warrior class.

“It was discouraging, obviously, when the wreck happened,” Prescott said. “I was just trying to stay out of the way, and then next thing you know, I hit the wall a ton. I ripped the trailing arm out, and it was just not worth fixing. That was the last Thursday night race, so we had almost two weeks until the next race. Trevor Jaques lives up by me, and we just committed and said, ‘let’s build another car.’”

“I’d finally figured out the Eclipse — I understood what air pressure adjustments to make, what it was doing…I knew how to handle the car,” Prescott added later. “And suddenly I was going in blind again. But again, to find success with it pretty much off the bat — I finished fourth with it in my first race and then won the second — it was an accomplishment to say the least.”

As for McCarthy, the biggest moment in his season was winning the 50-lap Road Warrior Challenge on August 13. He captured the now-annual event in a Honda that replaced his well-known Volkswagen of years past. McCarthy, who was a Flying Tiger winner earlier in his career, called the Challenge win one of his biggest personal racing accomplishments.

“You’re on the center stage, first off — that race day is designed for the class,” McCartthy said when asked why it was special. “You get out-of-car introductions, and you get to wave to the fans when your name is mentioned. And having a 50-lap race like that really puts all your strengths to the test. You need to save your tires — especially the right front in those front-wheel drives. Being able to finish the race alone is tough, but being able to do it and take first place is ever tougher with all those great drivers.

Thunder Road has long been known for its ladder system where drivers start in an entry-level division and then work their way up. The ladder will be in full effect this year with a big group of Road Warrior drivers climbing up it. Pearce, Jaques, and Tyler Whittemore all made their rk Miles Street Stock debuts near the end of 2020. Chris Davis has sent his Street Stock registration for this coming year. Prescott, meanwhile, will jump two rungs up the ladder in a Flying Tiger purchased from Cooper Bouchard.

“I’m really looking forward to the challenge,” Prescott said. “I’ve seen that it is going to be quite a challenge, but the goal is to go out and be competitive. I would love to compete for Rookie of the Year — that’s a personal goal of mine. But I also understand how competitive the Tiger division is. I’m trying to be realistic, but at the same time, the competitor in me wants a lot. Ultimately, we’re just trying to learn and have some fun out there.”

Meanwhile, plenty of fresh racing blood is coming into to replace them. New registrations have already been received from names such as Neal Foster, Ryan Foster Andrea St. Amour, Bert Duffy, and Bill O’Connor. They’ll join veterans like McCarthy who are content with the fun, “help your neighbor” atmosphere of Thunder Road’s entry-level division.

“You have great guys like Josh Vilbrin, Nater Tater, Frank Putney, guys like that who will stop what they’re doing on their race car if something happens to a fellow driver,” McCarthy said. “They’ll go over there and do everything they can to get that car back on the track. When you have people like that, it makes you want to keep racing in that division. It makes it fun, because when you do start moving up, it does get more competitive, and the friendships unfortunately are not as friendly. They do come over, but at the end of the day, you’re trying to win a championship versus trying to win a trophy and have fun with everybody.”

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