“We’re not supposed to be fast at Thunder Road!” were the first words Ryan Kuhn said after climbing out of his #72 Chevrolet Saturday afternoon. Today he was fast, faster than any of the 30 other drivers entered into the Milk Bowl, and became one of the youngest pole sitters in the history of the event at just 20 years of age.
For the East Bridgewater, MA driver, this was a culmination of endless hours of hard work put towards mastering the tricky 1/4 mile oval in Barre. His finishes of 11th and 21st in the two races there this season are the only times he’s failed to run in the top 10 at an ACT event. Add in that he failed to even make the race two seasons ago- made for a very special day.
“We’re really starting to figure out these cars” Kuhn told us. “these last couple of races we’ve been really fast”
Flanking Kuhn on the front row will be Stephen Donahue, one of the youngest regulars in the weekly late model series at Thunder Road. Throughout the season, he’s run almost the entirety of the Thunder Road and ACT races, and that seat time paid off with lap of 12.428 seconds. He started on the pole for the Labor Day Classic in September, but limped the #2 machine to a 17th place finish.
A light rain about 10 minutes before time trials began made things difficult on some of the first drivers to hit the track- both Tyler Cahoon and Jason Corliss put up laps in the 12.6 second range, when they had been closer to 12.4 seconds in practice. Corliss actually posted the fastest lap of the entire day in final practice, a time of 12.38 seconds.
“We’ve been happy with the car all weekend, but time trialing… yeah it’s over with” Corliss said with a smile.
Both Cahoon and Corliss made up for the disappointing time trials, though, posting good finishes in their qualifying races, including a win for Corliss.
The two-time reigning “King of the Road”, Corliss and the Burnett Scrap Metals team are excited for the chance to rebound after a disappointing showing in last year’s Milk Bowl. “We put ourselves in a hole in the first segment last year and you can’t put yourself in a hole here at the Milk Bowl” he said. “It’s one of those races that you just dream about, and we’re really excited to go try and get another one tomorrow”
Defending Milk Bowl champ Bobby Therrien looked great on Saturday, and by many accounts will go into race day as the favorite. He posted a qualifying lap of 12.46 seconds, (good for third on the charts) and then went on to drive away with the win in his 50 lap qualifier- leading every lap after starting 2nd. “To put down a lap like we did in time trials and the back it up in the qualifier, it means a lot” The confidence for the 5x team is at an all time high as they look to win a second straight Milk Bowl tomorrow.
Trampas Demers was another driver who emerged as a possible favorite on Saturday, as he was 5th fastest in time trials (12.47) and second in the qualifying race. After the heartbreak of winning the pole for last year’s race on to be disqualified in the tech line, the 85 team is looking for the ultimate redemption story this season.
Matthew Smith turned heads and made a name for himself in this race last season, qualifying on the outside pole for the race. Now that he’s got a full season of late model experience under his belt, he expects to put up a much better showing on Sunday. He qualified the A.H. Fence #04 6th on speed, and will roll off 11th in the race after a 5th place finish in his qualifier. “We’re feeling really confident going into tomorrow, hoping for maybe a top three in a heat, or maybe we’ll even win one, who knows” He said.
Marcel Gravel was one of the top upset picks coming into the weekend, and on Saturday, he proved that he can compete for the win. After a 5th place time trial (12.49), the Thunder Road track record holder ran 3rd in his qualifier and is ready for a chance at bringing his Darrell Waltrip inspired throwback car to victory lane on Sunday. “I think I’m more prepared than I’ve ever been for this race as a driver, and my team always has the car ready to go” He said.
Scott Dragon was the only driver who underperformed Saturday, but he locked himself into the race nonetheless. Not known for his time trialing as it is, he was a respectable 11th fastest (12.61) but struggled to hold onto the final transfer spot in the qualifier, bringing the 16 car home in 8th position. They’ll have a long road to the front from the inside of row 9 on Sunday.
Saturday filled 22 of the 26 available spots for Sunday’s race. Here are the 22 drivers that qualified, and where they’ll line up in the biggest race of the season.
Row 1: #72MA Ryan Kuhn, #2VT Stephen Donahue
Row 2: #5VT Bobby Therrien, #66VT Jason Corliss
Row 3: #5ME Dillon Moltz, #85VT Trampas Demers
Row 4: #86VT Marcel J. Gravel, #42VT Matt White
Row 5: #94VT Brendan Moodie, #38VT Tyler Cahoon
Row 6: #04VT Matthew Smith, #27VT Kyle Pembroke
Row 7: #64VT Christopher Pelkey, #60NH Derrick O’Donnell
Row 8: #68VT Brooks Clark, #99VT Cody Blake
Row 9: #16VT Scott Dragon, #4ME Ben Rowe
Row 10: #13VT Boomer Morris, #40VT Eric Chase
Row 11: #36VT Joel Hodgdon, #35NH Alby Ovitt
Drivers forced to LCQ Sunday Morning (4 Will Qualify)
#25VT Trevor Lyman
#15NH Craig Bushey
#5NY Shawn Fleury
#3VT Ricky Roberts
#11VT Brandon Lanphear
#8NH Anthony Hill
#72VT Scott Coburn
#23VT Stephen Hodgdon
#50RI Mike Benevides