Devil’s Bowl Speedway provided the fireworks, but it was young Late Model stock car racing stars Josh Masterson and Emily Packard in charge of the show on Friday, July 4. Masterson and Packard waged an exciting battle for the Coca-Cola Firecracker 100 victory that brought the largest grandstand crowd in the track’s asphalt era to their feet. The enthusiastic fans also cheered winners Leon Gonyo, Richard Lowrey, III, Bobby LaVair, and Richie Turner during NASCAR Whelen All-American Series action.
Seventeen year-old Packard, of East Montpelier, VT, led much of the well-driven race, taking the lead from veteran Bucko Branham at lap 18. She held the point as Masterson made his way through traffic and ran some entertaining laps with Branham, Jamie Fisher, Jamie Aube, and Brandon Atkins. Bristol, VT racer Masterson, 22, was making big gains on Packard’s lead when the caution flag flew on lap 81, setting up a duel between them for the final 20 circuits.
Masterson got the break on the restart and took over the lead, but was never more than a car length ahead. Packard made two bids at the lead on the inside lane in the final six laps as Masterson preferred the top groove. She nosed ahead to lead the 99th lap by inches and pulled ahead further on the backstretch, but Masterson made a daring drive into the final corner and carried his momentum to the victory. The finish – and the show of respect between the drivers in victory lane after a hard-fought but clean battle – drew huge cheers from the crowd.
Three-time NASCAR K&N Pro Series East champion Aube of North Ferrisburgh, VT had his best drive in several years as he ran among the leaders throughout the race and finished third. Atkins finished fourth with Fisher fifth. Chris Bergeron, Robert Bryant, Jr., rookies Scott Coburn and Dan St. Hilare, and early leader Branham completed the top 10 finishers.
If the Late Model race highlighted the region’s youth movement, the 30-lap Bond Auto Parts Modified feature was one for the veterans. Leon Gonyo, 61, of Chazy, NY, benefitted from contact between leaders Vince Quenneville, Jr., and Jessey Mueller to take the lead at lap 22, then held off defending champion Todd Stone to earn his first win in more than two years.
Quenneville appeared to be headed to the winner’s circle to end a similar two-year drought, but contact from Mueller sent him off the track and put both drivers at the rear of the field. Gonyo held the lead and fended off attempts from Stone in both lanes over the final laps. Stone settled for the runner-up spot with Joey Roberts, Johnny Scarborough, and Ron Proctor next in line.
Teenagers Richard Lowrey, III, and Stephen Donahue turned in an entertaining race in the 20-lap Renegade feature. Lowrey, 15, missed last week’s event while he attended football camp at Boston College, but returned to earn the first victory of his career. Donahue raced with Lowrey for the lead early, then spun to the infield. Rookie Scott FitzGerald of West Rutland, VT drove up to second place and finished there for a career-best effort, and a quick recovery by Donahue left him as the final podium finisher. Randy Howard and rookie Eric Messier – in his first start – completed the top five. Point leader Robert Gordon suffered a mechanical issue and failed to finish the race.
Bobby LaVair of Saranac Lake, NY became the seventh different winner in eight races for the Central Vermont Motorcycles Mini Stock division, taking a 20-lap feature event. Point leader Chuck Bradford came through traffic to finish second, while the winner’s brother, Chris LaVair, used a car borrowed from Dan Collins to finish third. Roger LaBounty finished fourth in his first start with John McCarron fifth. The win was the ninth of Bobby LaVair’s career at Devil’s Bowl and moves him into a first-place tie with Chad Brown at the top of the Mini Stock division’s all-time list.
Former Renegade champion Richie Turner of Fairfax, VT won a 75-lap event for the Enduro Series for his first win in the division. Turner threaded his way through a spate of early crashes that eliminated many competitors, then won a race of mechanical attrition down the stretch. Shawn “Mr. Bojangles” Fountain took the runner-up spot, with Brett “Woody” Wood third.
Jerry Jokinen of Castleton, VT won the annual Coca-Cola employee’s race in the first event of the season for the Daredevil “community” racing division. Jokinen, a manager at Coca-Cola in Rutland, VT, drew cheers from the fans but jeers from his co-workers as he drove to the win. Kelly Bullock finished second with Laura Zsido third. Drew Allen had a wild final lap as he spun out of second place, but managed to recover for fourth place ahead of Jamie Zsido.
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