BARRE, VT – Jessey Mueller made stock car racing history on Memorial Day at Thunder Road International Speedbowl, winning the first-ever event for the new Northern Modified Challenge Series. The Olmstedville, NY racer, 18, used patience and a well-handling car to avoid early wrecks and cruise to the victory in the 51st annual Mekkelsen RV Memorial Day Classic at the Barre, VT track.
A grinding crash in the first corner of the 50-lap race knocked polesitter Joey Roberts and eighth-place starter Jeff Haskins out with badly damaged cars; neither driver was injured. Alex Bell of Cambridge, NY assumed the lead on the restart, but was involved in a crash on lap 7 that sent him to pit road with a broken tie rod.
Veteran driver Leon Gonyo of Chazy, NY took command of the race at the restart and led the next five circuits. Driving with a cast on his right wrist as he continues to recover from an injury sustained in the off-season, Mueller worked his way underneath Gonyo to the take the lead on the backstretch at lap 13 and never surrendered it. The balance of the race was a well-driven affair with competitive passing and three-wide racing action.
Gonyo held on to take the runner-up spot despite contact on lap 34 that send challenger Todd Stone of Middlebury, VT spinning and the final restart with five laps remaining that set up late charges by Kenny Tremont, Jr., Hunter Bates, and a recovering Bell. Tremont, of West Sand Lake, NY, finished a tight third behind Gonyo. Bell withstood repeated passing attempts by Bates to rebound for fourth place.
Middlebury, VT driver Bates, 17, who also competed in the 100-lap Vermont State Late Model Championship Series race, finished fifth. Joe Williams was sixth, followed by former Thunder Road champion Bobby Therrien, Vince Quenneville, Jr., Cody Sargen, and Adam Bartemy.
Twenty-one cars competed in the first-ever Northern Modified Challenge Series event. Qualifying heats were won by Quenneville, Tremont, and Williams. The starting lineup was determined by random draw by a race fan, who drew the #12 pill to invert the top 12 qualifiers from the heat races. Five caution flags and one red flag on the opening lap slowed the race.
The five-race Northern Modified Challenge Series, sanctioned by Devil’s Bowl Speedway, returns to action at its home track in West Haven, VT on Friday, August 2 for the second annual C.J. Richards Memorial 67 presented by Carrara Masonry & Concrete. Canaan Fair Speedway in Canaan, NH hosts the Challenge the following night, Saturday, August 3. For more information, call (802) 265-3112 or visit www.devilsbowlspeedwayvt.com.