Vermont’s most famous stock car race arrives this weekend as the 57th Milk Bowl comes back to Thunder Road. The “toughest short track race in America” is uniquely formatted to produce excitement and almost always delivers late-day drama.
If you’re unfamiliar, the Milk Bowl is a 150-lap race divided into three 50-lap segments, each scored separately. Drivers earn one scoring point per position — first place is worth one point, for example, and 19th place is worth 19 points — and the driver with the lowest combined score after the third leg is the overall champion. The twist is that there are full-field inversions between each segment, usually forcing the top drivers to come from the rear of the pack at least twice during the day. There is no waiting around and no time to be patient, and the outcome of the race is usually in question until the final corner — much as it was last year in a thrilling finish.
The winner, of course, gets $10,000 and a kiss on the snout of the beauty queen — a Vermont dairy cow.
The race has drawn the interest and attention of drivers and fans across the continent for more than half a century, and a few outsiders have come up Quarry Hill to try their hand at it. Last year, former ARCA national champion Mason Mitchell tried and couldn’t even qualify. This year, the newest challenger will be Senoia, Georgia’s Bubba Pollard — as big a grassroots superstar as there has ever been in the last 25 years.
Pollard’s fans call him “Redneck Jesus” and American-Canadian Tour driver Tom Carey III recently referred to him as “the People’s Champion of short-track racers.” Pollard is cut from the same cloth as legendary drivers like Dick Trickle, a driver who spent years chasing (and winning) the biggest Late Model races across the country. In fact, Pollard just signed a deal to drive for the Late Model team owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr. in next month’s 300-lap race at Martinsville.
Pollard’s resumé includes wins in the All-American 400 at Nashville, the Winter Nationals at Bakersfield, California, the “Money in the Bank” event at Berlin, Michigan, the Slinger (Wisconsin) Nationals, a championship in the World Series at New Smyrna (Florida) Speedway, and last year’s Oxford 250 in Maine. He recently won $10,000 at the Speed51 “Super Select” at Indianapolis Raceway Park and pocketed $75,000 in Canadian money (better than $50,000 U.S.) in his second-straight Canadian Short Track Nationals win at Jukasa (Cayuga) Motor Speedway in Ontario.
Only Virginia’s Bill Dennis (1974) and South Carolina’s Butch Lindley (1977) have successfully invaded Thunder Road from Dixie to win the Milk Bowl, and each did it in his first try. Pollard will be driving a car out of the Hudson, New Hampshire, stables of former Milk Bowl winner Joey Polewarczyk Jr.
He’ll have to learn the track quickly, of course, but he’ll also have to try to stop the Jason Corliss steamroller. Crowned “King of the Road” last week, hometown favorite Corliss has won virtually every major event at the track in the last two years and will attempt to be the first driver to win three-straight Milk Bowls. Throw in 2010 winner Polewarczyk, last Sunday’s feature winner Scott Dragon, three-time Milk Bowl winners Nick Sweet and Patrick Laperle, and surprise Labor Day Classic 200 winner and soon-to-be ACT champion Rich Dubeau — plus plenty of others — and it’ll be a full weekend’s worth of work for ol’ Redneck Jesus.
Saturday’s annual Qualifying Day is highlighted by time trials and the 50-lap qualifying races, plus the Pro All Stars Series (PASS) Super Late Models, Thunder Road’s weekly divisions, and a fireworks show that will have to be mind-blowing in order to rival last year’s blockbuster.
Interestingly, Gov. Phil Scott is on the official entry list for the PASS race, which would mark his debut with the series and his first race in that type of car since 1993. Rumors have Maine stars Mike Rowe and Curtis Gerry making their way to Vermont for the event as well.
D.J. Shaw holds a tiny three-point lead on Derek Griffith, while Sweet dropped out of title contention last week when he skipped the event at White Mountain Motorsports Park in order to attend his brother Nathan’s wedding; Griffith won that race.
Sweet won the Milk Bowl weekend PASS race last year after a memorable battle with Laperle and Shaw.
The Milk Bowl, more than any other race in the region, is a haven of statistical oddities and fun facts. Get a notepad, this might be a lot to take in.
DIVERSE GEOGRAPHY: Drivers from nine states and two Canadian provinces have won the race, with Vermont leading the way at 28 out of 56 — an even 50% split. New Hampshire racers have 10 wins, Quebec can claim five wins, Florida four (all Crouch), Ontario three, and one each for Connecticut, New York, Maine, Massachusetts, Virginia and South Carolina.
YOU DON’T HAVE TO WIN TO WIN: Total dominance over three segments is rarely the key to winning. Only three times in 56 Milk Bowls has a driver won all three rounds for the perfect score of 3 points, and the last time was 33 years ago with Robbie Crouch.
The race has been won 20 times by a driver who didn’t win any of the segments during the day including 10 of the last 18.
Dave Dion won 12 segments in his career, but only one overall Milk Bowl. Crouch — the only driver to win four Milk Bowls — hit for the cycle by with one segment win in 1983, two in 1988, three in 1986 and none in 1990, all en route to victory.
Three times in history, a driver has won two segments but not won the overall race, which emphasizes the inversion between rounds; Pete Fecteau was the last to register that anomaly in 2001.
RECENT PARITY: The competition has become much closer over the years. The first seven Milk Bowls, in 1962-68, were all won with single-digit scores. Rules were more open in the days of the “Class A” flathead coupes and the early Flying Tigers, and the attrition rate was often much higher, leading to more runaways by the top teams and drivers.
Cubic dollars won the races from around 1970 to 1995, when the high-dollar NASCAR Late Model Sportsman and ACT Pro Stock cars held sway. Only eight winning scores during that time reached double digits.
The modern-era ACT Late Models have been the centerpiece since 1996, and the first year with the cars saw a then-record-high winning score of 17 points from Jean-Paul Cyr. Only three times since then has the winning score been lower than 12 points, and the all-time high of 23 was hit in 2002 with Dave Pembroke’s first Milk Bowl win.
A total score of 12 to 16 points is likely to contend for the win these days, though the first single-digit scores since 1998 appeared last year when winner Jason Corliss had 8 points and runner-up Bobby Therrien had 9.
THE SEGMENT 2 CURSE: The second segment can often predict things, as in, the driver who wins the second segment rarely wins the overall Milk Bowl. Often enough, drivers who win the second leg have had poor showings the first rounds but start close to the front in the middle portion due to the inversion between segments.
Only 14 times — just one-quarter of the Milk Bowls run — has the winner of the middle race gone on to win the overall. Six of those instances were from completely dominant years: The perfect-score sweeps by Larry Demar (’67), Dave Dion (’75) and Crouch (’86), and the three almost-perfect four-point scores by Harold Hanaford (’62), Bobby Dragon (’72), and Brian Hoar (’98).
In the last 20 years, only Patrick Laperle, in 2005, has won the middle round and gone on to win the Milk Bowl, and half of the Segment 2 winners in that span haven’t even finished among the overall Top 10 (Jay Laquerre was 22nd in 2006). To compare, the Segment 1 winners in those same 20 years have won the Milk Bowl eight times, finished second five times, and third twice, and the Segment 3 winners have finished sixth or better in the overall 14 times, including four wins.
SPOTTY RECORDS: Like many things, the further back one investigates the Milk Bowl’s history, the murkier the records get. Full segment finishes and total overall scores are hard to find prior to the 1980s, though most races can be pieced together.
Old records are in the process of being updated on an official basis, which is a good thing. Erroneous credit for segment wins has long been given to Tom Tiller and John Rosati, when the proper credit belongs to Hinesburg’s Moe Dubois and St. Johnsbury’s George Horne.
“Little Moe” Dubois won Segment 1 in 1969, though Tiller has been credited for it; he finished second to Dubois, though. Tiller did win the first leg the year before.
Horne won Segment 2 in 1971, but Rosati has been carried in the record books; Rosati won the first round that day, but Horne led every lap in the middle stanza as Rosati finished third with a badly smoking engine.
Even more fun, Canadian Jocelyn Tremblay is listed as the official winner of Segment 3 in 1980, but it was Jean-Paul Cabana, driving in relief for Tremblay, who took the checkered flag. Each raced his own car in the first two segments, but Cabana hopped in teammate Tremblay’s car for the final 50 and won. Since Cabana’s segment win came in the No. 15 car that Tremblay took the original green flag with (and not his own No. 5A), Tremblay has always received credit. Adding a wrinkle is the fact that the 1980 race was one of two held at Milton’s Catamount Stadium during Thunder Road’s legal battles; Catamount also hosted in 1978.
And for some unknown reason, the 1966 Milk Bowl was completely ignored in official records for more than 40 years until Russ Ingerson was finally given credit in 2009. “Wild Child” Ingerson also won in 1965 and 1968, and he is the only driver to win the race in both an open-wheel “Class A” flathead coupe (in ’65) and a full-fender Flying Tiger. Ingerson’s other claim to Milk Bowl fame is that he is the only driver to be disqualified from a win, losing the 1964 title to Harold Hanaford after a flywheel infraction.
Bear Ridge Speedway — Bradford
LAST WEEK: On Friday, Joe Krawiec won the three-segment USAC Dirt Midget Association race as Plainfield’s Will Hull won the series’ championship. Ryan Christian won the Limited Late Model race as rookie Tyler Tremblay celebrated the championship, and Corinth’s Buddy Welch won the Four-Cylinder feature while Jason Porter took the title. Tom Keith won the Twin State Dirt Stock race. On Saturday, Bradford’s Jordan Fornwalt put the exclamation point on his DIRTcar Sportsman Modified championship with a win in the 100-lap finale, and Thetford’s Jason Gray won the “Growler” race for feature winners. Tanner Siemons took the 50-lap Sportsman Coupe feature and Newbury rookie Jeremy Hodge won the Growler. Clay Dow won the two-segment Sprint Cars of New England race as Hull claimed his second track championship of the weekend, and St. Johnsbury’s Karl Sheldon won the Enduro. NEXT EVENT: The third annual “Fun Day” season finale is Sunday, Oct. 6.
Thunder Road Int’l Speedbowl — Barre
LAST WEEK: Milton’s Scott Dragon won Sunday’s 60-lap Late Model feature, but Barre’s Jason Corliss clinched the championship over Dragon by four points. Waterbury Center’s Jason Woodard won the 60-lap Flying Tiger feature to wrap up his third championship, and Barre drivers Tyler Pepin and Jeff Martin Jr. won the Street Stock race and championship, respectively. Berlin’s Chris Davis was a first-time winner in the Road Warrior division. THIS WEEK: The season-ending Northfield Savings Bank Vermont Milk Bowl is this weekend. Friday’s schedule has practice from 1 to 5 p.m., followed by go-kart racing at 5:30 p.m. and a cornhole tournament at 6:15 p.m. Saturday’s Booth Bros./H.P. Hood Qualifying Day starts at 3 p.m. including time trials for the Late Model, Flying Tiger and Street Stock divisions, 50-lap qualifying races for the Late Models, and the opening Mini-Milk Bowl segments for the Tigers and Streets. The PASS Super Late Models are also on hand for qualifying and a 150-lap main event, followed by fireworks. Milk Bowl Sunday opens at 12:15 p.m. with the Late Model last-chance race, with opening ceremonies at 1 p.m. and the first segment at 1:30 p.m. Tigers, Streets and Dwarf Cars are also on Sunday’s card.
Albany-Saratoga Speedway — Malta, N.Y.
LAST WEEK: Thursday kicked off the three-day “Malta Massive Weekend” season finale with Anthony Perrego winning the Modified feature and Andrew Buff taking the Sportsman Modified win. On Friday, Erick Rudolph took the Small Block Modified race with Tim Hartman Jr. winning the Sportsman feature. On Saturday, Demetrios Drellos took the biggest win of his career against the Super DIRTcar Series Big Block Modifieds and Luke Horning won the DIRTcar Pro Stock Series race.
NEXT EVENT: The championship finale is on Oct. 12 at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park.
Fonda Speedway — Fonda, N.Y.
THIS WEEK: The Fonda 200 Weekend begins on Friday at 7 p.m. with a Patriot Sprint Tour doubleheader, qualifying for the Modifieds, and three weekly divisions. Saturday’s racing starts at 6 p.m. for the $53,000-to-win Modified 200, along with Sportsman Modifieds.
Monadnock Speedway — Winchester, N.H.
LAST WEEK: Todd Patnode won Saturday’s NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Sportsman Modified season finale and the track championship, and Vernon’s Solomon Brow took his 13th Late Model Sportsman win in 15 races to wrap up the season title.
Plattsburgh Airborne Speedway — Plattsburgh, N.Y.
THIS WEEK: The season finale Enduro 125 is Sunday at 2 p.m.
RumTown Speedway — Rumney, N.H.
LAST WEEK: Saturday’s results were not available. THIS WEEK: Racing is Saturday at 4 p.m. with five weekly divisions and the Granite State Mini Sprints.
Speedway 51 — Groveton, N.H.
LAST WEEK: Wolcott’s Marcel J. Gravel and Corey Mason split Late Model features on Saturday and Mason won the championship. Mike Clark and Danville’s Derrick Calkins won Tiger Sportsman features; Nick Gilcris won the track title, while Calkins’ 100-lap victory helped to net him the Triple Crown Series championship. Concord’s Dean Switser Jr. and St. Johnsbury’s Alan Birch took Street Stock wins with Switser the champion. Shelburne’s Kaiden Fisher and West Danville’s Laci Potter won the Daredevil youth races and Fisher won the title. NEXT EVENT: The Fall Brawl weekend is Oct. 4-5.
White Mountain Motorsports Park — North Woodstock, N.H.
LAST WEEK: Derek Griffith rebounded from a crash to win Saturday’s PASS Super Late Model 150. Graniteville’s Stephen Donahue won the Late Model season finale as Quinny Welch took his fifth consecutive and eighth overall championship. Mike Carignan won the PASS Modified race, Skip Tripp took the PASS Street Stock win and Jason Wyman won the Dwarf Car feature. NEXT EVENT: The season finale is on Saturday, Oct. 5 with an Enduro 200, the Northeast Mini Stock Tour and the weekly Strictly Stock Mini division.
Justin St. Louis is a motorsports journalist, publicist, broadcaster, historian and former driver. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org / Twitter: @Justin_StLouis