Durgan takes championship thriller in a tiebreaker
WEST HAVEN, Vt. – Devil’s Bowl Speedway’s 50th season of stock car racing n 2016 was the busiest year in the facility’s history with full schedules of action on two surfaces all summer long. In all, 268 different drivers competed at the facility on the half-mile Asphalt Track or the 3/10-mile Dirt Track, with 48 trying both. A total of 46 drivers won feature races and 10 of them earned championships and bragging rights for the winter months.
The NASCAR Whelen All-American Series sanctioned weekly racing for Sportsman Modifieds, Renegades, and Mini Stocks on both tracks, along with Late Models on the pavement, and the Vermont State Championship for the “Division I” Sportsman Modifieds. The winged Sprint Cars of New England tour made five appearances, and the Enduro Series alternated between surfaces in six events.
What follows is the first of a coming series of season reviews looking at each division.
Sportsman Modifieds – Asphalt Track – NASCAR Whelen All-American Series “Division I”
Division Sponsor: Bond Auto Parts
Champion: Jason Durgan – Morrisonville, N.Y.
Rookie of the Year: Chuck Bradford – Addison, Vt.
The 50th Season opened on Saturday night, May 21, with a 50-lap feature for the Bond Auto Parts Sportsman Modifieds on the Asphalt Track. Defending champion “VQ2” Vince Quenneville Jr. of Brandon, Vt., started things off on the right foot with a dominating performance. Jason Durgan finished second, though, and the tone was immediately set for the season-long championship battle.
Veteran Jimmy Ryan rebounded from a tough opening night to win the Yorkmont Auto Auctions “Memorial Day 5000” event on May 28. Asphalt newcomer Jackie Brown Jr. finished second as Durgan ran to third and took over the point lead after Quenneville crashed out.
Travis Bruno scored his first-ever Devil’s Bowl win on People’s United Bank Night on June 4, but fought Quenneville off the entire distance. After a week off for local high school graduation ceremonies, the Modifieds returned “topless” on June 18. With roofs removed to give fans a different look and the cars a different feel, Joey “Fireball” Roberts held Durgan off for his sixth career win.
Billy Lussier gave his large hometown crowd cause for celebration at the annual Rutland Regional Medical Center “Hometown Heroes Night” on June 25, earning the first open-wheel Modified win of his career and his first victory of any kind in a dozen years. The win marked the arrival of Lussier as a bona fide frontrunner and kick-started an outstanding season.
“Durga-Mania” finally ran wild at the Coca-Cola Firecracker on July 2, as the Morrisonville, N.Y., dominated the 44-lap main event. Dave Snow scored a career-best runner-up finish after a long fight with Brown. Quenneville had a poor night in ninth place.
Durgan was just getting warmed up, though, winning the next event at the rescheduled double-points Friend Construction Mid-Season Championships on July 23. Quenneville finished second ahead of Bruno, Lussier, and Bob Kilburn. Durgan made it three-straight wins on July 30 as he won the first of two features run on Community College of Vermont Night. Lussier won the nightcap for his second career victory.
Facing a 33-point deficit as Durgan threatened a championship runaway, Quenneville turned his season around with a big win at the Carrara Masonry & Concrete C.J. Richards Memorial 67, just as Durgan’s run hit its first speed bump. Durgan bounced off the wall twice in the final leg of the three-segment race, and the second contact ended his night. Durgan still finished fourth in the overall scoring finish for the event, but Quenneville’s comeback had begun.
Rain on August 13 meant that the next race would be Brown’s Quarried Slate/Brown’s Orchard & Farm Stand Night on August 20. As Alex Bell visited victory lane for the first time since 2013, Quenneville stayed hot in second place and Durgan crashed out again, finishing 13th; his point lead was slashed to just three markers.
The annual Sugar & Spice “Double Stack Night” on August 27 brought twin 25-lappers to the table with the title contenders splitting victories. Durgan took the first race with Quenneville as the runner-up, but Quenneville won the second race with Durgan in seventh. For the first time since opening night, Quenneville found himself back in the championship lead with only three feature races left in the season, pacing Durgan by seven points.
Labor Day weekend’s event on September 3, presented by the “Go Rutland” mobile app, set up a jaw-dropping title chase scenario. Durgan won the race for his fifth victory of the season, and Quenneville finished fourth. Through qualifying and the feature, the pair found each other locked in a tie for the point lead entering the Vermont 200 Championship Weekend.
Former champion Ron Proctor put on a show in Saturday’s opening Heritage Family Credit Union 50 at the Vermont 200, on September 10, waiting until the final corner to pass Travis Bruno and steal his first win of the season. Durgan was third with Quenneville fifth, and entered Sunday’s finale – the Leon Gonyo Memorial 50 – with a two-point lead. Rookie Chuck Bradford of Addison, Vt., won Saturday’s fifth annual “Non-Winners Shootout.”
Quenneville did everything in his power to win the title by grabbing his fourth victory of the year on Sunday, but Durgan finished second to create another mathematical tie in the point standings. Per Devil’s Bowl Speedway and NASCAR rules, Durgan captured the tiebreaker for the championship based on overall victories for the season, 5-4, to win the closest, most exciting title in Devil’s Bowl history. The two drivers were classy in victory lane, congratulating each other on a hard-fought battle, and the fans saluted both with a raucous cheer.
Proctor ended the season third in the point standings, followed by Lussier and Brown. With 12 top-10 finishes in 16 starts, former Mini Stock champion Bradford won the Rookie of the Year title, topping Matt Bilodeau.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of the “Devil’s Bowl Speedway 50th Season in Review” series, which will look back at the Sportsman Modified division on the Dirt Track, coming soon.
Devil’s Bowl Speedway is located on Route 22A in West Haven, Vt., four miles north of Exit 2 off of U.S. Route 4 and just 20 minutes from Rutland, Vt. For more information, visit www.DevilsBowlSpeedwayVT.com or call (802) 265-3112. Devil’s Bowl Speedway is on Facebook at facebook.com/DevilsBowlSpeedway and on Twitter and Instagram at @DevilsBowlSpeed; follow the action using the #DevilsBowl hashtag.
FINAL 2016 POINT STANDINGS
Bond Auto Parts Sportsman Modifieds
Devil’s Bowl Speedway Asphalt Track
1. Jason Durgan, Morrisonville, N.Y. – 828
2. Vince Quenneville Jr., Brandon, Vt. – 828
3. Ron Proctor, Charlton, N.Y. – 775
4. Billy Lussier, Fair Haven, Vt. – 757
5. Jackie Brown Jr., Hurley, N.Y. – 749
6. Travis Bruno, Morrisonville, N.Y. – 730
7. Joey Roberts, Fletcher, Vt. – 701
8. Jimmy Ryan, Whiting, Vt. – 649
9. Chuck Bradford, Addison, Vt. – 573
10. Bob Kilburn, Fair Haven, Vt. – 518
Feature Winners: Jason Durgan (5), Vince Quenneville Jr. (4), Billy Lussier (2), Alex Bell (1), Travis Bruno (1), Ron Proctor (1), Joey Roberts (1), Jimmy Ryan (1).
Qualifying Heat Winners: Ron Proctor (4), Vince Quenneville Jr. (4), Dave Snow (4), Jason Durgan (3), Billy Lussier (3), Jackie Brown Jr. (2), Travis Bruno (1), Bob Kilburn (1), Joey Roberts (1), Jimmy Ryan (1).
Photos by Andrew Cassidy & Nicole Laffond for Devil’s Bowl Speedway; Dave Dalesandro/RacersGuide.com