Hackel dominates for first NASCAR Dirt championship
WEST HAVEN, Vt. – This is the second installment of the “Devil’s Bowl Speedway 50th Season in Review” series. This series takes a retrospective look at an action-packed year of stock car racing in 2016 on the half-mile Asphalt Track and the 3/10-mile Dirt Track at Devils Bowl Speedway, division by division.
Sportsman Modifieds – Dirt Track – NASCAR Whelen All-American Series “Division I”
Division Sponsor: Central Vermont Motorcycles
Champion: Bobby Hackel – Rensselaer, N.Y.
Rookie of the Year: Justin Severance – Pittsford, Vt.
Mother Nature tried her best to disrupt the 50th Season at Devil’s Bowl Speedway in 2016, particularly the first full season of NASCAR Whelen All-American Series racing at the 3/10-mile Dirt Track. Thankfully, she quit halfway through the year. Bobby Hackel, however, never did.
After three consecutive rainouts, the fourth-generation racer opened the Dirt Track season on Sunday, June 12 by winning the first of two 25-lap features for the Central Vermont Motorcycles Sportsman Modified division on Brown’s Quarried Slate/Brown’s Orchard & Farm Stand Night. Veteran driver Tim LaDuc – who was in a medically-induced coma for almost a month following a severe lung infection just six weeks earlier – was physically drained but finished second.
Vince Quenneville Jr. rebounded from a tough 11th-place showing earlier in the Brown’s event to win the second feature of the night – his lone dirt victory in 2016 – topping Tim Hodge and Derrick McGrew.
Seven-time Devil’s Bowl champion Kenny Tremont Jr. earned his 71st career win in West Haven at the Central Vermont Motorcycles-sponsored “topless” Father’s Day race on June 19, which saw the cars run without roofs. McGrew and Adam Pierson were next in line at the finish. A major wreck early in the race collected 16 of the 22 starters, though most were able to continue.
After a scheduled off-week, it was Hackel back in the winner’s circle on July 3 for the WhistlePig Whiskey Firecracker. The race was halted after an accident involving Ron Casey, who appeared to suffer a medical emergency just before crashing into the wall. Sadly, Mr. Casey passed away at a local hospital several hours later. Once the race resumed, Hackel continued to dominate, followed by Justin Comes and Jackie Brown Jr.
Rain on both ends of a mid-summer break effectively meant no racing again for a month, but when the season got back on track, it got busy. A double-feature night on August 7 resulted in another win for Hackel in the first race, but the star of the night was Chad Miller. The unheralded White River Junction, Vt., driver took even himself by surprise with a runner-up finish in the opening race, but then shocked everyone with a win in the nightcap. He held off Tremont by six feet to win the second race, scoring at Devil’s Bowl for the first time since a Pro Stock event in 1998; his best finish of the season prior to the event had been 20th place.
Three short nights later, Tremont took the “Whelen Wednesday” event on August 10 for the twice-postponed Whelen Engineering Mid-Season Championships. An early wreck severely damaged the body on Tremont’s car, but he soldiered on to the win. As Tremont did, Hackel, LaDuc, and rookie Justin Severance all came from deep in the starting order to finish in positions two through four.
Back again on Sunday, August 14 for Liberty Street Discount Beverage & Deli Night, Hackel made history by sweeping both the Modified and Sprint Car feature victories, becoming only the second driver in Devil’s Bowl’s 50 seasons to win in two divisions on the same night, and the first to do so on dirt.
After the sixth rainout of the season on August 21, it was Hackel again on August 28. This time, his win came in the Charlie LaDuc Memorial “Ol’ Reliable 54.” Tim LaDuc, son of the late fan favorite, had a chance at what would have been an emotional victory but settled for the runner-up spot.
Labor Day weekend brought the third and final double-feature night on September 4. Justin Comes shed a month’s worth of bad luck by dominating the first 25-lapper for his first Devil’s Bowl win, and Hackel picked up the second race win. “Downtown” Jackie Brown Jr. had his best night of the year with a pair of runner-up finishes, while Brian Whittemore, Billy Lussier, Codie Aubin, and Jason Bruno each earned season-best finishes with top-five runs over the two races.
September 11 finally saw the twice-rained-out Interstate All Battery Center “Vince Quenneville Sr. Memorial 38” get in the books, and another first-time Devil’s Bowl winner in Wayne Stearns. The former champion at Bear Ridge, Canaan Fair, and Legion Speedways pounced on Louie Cadwell to take the lead with five laps left. LaDuc also squeezed by for second place with Cadwell, Allan Hammond, and Comes rounding out the top five.
After the seventh and final Dirt Track race event rainout on September 18, Hackel posted his seventh and final win on September 25. Rookie Lenny Pillsbury had his best run by leading the first 15 laps before Comes took over. Hackel reached Comes late and wrestled the lead away with two laps left; Comes and Pillsbury finished second and third, respectively.
It was all Tremont at the season finale on Saturday, October 1. Terrible late-season luck – including a flip a week earlier – put Tremont on the pole by virtue of the handicap system, and he buried the field with an undisputed Stove Depot “King of the Clay” 100 win. LaDuc and Pierson had a sensational fight for second place, which went LaDuc’s way. Hackel wrapped up his title season in fourth place with Quenneville fifth.
Despite a winless season, LaDuc ended the year as the runner-up in the championship standings, edging Tremont by three points. Quenneville took fourth overall with Comes fifth. Severance, from Pittsford, Vt., put together an impressive run of 10 top-10 finishes in the season’s 14 races to seal up the Rookie of the Year title and sixth place in the point standings. In all, 63 different drivers competed in the division in 2016.
As the “Devil’s Bowl Speedway 50th Season in Review” series continues soon, Part 3 will focus on the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Vermont State Championship fight for the Sportsman Modified division.
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
Central Vermont Motorcycles Sportsman Modifieds
Devil’s Bowl Speedway Dirt Track
1. Bobby Hackel, Rensselaer, N.Y. – 745
2. Tim LaDuc, Orwell, Vt. – 662
3. Kenny Tremont Jr., West Sand Lake, N.Y. – 659
4. Vince Quenneville Jr., Brandon, Vt. – 593
5. Justin Comes, Middlebury, Vt. – 591
6. Justin Severance, Pittsford, Vt. – 554
7. Jackie Brown Jr., Hurley, N.Y. – 540
8. Billy Lussier, Fair Haven, Vt. – 503
9. Chad Miller, White River Junction, Vt. – 423
10. Wayne Stearns, Bradford, Vt. – 392
Feature Winners: Bobby Hackel (7), Kenny Tremont Jr. (3), Justin Comes (1), Chad Miller (1), Vince Quenneville Jr. (1), Wayne Stearns (1).
Qualifying Heat Winners: Justin Comes (5), Tim LaDuc (5), Chris Murray (4), Kenny Tremont Jr. (3), Brian Whittemore (3), Bobby Hackel (2), Derrick McGrew (2), Justin Severance (2), Codie Aubin (1), Jason Bruno (1), Todd Buckwold (1), Jordan Fornwalt (1), Billy Lussier (1), Chad Miller (1), Vince Quenneville Jr. (1), Wayne Stearns (1).
Consolation/B-Main Winners: Justin Severance (2), Ryan Christian (1), Vince Quenneville Jr. (1).
Photos by Andrew Cassidy and Heather Aube for Devil’s Bowl Speedway.