Donnelly is Devil’s Bowl’s first Sprint Car champion
WEST HAVEN, Vt. – This is the fifth 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.
Sprint Cars – Dirt Track – Devil’s Bowl Speedway “Division II”
Division Sanction: Sprint Cars of New England
Champion: Chris Donnelly – Piermont, N.H.
Rookie of the Year: Bobby Hackel – Rensselaer, N.Y.
The 50th Season at Devil’s Bowl Speedway seemed to be the perfect time to write a new chapter in the history book, and Chris Donnelly was happy to be the author. The Piermont, N.H., veteran known as “The Professor” became the first driver to win a track championship in a full-size winged Sprint Car division at Devil’s Bowl, as the Dirt Track hosted five events under sanction from the Sprint Cars of New England (SCoNE) tour.
Donnelly opened the Sprint Car run on Sunday, June 19 with a thrilling victory at the Central Vermont Motorcycles-sponsored Father’s Day Special. Donnelly started 13th on the grid and ran through traffic to chase leader Dan Douville through lapped traffic. Donnelly pulled a surprise three-wide move on Douville to take the lead and ran away to the win with Douville second. Sportsman Modified regular Bobby Hackel – making just his third start in a Sprint Car and his first with the SCoNE group – drove his car with an underpowered 305-cubic-inch engine against the big-power SCoNE 360s from 18th starting spot to finish an impressive third.
The SCoNE tour returned on July 3 for the WhistlePig Whiskey Firecracker event, and Jake Williams of Center Tuftonboro, N.H., was sterling. A winner on both dirt and ice tracks, Williams swept victories in his qualifying heat, the five-lap Dash for Cash, and the 30-lap main event for a rare Triple Crown win. Hackel was electric again, driving from 19th at the start to challenge Williams for the lead, eventually settling for second. Tyler Austin finished third ahead of Donnelly and Luke Greenwood.
Hackel scored his first Sprint Car win the next time out, on Liberty Street Discount Beverage & Deli Night on August 14. He also won the Sportsman Modified feature that night to become just the second driver in Devil’s Bowl history to win in two divisions at the same event, and the first to do so on a dirt surface. Hackel was nearly denied, however, as popular local racer Lacey Hanson of nearby Orwell, Vt., held the lead with three laps to go, but she slipped to second in lapped traffic. Will Hull, Kevin Chaffee, and Scott Holcomb were next in line.
Hackel’s Sprint Car magic ended there, though, as his car was destroyed in a flip at the next event on Labor Day weekend, September 4. Hull, however, seized the opportunity to turn his luck around and the Plainfield, Vt., racer erased previous frustrations at Devil’s Bowl with a victory. Rookie Matt Hoyt nearly stole the show but spun out of the lead with two laps remaining. Hull took over and cruised to the win over Donnelly, Greenwood, rookie Chad Turck, and Austin, who thrilled the crowd with several high-horsepower wheelstands throughout the night.
Donnelly held the point lead entering the division’s season finale – the second annual Fabian Earthmoving “Green Mountain Sprint Car Nationals” on September 25. Donnelly only needed to drive a conservative race and keep Williams and Hackel within his sights, but he instead dismantled the field and dominated the race to take a $1,000 payday and seal up the championship. Williams finished second in the race and the point standings. Hull finished third in the race and tied Hackel for third in points.
Empire Super Sprints regular Chad Miller finished fourth in the race with Austin fifth. Kevin Chaffee finished sixth in the race and fifth in points. Hackel topped a strong freshman class to take the Rookie of the Year title, outdistancing Hoyt, Turck, Marty Hutchins, and Mike Chaffee.
As the “Devil’s Bowl Speedway 50th Season in Review” series continues soon, Part 6 will look back at the Rosen & Berger Auto Recyclers Renegade division on the Asphalt Track.
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
Sprint Cars of New England
Devil’s Bowl Speedway Dirt Track
1. Chris Donnelly, Piermont, N.H. – 279
2. Jake Williams, Center Tuftonboro, N.H. – 262
3. Will Hull, Plainfield, Vt. – 241
TIE Bobby Hackel, Rensselaer, N.Y. – 241
5. Kevin Chaffee, Bradford, Vt. – 226
6. Dan Douville, Bridgewater, N.H. – 211
7. Tyler Austin, West Fairlee, Vt. – 186
8. Luke Greenwood, Hudson, N.H. – 168
9. Matt Hoyt, Campton, N.H. – 162
10. Dennis McLeod, Concord, N.H. – 153
Feature Winners: Chris Donnelly (2), Bobby Hackel (1), Will Hull (1), Jake Williams (1).
Qualifying Heat Winners: Kevin Chaffee (3), Dan Douville (2), Will Hull (2), Chris Donnelly (1), Dennis McLeod (1), Patrick Smith (1), Jake Williams (1).
Dash for Cash Winners: Jake Williams (2), Kevin Chaffee (1), Dan Douville (1), Will Hull (1).
Photos by Andrew Cassidy/Devil’s Bowl Speedway; Alan Ward