“Mongo” Messier wins championship and rookie titles
WEST HAVEN, Vt. – This is the eighth 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.
Mini Stocks – Asphalt Track – NASCAR Whelen All-American Series “Division IV”
Division Sponsor: Portland Glass
Champion: Eric Messier – Hinesburg, Vt.
Rookie of the Year: Eric Messier – Hinesburg, Vt.
If the 2016 season is any indication, then the future of Devil’s Bowl Speedway’s talent pool is in good hands. The Portland Glass Mini Stock division – the entry-level weekly class for the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series at the Rutland County facility – saw several new names enter the fray and become contenders and winners. The division also saw big increases from the previous year in weekly average and season total car counts, as well as in the total numbers of feature winners and top-10 finishers during the year.
Among the fresh faces in victory lane were two colorful teammates from the four-car, all-rookie Manpower Racing team, who combined to win nine of the season’s 15 races: Zach “The Mule” Wood and Eric “Mongo” Messier. After running Enduro Series races in recent years, Georgia, Vt., driver Wood had a grand debut in the Mini Stock division by winning each of his first two starts. He topped the field on May 21 to open the year with Messier finishing second. Defending champion C.J. LaVair, who sold his title-winning car to Wood in the off-season, took third place in a new ride. Wood was back in the winner’s circle on May 28 at Yorkmont Auto Auctions Night with Messier second again. Brad Bertrand of Ferrisburgh, Vt. – the 2015 Rookie of the Year – finished third.
Veteran and fan favorite “High, Wide, and Handsome” Harold LaVair of Gabriels, N.Y., carried the checkered flag at the People’s United Bank event on June 4 for his first Devil’s Bowl victory in four years. He led every lap and beat Messier – second for the third-straight race – for the win. Wood took third place.
Bertrand was a first-time feature race winner at the next event on June 18. His Subaru took the lead at the halfway point and cruised to the victory. Garrett Given of Cornwall, Vt., finished second for his best result since 2012, and Andrew FitzGerald of West Rutland, Vt., was a career-best third. Mike Whalen Jr. finished fourth in his first start of the season, and veteran John McCarron was fifth.
Hinesburg, Vt., racer Messier scored his career-first win at the Rutland Regional Medical Center “Hometown Heroes” event on June 25 in a barnburner. After crashing the week before and battling through transmission problems at the Hometown Heroes race, Messier’s smoking car crossed the finish line first. Messier, runner-up Bertrand, and third-place Harold LaVair were among the drivers that produced nine lead changes in just 15 laps. Messier survived the post-race inspection line the next week to win the Coca-Cola Firecracker on July 2, then he made it three in a row at the next race on July 23, the Friend Construction Mid-Season Championships, taking the point lead away from Bertrand in the process.
Wood returned to his winning ways on July 30 at the Community College of Vermont event. He broke free from a six-car fight for the top spot late in the going to take command. Following multiple penalties in the tech line, Messier and Bertrand wound up second and third, respectively, followed by Given and FitzGerald.
Saranac Lake, N.Y., veteran C.J. LaVair finally kicked the monkey off his back to score his only win of the season at the Carrara Masonry & Concrete C.J. Richards Memorial event on August 6. Messier was again the runner-up, with teammate and fellow rookie Brett Wood – Zach’s father – in third place.
Rain won the next week, but it was Bertrand standing in victory lane on Brown’s Quarried Slate/Brown’s Orchard & Farm Stand Night when racing returned on August 20. In the Mini Stock division’s annual three-segment special, Bertrand won the first two rounds and finished eighth in the final leg to earn a total of 10 segment points and win the overall event based on low total score. Messier beat Harold LaVair in a tiebreaker for second place, with Given and FitzGerald rounding out the overall top five. Brett Wood won the third segment.
Messier made a big statement at the Sugar & Spice Restaurant “Double Stack” event on August 27, winning both 15-lap Mini Stock feature races and stretching out to a 30-point lead in the championship standings. The four-car, all-rookie Manpower team dominated the podium in both races; Brett Wood finished second in each feature, while Zach Wood and Kaleb Shepard each scored a third-place finish.
Zach Wood rebounded from a big crash in the second Sugar & Spice race to win the Rutland Herald/Go Rutland Mobile App event on September 3 for his fourth win of the season. Given finished second with Messier third, followed by Bertrand and FitzGerald.
Garrett Given opened the Vermont 200 Weekend with a victory in the 10-lap Non-Winners Shootout on September 10. The next day, Bertrand won the 25-lap season finale on Sunday, September 11, for his third victory of the year. Messier ran second for his tenth consecutive podium finish, locking up both the Track Championship and Rookie of the Year titles.
Bertrand finished second in the point standings ahead of Zach Wood, Given, and Brett Wood. Zach Wood took second in the rookie standings, followed by his father Brett, Brendan “Roo” Forrest, and Shepard.
Four Mini Stock drivers cracked the Top 100 in NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Division IV national standings. Out of more than 1,000 NWAAS Division IV drivers in North America, Messier ranked 31st with Bertrand 43rd, Zach Wood 62nd, and Given 96th. In addition, Sixteen year-old Forrest, of West Rutland, Vt., was named the winner of the NWAAS “Youth Achievement Award” presented by the University of Northwestern Ohio as the top-performing driver under the age of 18 at Devil’s Bowl Speedway.
As the “Devil’s Bowl Speedway 50th Season in Review” series continues, Part 9 will look back at the Portland Glass Mini Stock division on the Dirt 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
Portland Glass Mini Stocks
Devil’s Bowl Speedway Asphalt Track
1. Eric Messier, Hinesburg, Vt. – 763
2. Brad Bertrand, Ferrisburgh, Vt. – 736
3. Zach Wood, Georgia, Vt. – 693
4. Garrett Given Sr., Cornwall, Vt. – 669
5. Brett Wood, Georgia, Vt. – 610
6. Andrew FitzGerald, West Rutland, Vt. – 573
7. Roo Forrest, West Rutland, Vt. – 555
8. Harold LaVair Jr., Gabriels, N.Y. – 523
9. C.J. LaVair, Saranac Lake, N.Y. – 477
10. Roger LaBounty, Morrisonville, N.Y. – 378
Feature Winners: Eric Messier (5), Zach Wood (4), Brad Bertrand (3), C.J. LaVair (1), Harold LaVair Jr. (1).
Qualifying Heat & Segment Winners: Brad Bertrand (6), C.J. LaVair (4), Garrett Given Sr. (3), Eric Messier (3), Brett Wood (3), Zach Wood (3), Harold LaVair Jr. (2), Andrew FitzGerald (1).
Photos by Devil’s Bowl Speedway – Andrew Cassidy, Nicole Laffond, Justin St. Louis