Momentum picks up heading toward 50th season; fallen friends remembered
Devil’s Bowl Speedway had a memorable year in 2015. Stock car racing fans, drivers, teams, and officials experienced the highest of peaks and, unfortunately, the lowest of valleys during the season. Not including drivers in touring series special events, an impressive total of 227 drivers took part in regular races on the 1/2-mile asphalt oval, the 3/10-mile dirt oval, or both.
Through it all, members of the local racing community came together to support each other in times of need, and to celebrate the best of moments. The following is a look back at the most important moments of 2015, illustrated by MemorEvents photography:
• Wednesday, January 7 – Devil’s Bowl Speedway announces a 14-race asphalt schedule and a five-race schedule for The Dirt Track – built in September 2014 – as its 2015 slate of events.
• Saturday, January 31 – Champions from the 2014 season are honored at the annual Banquet of Champions at the Holiday Inn Rutland/Killington in Rutland, Vt. Top award winners include Barbara Quenneville and her son, Vince Jr., as they share the third annual John Bruno Award for lifetime contributions to stock car racing.
• Sunday, April 26 – The six-race “Spring Championship Series” is announced as a bonus program, sponsored by Yandow Sales & Service of North Ferrisburgh, Vt., and global brand John Deere. The series encompasses all four weekly asphalt divisions in the opening events at Devil’s Bowl and Airborne Park Speedway in Plattsburgh, N.Y.
• Saturday, May 9 – Ron Proctor, a two-time asphalt track champion in the Bond Auto Parts Modified division, scores a convincing victory in the 100-lap season opener. Bucko Branham leads the first 46 laps before a small fire takes him out of the race. Leon Gonyo finishes second, and Nick Heywood – after blowing his engine in practice – finishes third in a backup car. Brandon Atkins wins the 50-lap Late Model feature, former champion Richie Turner carries Renegade checkers, and Dale O’Neil takes his first Devil’s Bowl Mini Stock win.
• Wednesday, May 13 – Just four days after celebrating in victory lane with his driver Ron Proctor, longtime Devil’s Bowl car owner and crew chief Ron White, 67, of Fair Haven, Vt., passes away unexpectedly at home. The outgoing hometown character is later celebrated with a standing-room-only reception at Devil’s Bowl, complete with his trusty red Ford pickup truck on display. Family members, friends, and racers fondly share stories of Ron White’s passion for racing and willingness to help others at the track and in the community.
• Saturday, May 23 – Robert Gordon’s iconic No. H2O car leads 41 laps in the first-ever Renegade 100, then rebounds from a flat tire to cross the finish line in second. After the first-place finisher is disqualified for an engine infraction, Gordon inherits the win. Joey “Fireball” Roberts wins the 35-lap Modified feature, “Kid Rocket” Josh Masterson takes the Late Model win, Chuck Bradford tops the Mini Stocks, and Cory Gray cops the season’s first Enduro Series race.
• Saturday, June 6 – American-Canadian Tour (ACT) Late Model star Joey “Pole” Polewarczyk Jr. wins a caution-free People’s United Bank 100 after an intense fight with Wayne Helliwell Jr. and Nick Sweet. Bucko Branham ends a month of bad luck with a Modified win, but only after underdog Jason Bruno leads the first 20 laps. Sixteen year-old Dylan Rabtoy gets his first Renegade win, and Chris LaVair begins a streak of five-straight Mini Stock wins.
• Saturday, June 13 – Devil’s Bowl regulars Vince Quenneville Jr. (Modified) and Josh Masterson (Late Model) have a big night at Airborne Park Speedway as each clinches his division’s title in the Yandow /John Deere Spring Championship Series. Airborne regulars Jason McClatchie (Renegade) and Dale O’Neil (Mini Stock) also win titles.
• Friday, June 19 – Jason Durgan and Ron Proctor split a pair of 30-lap Modified races on the first Friday night show of the year. Durgan dominates the opening round, while Proctor survives a wild nightcap that sees Cody Sargen’s season end abruptly with a hard crash. Jimmy Ryan, Billy Lussier, and Jason Furman each set their season-high marks in the second race by finishing second, third, and fifth, respectively. Former champion Chris Bergeron, who missed the season opener due to kidney stones, ends a two-year dry spell with a Late Model win.
• Friday, June 26 – Modified racer Leon Gonyo breaks through on “Hometown Heroes” Night for his first win of the year. Three-time Modified champion Todd Stone scores his first Devil’s Bowl win in an asphalt Late Model, while veteran Steve Miller – back behind the wheel after 10 years away – posts his first of three runner-up finishes on the year. The Red Knights Firefighters Motorcycle Club and more than a dozen fire and police vehicles from Rutland County departments invade the track with a pre-race parade as part of a benefit drive for Rutland’s Dodge House for displaced veterans, and Cat Country 105.3 raises more than $500 for the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
• Friday, July 3 – Vince Quenneville Jr. (Modified) and Bobby Therrien (Late Model) split the Coca-Cola Firecracker Twin 44s, and Renegade Jim McKiernan is a first-time winner; each wins a $600 toolkit from Ingersoll Rand as part of a NASCAR Whelen All-American Series bonus program. Chris LaVair (Mini Stock) and Jeff Murray (Enduro) also visit the winner’s circle.
• Sunday, July 5 – In the first race of the season on The Dirt Track at Devil’s Bowl, the “Orwell Express” Tim LaDuc returns to victory lane in the first Sportsman Modifieds for his first Devil’s Bowl win since 2010. “The Professor” Chris Donnelly tops the winged Sprint Cars of New England (SCoNE) field, and Curtis Condon wins in the Renegades. Jesse Durkee is literally the last man standing in a bizarre Mini Stock race that ends five laps early when Durkee’s car is the only one still running.
• Friday, July 10 – “VQ2” goes two-for-two as Vince Quenneville Jr. makes it back-to-back wins aboard his new Troyer chassis, taking the double-points Rutland Herald Mid-Season Championship. Robert Bryant Jr. takes his first Late Model win of the season, and Jimmy Bushey wins the Renegade feature less than a month after losing his home in a fire.
• Tuesday July 14 – Four top-level Monster Trucks invade Devil’s Bowl for a wild, high-flying, ear-drum-bursting show. The participants include the legendary “Black Stallion,” Canadian sensation “Weapon 1,” monsterized school bus “Higher Education,” and Monster Jam World Freestyle Champion “Overkill Evolution.”
• Friday, July 31 – After a summer break and a rainout, racing resumes with Leon Gonyo and Greg Atkins sharing victory lane in a pair of 20-lap Modified shootouts; Ron Proctor is second to Atkins in the nightcap to record his fifth podium finish in the last six races. High school football star and Late Model rookie Richard Lowrey III wins his first feature, Robert Gordon is back on top in the Renegades, and Chuck Bradford ends Chris LaVair’s Mini Stock streak.
• Friday, August 7 – Leon Gonyo shows no signs of slowing down as he wins the fourth annual C.J. Richards Memorial 67, run for the first time as a three-segment race. Gonyo, Greg Atkins, and Todd Stone (making his first Modified start of the year) win the segments, and Gonyo takes the overall victory. Chad White is a first-time Late Model winner and Cory Gray repeats in the Enduro class.
• Sunday, August 9 – Kenny Tremont Jr. has made plenty of history in his career, but had never won four races in the same weekend. That changes at The Dirt Track at Devil’s Bowl, as he wins the Sportsman feature to complete a three-track, four-race sweep; he also won at Albany-Saratoga Speedway on Friday and a pair of races at Lebanon Valley Speedway on Saturday. Danny Douville takes his first SCoNE Sprint Car win at Devil’s Bowl, Darrell Older tops the Renegades, and rookie Justin Severance wins in the Mini Stocks.
• Friday, August 21 – Following a rainout the week before, Vince Quenneville Jr. beats Codie Aubin for the asphalt Modified win, cutting Ron Proctor’s lead in the championship down to just two points. Dave Snow ties his career-best finish in fourth place. Jamie Aube makes it nine different winners in nine Late Model races – or 10-for-10 counting the ACT race in June – and Scott FitzGerald is a popular Renegade winner. Amazingly, both Aube and FitzGerald ended winless streaks more than 20 years long with their victories. Walter Hammond, 17, gets his first runner-up finish in the Late Model feature.
• Friday, August 28 – At the annual Sugar & Spice “Double Stack Night,” Quenneville and Aubin are back in the news, splitting Modified double features; for Aubin, it’s a career-first at Devil’s Bowl. Josh Masterson snaps the Late Model new winners streak by sweeping both of his races. Robert Gordon and Scott FitzGerald reign in the Renegades, and Chuck Bradford wins twice to push his Mini Stock streak to five consecutive wins, matching LaVair’s mark from earlier in the summer and Jon Miller’s Renegade streak in 2010.
• Sunday, August 30 – At a race date postponed in early June by spring flooding, young Bobby Hackel tames The Dirt Track for his first victory in more than three years. He beats Kenny Tremont Jr., Adam Pierson, and others in a nailbiter. Dean Christensen takes the first-ever Midget win on the new clay track, Bill Duprey tromps on the Renegades, and Justin Severance repeats in the Minis.
• Friday, September 4 – It’s “four for the four” as Leon Gonyo’s No. 4 Modified wins for the fourth time on the asphalt. The youngest driver in the top-five is Vince Quenneville Jr., age 49, and rookie Bob Kilburn, 59, scores his best finish in fourth place. Bobby Therrien wins the Late Model race ahead of Walter Hammond, and Seth Bridge captures his first podium finish. Robert Gordon grabs Renegade win number seven for the year, and Chuck Bradford extends his Mini Stock streak to six wins in a row on the pavement – a new record in the modern era of asphalt racing at Devil’s Bowl. The event is a make-up date for the previously rained out Heritage Family Credit Union “Member Night” which grants free admission to all HFCU members.
• Saturday, September 12 – The Mekkelsen RV Vermont 200 Weekend, the biggest event of the year, arrives with “Shootout Saturday” and first-round qualifying. The 10-lap non-winners Shootouts are claimed by Jimmy Ryan (Modified), Seth Bridge (Late Model), rookie Tony Salerno (Renegade), and rookie Bradley Bertrand (Mini Stock). Rain moves in during the barbeque party following the races, postponing Sunday’s feature events to the following Saturday.
• Saturday, September 19 – With the championship on the line, Vince Quenneville Jr. seizes his opportunity and wins the opening 50-lap Modified feature, as Ron Proctor is involved in a crash and taken out of the race. Josh Masterson seals up his first Late Model title by winning a rough-and-tumble 100-lap finale. Richie Turner wins the 50-lap Renegade feature as Robert Gordon wraps up his third track championship, and Chris LaVair wins the Mini Stock finale to take his first Devil’s Bowl crown. The second Modified 50 is both triumphant and tragic; Leon Gonyo dominates to sail to his fifth victory of the season, and Quenneville clinches his first asphalt track title. During Gonyo’s victory lap, however, the 63 year-old suffers a medical emergency while driving his car and carrying the checkered flag, and passes away. Gonyo is immediately recognized and honored by racers and fans for his warm personality and for going out at the pinnacle of a legendary career, and the manner of his passing quickly becomes a national news story with reports by NBC, FOX, ESPN, the New York Times, and other media outlets.
• Saturday, September 26 – Back on The Dirt Track, the inaugural Fabian Earthmoving “Green Mountain Sprint Car Nationals” race is presented as the biggest Sprint Car race in Vermont history. Twenty-five teams from seven states and two Canadian provinces came the to the track, and Danny Douville goes home to New Hampshire with a check for more than $4,000 and the prestigious Coastal 181 Cup. Tim LaDuc remains unbeaten for the year, winning again in just his second start of the season. In a show of solidarity in tribute to Leon Gonyo, the entire field of Sportsman Modifieds pulls to the infield on the final lap as the checkered flag waves over a silent track. Third-place finisher Anthony Alger collects a $500 cash bonus for leading the fourth lap. Bill Duprey wins the Renegade race, and Brian Bishop tops the Mini Stocks after a four-wide pass for the lead.
• Sunday, October 4 – Kenny Tremont Jr. wins it all on the final night of racing for The Dirt Track. Tremont tops a field of 38 entries to win The Stove Depot “King of the Clay” 100 and capture the Sportsman Modified championship. Bill Duprey takes his third-straight Renegade win, but Darrell Older earns the title. Todd Goldstein’s wild-looking Mini Stock, complete with LED-light-up sponsors, wins the $500 Portland Glass Mini Stock special as Brian Bishop takes the championship. The Enduro Series runs two races, with Shawn Moquin winning on the asphalt and Brandon Gray winning on the dirt, while Brett Wood takes his first championship.
• Friday, December 11 – Vince Quenneville Jr. and Greg Atkins are honored at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, N.C., during the annual NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Awards. Quenneville is named the Vermont State Champion for the first time, while Atkins, a first-year NASCAR Division I license holder, wins the Vermont State Rookie of the Year title.
• Friday, December 18 – Devil’s Bowl Speedway management announces that it will host a full schedule of 14 asphalt races and 13 dirt races for its 50th season in 2016. The asphalt changes to Saturday night events, while the Sunday dirt schedule sees a 260% increase in the number of races. Both surfaces will compete under NASCAR sanction, and drivers will be competing not only for the individual track championships, but also against each other under a common point system for the Vermont State crown while earning points toward the national title.
Still to come, Devil’s Bowl Speedway will officially crown its 2015 champions and top drivers at the Holiday Inn Rutland-Killington in Rutland, Vt. on Saturday, January 30, 2016. More news and information about the track’s historic 50th season will be released during the winter months.
Devil’s Bowl Speedway is located on Route 22A in West Haven, Vt., four miles north of Exit 2 on U.S. Route 4. 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.