Four Decades Later, Modifieds Return to Thunder Road

Vermont’s Jarvis brothers will try to win for the “home” crowd

Barre, VT — The True Value Modified Racing Series will make its first appearance at Barre, VT’s Thunder Road International Speedbowl on Sunday, May 25, at the Mekkelsen RV Memorial Day Classic.

It has been forty-three years since a fire-breathing, open-wheeled modified stock car last roared around the high banks at the “Nation’s Site of Excitement.” Forty-three years ago, those same cars created quite a bit of controversy.

May 30, 1965: The annual 30-lap Memorial Day Classic has come to Thunder Road. For the first time in the track’s six-year history, powerful overhead V8 Modifieds are allowed to race weekly against the older flathead-powered coupes of Thunder Road. Outsiders Ernie Reid and André Manny have captured the first two events of the year, dominating over Thunder Road favorites Harold “Hard Luck” Hanaford, Chester T. Woods, Tony Colicchio, Ronnie Marvin, and the famous Ingerson brothers of North Haverhill, NH.

Legendary hometown driver Colicchio has led every step of the way, and is on the verge of becoming the first local to beat the Modifieds. Four thousand Thunder Road faithful are on their feet as Colicchio takes the white flag from Chief Starter Bob Quinn, signifying the final circuit around the tricky quarter-mile. French-speaking Jean-Paul Cabana, the Canadian National Champion with racing experience at places including the 2.5-mile Daytona Int’l Speedway, pulls his #5A Modified up on Colicchio at the start/finish line. The two begin a drag race around the intimidating oval, and as Quinn stands on top of the “Widowmaker” wall, checkered flag waving, Cabana squeezes by to complete the pass. Just then, a huge pileup scatters the rest of the field. Wrecked and out of options, Hanaford jams his purple #30 into reverse gear, backing across the finish line in third place.

Track officials consider reverting back to the last complete lap run under green flag conditions to determine the finishing order, meaning Colicchio would have been declared the winner. However, a controversial call by NASCAR, Thunder Road’s sanctioning body at the time, ruled that since the two leaders had already taken the checkers, the finish would be the running order on lap 30. Cabana received the winner’s trophy in Victory Lane while Colicchio and his disappointed hometown fans looked on as the runners-up.

Cabana would win the next two events as well, one of them another hometown heartbreaker as Barre’s Mike Osborne blew an engine while leading on the final lap. Former National Champion Dick Nephew took the final Modified championship-points race on June 24 after Hanaford spun again, this time finishing second backwards. Thunder Road officials deemed that the Modified cars were too much for the shut-out locals to keep up with, and banned them from competition for the remainder of the year, save for an additional event after the championship points became final in September. Cabana, of course, won the race.

“Those Modifieds had so much power they’d blow right by us on the straightaways, but they were heavier and couldn’t make it through the corners like the flatheads,” recalls Hanaford. “I never cared for ‘em back then. Those guys used to use us flatheads as a brake going into the corners. They’d never hit you hard, just enough to make you move up the track so they could pass you. Nephew hit me and drove through the infield to get by (to win the final race in June). Nobody really minded when they outlawed those cars at Thunder Road. Modifieds have changed a lot since then, though, and I enjoy watching them now. It really ought to be something to see ‘em fly around Thunder Road.”

That 1965 season is more than four decades gone, and the Modified scene has parted ways with most of the Vermont fans that have continued to support their local heroes. Those fans now have the chance to create new memories as the ground-pounding machines of the True Value Modified Racing Series roll into Thunder Road for a 100-lap showdown on Sunday, May 25.

The 46th Annual Mekkelsen RV Memorial Day Classic is expected to bring an entirely new group of race drivers and teams from across the region; drivers like three-time TVMRS Champion Kirk Alexander of West Swanzey, NH, Connecticut hard-chargers Les Hinckley and Eddie Dachenhausen, Massachusetts stars Louie Mechalides and Vinnie Annarummo, Maine’s Tony Ricci and David Pinkham, and New Yorkers Johnny Bush and Kenny Vogel.

Included on that list is a pair of Vermonters, Ascutney brothers Dwight and Peter Jarvis. Dwight is an 18-time Track Champion at New Hampshire’s Twin State and Monadnock Speedways, and won the 2006 True Value Modified Championship. Peter has main event victories spanning more than two decades, and was a special event winner at Thunder Road some twenty years ago against the old Flying Tiger division. Upon entering the full-fendered territory that is present-day Thunder Road, the duo will inherit the burden of carrying the “home” torch and avenging the losses of Tony Colicchio, Mike Osborne, Harold Hanaford, and so many more.

Moreover, the brothers Jarvis have the opportunity to immortalize themselves in Central Vermont stock car racing history by beating the invaders.

“Having always been connected to open-wheel racing, I’ve never seen Thunder Road. I’ve only heard how fast it is,” says Dwight Jarvis. “People say it’s a little like Monadnock, which is a good track for me, except Thunder Road has that big wall in Turn 4. It’s one of those tracks that everyone talks about no matter where you go. It would be pretty special to win there, and there are a lot of (Modified) guys looking forward to it. I hope to do well for the Vermont fans. I guess the pressure is on Peter and I to perform.”

Post time for the Mekkelsen RV Memorial Day Classic is 1:30 pm, Sunday, May 25. The American-Canadian Tour Championship Late Models return to the Barre high banks for their own 100-lap contest, creating an unprecedented doubleheader likely to go down in the annals of New England racing lore. For more information, call (802) 244-6963 or visit

Sources: Justin St. Louis/Thunder Road Speedbowl PR

March 2008
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