BNS: Thunder Road: Round fourteen preview

BARRE, Vt. (August 26, 2003) -- It's great to be a hometown racing hero, especially a hometown hero riding the tide of recent victory. Headlines, cameras, old friends and young admirers all seek your attention. There's only one drawback- when you...

BARRE, Vt. (August 26, 2003) -- It's great to be a hometown racing hero, especially a hometown hero riding the tide of recent victory. Headlines, cameras, old friends and young admirers all seek your attention. There's only one drawback- when you roll out on the track before the home crowd, nothing less than victory will satisfy the expectations.

That's the prospect facing Mike Olsen as he prepares for the True Value 150 NASCAR Grand National Division, Busch North Series race at Thunder Road International Speedbowl this Saturday night, August 30. Olsen, the 2001 Busch North Series champion, won the Bud Pole and led every lap of the 2002 True Value 150. After slow start to the 2003 season, he's been on a roll which has carried him from 12th to fifth in the series standings and brought him to victory lane last Saturday night in Maine. In the True Value 150 he will seek to become the first two-time winner in the event's seven-year history, facing both a strong field of rivals and a track he knows all too well will not forgive the slightest error.

The True Value 150 s scheduled as a one-day event with practice starting at 2:30 p.m., Bud Pole Qualifying at 6:15 p.m., and the main event at approximately 8:00 p.m. As the 14th race in the 18-race Busch North Series schedule, it marks the beginning of the final push toward championship honors and invitations to the Toyota All-Star Showdown at Irwindale Speedway in California, November 6-8, which go to the top 15 drivers in the final standings. Significantly, Thunder Road's high-banked quarter-mile oval is the last genuine short track on the schedule, as the final four events will be contested on two superspeedways, one half-mile track, and one road course.

Although Mike Olsen's home and shop are located 25 miles away, across the Connecticut River in North Haverhill, N.H., his roots run deep at Thunder Road. He started racing there as a teenager in 1986 under the tutelage of his grandfather, the legendary Stub Fadden. Three years later he followed Fadden into the Busch North Series, which kept him away from the track on Quarry Hill for nearly a decade, until the first True Value 150 in 1997. This year he has come full circle, racing a late model stock car for another team in Thunder Road's weekly Thursday night races as a sidelight to his full-time Busch North Series schedule with the Little Trees Chevrolet.

From the beginning, Thunder Road graduates have enjoyed the edge in the True Value 150. In the inaugural, they swept the top five places led by Kip Stockwell. Olsen's turn appeared to have arrived in 2001, when he led the first 115 laps only to be tapped into a spin by a lapped car, handing the win to another local hero, Dave Dion. Last year, he made no mistakes, leading every lap. "The last couple of years there we've been really good, so now it's expected. Hopefully I can keep that up and do what's expected," Olsen observed in describing the favorite's role he now occupies.

"It's hard use the horsepower we have in the Busch car there, to get it to the ground," he related, adding "You've got to have things working in all aspects to get the car to work right. We're on a different tire this year so that will change things up a little, but hopefully we can have a little edge because I've had the track rime. We just have to treat it like another race track." At least as useful as his notes on chassis set-up is the hard-earned knowledge that the 'Road cannot be taken lightly, no matter how many laps a driver has turned. "There's not a lot of room, especially on the front straight, and things happen in a hurry. There's not many escape routes to avoid what happens in front of you, so it makes interesting racing," he related.

On Saturday afternoon, hundreds of Olsen fans, many of them Fadden faithful in years past, will make the pilgrimage west on Route 302 to pull for their man. They will be joined by the legions of Dave Dion fans, Bobby Dragon fans, Kip Stockwell and Dennis Demers and Brian Hoar and Barney McRae fans as they converge on Thunder Road from all points in Vermont to make the True Value 150 one of the most colorful Busch North Series races of the season. "I have a lot of friends and family from my hometown. They come to the shop and say 'Thunder Road's coming up and you're going to get it done' so that adds to the pressure," Mike Olsen commented, summing up the enjoyable dilemma of his home race by adding "We have a lot of support but it does add some pressure. You always want to do well in front of your friends and family."


* Mike Olsen won the Bud Pole and led all 150 laps of the 2002 True Value 150, leading Andy Santerre, Dave Dion, Brian Hoar, and Tracy Gordon to the checkered flag. Santerre came from 12th and Dion from 18th in the starting lineup. Olsen's margin of victory was over two seconds.

* Mike Olsen's Bud Pole time in 2002 was a track record 12.667 seconds at 71.051 miles per hour.

* Six different drivers have won the first six editions of the True Value 150: Kip Stockwell, Tracy Gordon, Dale Shaw, Brad Leighton, Dave Dion, and Mike Olsen. Stockwell, Gordon, Dion, and Olsen are entered for the 2003 event.

* While Leighton is not entered, his regular car, the Irving Oil/Mainway #35, is entered to be driven by Thunder Road track champion Phil Scott of Middlesex, Vt. Peter Duto is crew chief for both Leighton and Scott.

* Among the top 25 drivers in the current Busch North Series standings, six are Thunder Road graduates: Mike Olsen (5th), Brian Hoar (7th), Dave Dion (12th), Kip Stockwell (14th), Barney McRae (17th), and Bobby Dragon (21st ). That's one more than Lee USA Speedway, the second most popular "alma mater" for Busch North Series drivers.

* Thunder Road International Speedbowl has operated as a quarter-mile paved track since its opening in 1959. Its now-traditional Thursday night race program was chosen due to the fact the granite quarries which provided the majority of local employment paid their workers on Thursday.


August 1, 1997 -- Kip Stockwell of Braintree, Vt., driving in his first Busch North Series race, led a parade of Thunder Road alumni to the checkered flag in the first True Value 150. Dave Dion, Stub Fadden, Bobby Dragon, and Jamie Aube trailed the 23-year-old Stockwell's Oldsmobile at the finish. A year later, when Fadden retired, Stockwell would change his car number from 91 to 16 in honor of his boyhood hero


What: True Value 150, NASCAR Grand National Division, Busch North Series race #14 of 18
Where: Thunder Road International Speedbowl, Barre, Vt.
When: Saturday, August 30, 8:00 p.m. (approx.)
Track layout: .250 mile paved oval

Schedule: Saturday, August 30 -- Practice 2:30-3:15 p.m. & 4:00-4:45 p.m., Bud Pole Qualifying 6:15 p.m., True Value 8:00 p.m. (approx.)


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