Donahue Backs Up Breakout Season with Vermont Milk Bowl Win

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photo by Alan Ward
Stephen Donahue celebrates in Victory Lane with Northfield Savings Bank representatives. 

BARRE – The 61st Vermont Milk Bowl once again proved itself to be the Toughest Short Track Race in North America on Sunday, and not just for the American-Canadian Tour and Late Models. The Flying Tigers, Street Stocks and Road Warriors joined their headlining brethren in providing some of the hardest racing of the season with everyone looking to make their mark on an iconic Northeast tradition.

The Late Models started off the show in grand fashion. Outside pole-sitter Stephen Donahue led lap one and gained each lap afterward over pole-sitter Derek Gluchacki. Cody Blake made it a three-car race with Nick Sweet quickly joining the fun just behind Donahue. Following Shawn Swallow’s spin in turn four, Donahue and Sweet battled hard on the restart before Sweet settled in and Pelkey followed for a three-car train out front and continued to the Segment One checkered flag.

Segment Two had Brooks Clark at the helm but third-place Erick Sands quickly led the charge under Clark. While the back half of the first segment led the way in the second, Sweet and Donahue made gains methodically through the field before Brendan Moodie’s spin off turn two slowed their advance under caution. ACT Tour regular Sands faced-off against Thunder Road hot-shot Kyle Pembroke on the restart but quickly slowed for Patrick Laperle’s dust-up with the turn one tire wall. Two more cautions quickly let loose starting with Bobby Therrien’s hit into the turn four wall before Laperle reunited with the turn one tires on the restart.

photo by Alan Ward
The Street Stock Mini Milk Bowl unofficial winner Josh Lovely.

Now up against ACT point leader Gabe Brown, Sands couldn’t hold up to Brown’s outside lane advantage as the duo chased lap money up front. Deeper in the pack, Donahue kept it rolling through traffic until a three-wide move between Sweet, Scott Dragon and Brandon Lanphear saw “Li’l Irish” slam the binders with Chris Pelkey also getting a slight advantage before the checkers in segment two flew.

Both Moodie and Therrien returned to lead the third and final segment of the 61st Vermont Milk Bowl while Donahue and Pelkey started the segment tied in the overall lead with seven points each. Moodie, Therrien and then Laperle kept their rigs up front and took advantage of lap money after the hard-day all three had faced on the Barre high banks. While the back three-quarters of the field ran side-by-side, eventually Donahue got a break and put the pedal down with Pelkey mired in traffic way out back.

Brian Hoar’s brush-up with the Widowmaker frontstretch wall, and subsequent spin into turn one, brought out the caution just after the halfway point. Several tense moments followed for Donahue as he side-swiped the Widowmaker not just once, but twice in heavy traffic, each one putting a possible curse on his Milk Bowl goal. Coming down to the wire, with five laps remaining and a windshield full of Nick Sweet and a rear-view mirror full of Chris Pelkey, Donahue kept his head down and took the 61st Vermont Milk Bowl. In victory lane, he shared his achievement with fellow Milk Bowl champion, and father, John Donahue, car-owner Bill Donahue and family patriarch Paul Donahue, each taking a big swig of milk from the trophy bowl!

photo by Alan Ward
The Road Warriors Mini Milk Bowl victor was Nate “Tater” Brien.

The Street Stocks were the first to wrap up their 2023 Mini Milk Bowl on Sunday. Physical from the start, Danny Doyle and 2023 track champion James Dopp paced the field after newcomer Cameron Ruggles, all the way from Richmond, Va., tried a three-wide move for the top spot in the early running. While Dean Switser Jr. and Logan Farrell tried to charge up through the field, Switser found himself trapped in traffic with Farrell looking to have motor issues in the early going. Josh Lovely sliced through the field to lead the overall under the crossed, half-way flags before the lap 19 caution.

Lovely took advantage of the reshuffle while his main opponent Dean Switser ended his day in a front-stretch pile-up with just four laps remaining. While Doyle and Dopp continued to show the way, Lovely jumped to the white line under Doyle to a nearly sideways victory in segment one and take the overall Mini Milk Bowl trophy. Apparent second-place finisher Taylor Hoar was disqualified for a technical infraction giving second-place to Trevor Jaques and rookie pilot Logan Farrell coming back to take third overall. The Street Stock Mini Milk Bowl remains unofficial pending an engine inspection for the Josh Lovely machine.

The Road Warriors were the only supporting division to run both their Mini Milk Bowl segments on Sunday. Fast-timers Flyin’ Fred Fleury and Nate “Tater” Brien showed the way in segment one. Although chaos filled the track from corner to corner, front to back, both veterans found their way in the caution-free first segment with Brien taking the win over Fleury to start the afternoon.

Segment Two was full of role reversal as the first segment finish was inverted to make the second, Bill O’Connor and Bert Duffy led the start before a lap three melee saw Kris Russell and Jason Kirby end their day early, Kirby running third in the overall standings at the time. On the restart both Fleury and Brien had made it to ninth and tenth, respectively, while the pair faced heavy lap traffic. Oil blew from beneath the hood of the Jason Ball Cavalier, quickly turning to fire under the hood while the fluid on the racing surface saw Ben Bushey and Karsen Murphy collect each other into the turn three wall. A dogfight to the end, Williamstown’s Nate Brien took a perfect score by winning both segments to a Mini Milk Bowl victory with Fred Fleury’s two second-place finishes giving him second and Hunter Garduno in third overall.

The Flying Tigers put on the biggest thrill of the afternoon to close out their +Mini Milk Bowl. Matt Ballard and former Flying Tiger track champion Craig Bushey led the field to green with the segment one leaders in the back of the pack. Mired in heavy side-by-side traffic, drivers, fans and scores watched and waited for anyone to make the move. As they ran, Jason Woodard was the overall champion at the halfway point even as the field remained grid-locked in traffic while Tyler Pepin, Ballard and Mike Martin paced the race.

Calamity struck with just five laps remaining as the right front blew on the Woodard car, calling out the caution and reshuffling the overall point lead. Jason Pelkey took over the Mini Milk Bowl standings as they took the green and looked to take it all the way to victory lane until disaster struck on the final lap. Ballard and Mike Billado tangled and slid across turn three, collecting Pelkey, Cam Gadue and others while Rich Lowrey snuck underneath and took his No. 8NH Malibu to the Mini Milk Bowl checkered flag with the overall win over Woodard and Derrick Calkins at the end.


American-Canadian Tour / Late Models

(local competitors)

(Pos, Start Pos, Driver, Car No., Hometown, Seg. #1 Fin., Seg. #2 Fin., Seg. #3 Fin.) Overall Score)

4. (7) Marcel J. Gravel (86VT), Wolcott, (4, 14, 9), 27

12. (10) Stephen Martin (01VT), Craftsbury Common, (11, 19, 8), 38

28. (25) Brendan Moodie (94VT), Wolcott, (27, 27, 28), 82

Flying Tigers Mini Milk Bowl –

(Car #, Driver, Hometown, (Seg. #1 Fin., Seg. #2 Fin.), Overall Score)

5.  01VT, Michael Martin, Craftsbury Common, (11, 1), 12

16. 5VT, Kyle Gravel, Wolcott, (19, 11), 30

Street Stocks Mini Milk Bowl –

(Car #, Driver, Hometown, (Seg. #1 Fin., Seg. #2 Fin.), Overall Score)

12. 43, Jamie Davis, Wolcott, (6, 20), 26

Road Warriors Mini Milk Bowl –

(Car #, Driver, Hometown, (Seg. #1 Fin., Seg. #2 Fin.), Overall Score)

20. 32, Kylee Potter, Plainfield, (13, 22), 35

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