Rookie Roberts wins Sportsman thriller with last-corner pass
It was fitting that on a cool Father’s Day night at Devil’s Bowl Speedway, “Mr. Freeze” Stewart Friesen and “Ice Man” Evan Roberts were the stars of the show. Friesen was undeniable on Sunday, June 18, winning the “Slate Valley 50” for the Short Track Super Series (STSS) Modifieds. The Canadian crowd favorite came from 15th on the starting grid to claim the $10,000 top prize and thrill the jam-packed grandstand.
Roberts, a 17-year-old rookie, won in the track’s weekly headline Sunoco Sportsman Modified division, while other feature winners during the busy night included Randy Ryan in the O’Reilly Auto Parts Limited Sportsman class, and Brian Blake and Cody Dion in twin Mini Stock features.
Friesen was just part of a wild 50-lap race for the STSS Modifieds. The race had a decidedly international flair to it, as Australian Peter Britten and Canadian driver Steve Bernier were among those up front during the night. Britten drew the pole position and was leading the race when his car broke a right-rear shock at lap 14, drawing the third of 10 caution periods.
J.R. Hurlburt inherited the lead when Britten was forced to pit for repairs, lining up for the restart with Bernier, Matt Sheppard, and Adam Pierson behind him. Hurlburt and Sheppard waged a good battle for the lead, but contact between them eventually led to Sheppard slowing with a flat tire and pitting under the yellow flag at lap 27. Hurlburt then had to fend off Ajay Potrzebowski, Bernier, and Demetrios Drellos in succession before Friesen entered the fray.
With the ninth restart coming on lap 31, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., native Friesen lined up second to Hurlburt, but rocketed into the lead at the drop of the green. One final restart with nine laps remaining proved to be no challenge and Friesen pulled away for his second career win at Devil’s Bowl. Hurlburt held on for second and Bernier finished third.
Sheppard rebounded after his repairs to finish fourth, and Potrzebowski came back after a mid-race tire change to complete the top five. Drellos finished sixth ahead of Erick Rudolph, Devil’s Bowl Sportsman regular Tanner Siemons, Francois Bernier – brother of the third-place finisher – and Dillon Steuer. Qualifying heats were won by Mike Mahaney, Steve Bernier, Anthony Perrego, and Drellos; Steuer won the last-chance consolation race.
The 40-lap Sportsman feature was a survival-of-the-fittest affair, but the finish was worth the wait. Fletcher, Vt.’s Evan Roberts started on the outside of the front row and took the lead right away, first fending off Josh Masterson and then the surging trio of Mike Fisher, Tim LaDuc, and Troy Audet. Contact at lap 30 between Fisher and Audet took Fisher out of the race, and Audet was involved in a crash after the restart, leaving it down to just Roberts and LaDuc to fight for the win.
LaDuc, a multi-time Devil’s Bowl track champion, took control at the lap 31 restart, and then held Roberts off at the final restart on lap 35. But as the laps clicked away, Roberts reeled LaDuc in, and on the final corner LaDuc left an opening and fourth-generation driver Roberts filled the hole, muscling his way by to steal the first win of his career in the top class and bring the crowd to its feet in approval.
LaDuc settled for the runner-up finish ahead of double-duty racer Siemons, Hard Charger award winner David Boisclair, and Kevin Chaffee. Billy Lussier had a strong run in sixth, and Adam Piper had another solid finish in seventh. Brothers Austin and Justin Comes each rebounded from crashes to finish eighth and tenth, respectively, with Brent Warren sandwiched between them. Qualifying heat wins went to Masterson, Roberts, and Piper, with Travis Green taking the consi.
Orwell, Vt.’s Randy Ryan scorched the Limited Sportsman field to take his second win of the season in a 25-lap run. Rookie Kamden Duffy started first and held the point for the first seven circuits, but Ryan took over at lap 8 and never looked back, even with a restart on lap 15. Ryan streaked away to outlast Duffy, Scott Towslee, Anthony Ryan, and Bob Kilburn.
Sixth place went to Freddie Little, who was followed by Gary English, Chris Murray, Katrina Bean, and William Lussier Jr. Heat wins went to Little, Anthony Ryan, and Towslee, and Alex Layn won the consi.
The four-cylinder Mini Stock division was split into twin 20-lap A-features. The first race was limited to 15 laps by time constraints after a rough race, which was won by Bridport, Vt.’s Brian Blake after a mid-race collision with Clemmy Bell. Blake was able to continue and grabbed his second win of the season, beating out Levi Cram, Adam Stewart, Luke Fellows, and Ronnie Alger.
The second Mini Stock feature went the full distance, and it was entertaining from start to finish. A pack of six cars diced for the lead every step of the way before Rutland, Vt.’s Cody Dion was able to hold off all comers for the win. Jarrod Colburn, birthday boy Jake Mallory, Austin McKirryher, and Donald Olden rounded out the top five.
Devil’s Bowl Speedway returns to action on Saturday, June 24, at 7:00 p.m., as all six regular divisions are on the card including the $300-to-win special for the Hoosier Daddy Racing Novice Sportsmen, the Friend Construction 500cc Mini Sprints, and the 9th state cannabis crown vics. Grandstand general admission is $15 for adults and free for children aged 12 and under. Infield drive-in parking is $20 for adults and free for kids.
Devil’s Bowl Speedway is located on Route 22A in West Haven, four miles north of U.S. Route 4, Exit 2, and just 20 minutes from Rutland, Vt. For more information, visit DevilsBowlSpeedwayVT.com or call (802) 265-3112. Devil’s Bowl Speedway is on Facebook at facebook.com/DevilsBowlSpeedway, and on Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat at @DevilsBowlSpeed; follow the action using the #DevilsBowl hashtag.