Sounds of Vermont: Thunder Road

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(Host) The last weekend of September, Thunder Road in Barre will feature its one-of-a-kind “Milk Bowl” when stock car racers tally their scores and vie for the chance to kiss a cow. All summer long, races have filled the air with excitement, danger, and noise.

For our series “The Sounds of Vermont”, VPR’s Lynne McCrea listens in on the sounds of the speedway.

(Sounds of crickets, with sounds of a car approaching.)

(McCrea) A late summer afternoon, in Barre. On a granite hilltop, crickets are chirping. But soon enough, they’ll be drowned out by the sounds of the speedway down below. It’s racing day at Thunder Road. (PA System announcements, cars whoosh by.) “Street Stocks you go in 6 minutes!”

(McCrea) Rusty DeWees drives in the street stock division. To him, Thunder Road evokes the image of an ancient ampitheater:

(DeWees) “Well it’s a beautiful track. The track is in the bottom of a hill, so the stands are actually up on a hill, you know what I mean. It’s actually natural, and the pits are off to the sides and its sort of like I’ve never been to Greece or anything but it’s sort of like those big stadiums. The feel you get when you see those big ol’ stadiums you know when you see that movie Gladiator its sort of like that going on, in ‘Graniteville’.”

(McCrea) As an entertainer, Rusty DeWees sees car racing as another way to put on a show. But he’s in it for the thrill, too.

(DeWees) “Where you gonna get an extra bit of excitement out of your life? I’m telling you what, man, racing cars it’s what you think it is! You’re out there, going around there almost out of control with like 30 other guys who are trying to beat you, and that wall is coming around you’re going 65 miles an hour. So it’s dang scary! So that gives you a little bit of a jolt. That’s what I want, you know.” (Sound of a loud revving engine.)

(Shawn Fleury) “My name is Shawn Fleury. Right now we’re 16th in points. Haven’t had a great year but we picked up a win last week, our second of the year, so it’s not all that bad.”

(McCrea) With last week’s win, Shawn Fleury is upbeat going into today’s race. And like many here, he is surrounded by family who’ve come armed with enthusiasm, and car wrenches. (Sounds of wrench turning, Shawn’s pit crew.)

(Robin Powers) “My name is Robin Powers. I’m Shawn’s cousin and I’m here for support for him. Basically it’s all family. They all work on the car work on it throughout the week to get it ready for the race. Once the car is out on the track they can get a feel for whether it needs adjusting. And hopefully we qualify in the heat so we can go right to the feature.” (Sound of cars buzzing by, crowd cheering.)

(McCrea) But barely a minute into the race, Fleury gets spun off the track by another car. He’s out of this heat. (PA system announcement gives race results.)

(Fleury) “Very disappointed, ’cause now we start pert near in the back of the “B” and we don’t make it, we don’t make the main event tonight.” (Sound of car rattling, being towed across a field.)

(McCrea) The night proves to be trying for a number of drivers. Tow trucks haul off the wreckage. It’s the other side of car racing: car repairing. You can hear a lot of it today at Thunder Road: (Sound of crews working on cars.)

(DeWees) “Well there’s a bunch of tools that are run, but they’re run from generators, which are small engines so you hear the ‘Whhaaaa’. And then through that you got your air wrench, you know taking off the tires. Everyone knows the sound.” (Sound of air wrench in background) “So, you hear the tools. But mostly you hear the generators, and then the roar of the engines. It’s all about igniting. Ha. Ignition. Spark.” (Sound of engine starting up in background.)

(PA system announcement) “Let’s have a great round of applause “

(McCrea) As the day winds down, Shawn Fleury reflects on racing. His car will need some repair. But still, his mood is philosophical.

(Fleury) “Well, these things happen. It’s just the way it goes – part of racing. All you can do is fix it, and come back next time.”

(McCrea) Rusty DeWees, meanwhile, has his own zen of car racing:

(DeWees) “When the highest division – the strongest cars – come through the fourth turn to start their race, when there’s 28 of them going full bore. It literally moves the earth. So that gets inside you – that’s a pretty intense.”

(McCrea) And for a racetrack built on rock, being able to ‘move the earth’ speaks volumes.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Lynne McCrea in Barre.

(Host) Our series, Sounds of Vermont, examines everyday sounds and the meaning behind them. Listen to the Sounds of Vermont online.

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