There are many reasons to win a race, especially one as significant as the Milk Bowl at Thunder Road Speedbowl (VT). There's the sense of accomplishment, the boost to an ego and the winner's share of the prize money is always nice.
For anyone looking at Brian Hoar on Sunday afternoon, it was obvious what probably meant the most to him about winning the 2011 version of the race was that he was able to share it with family and friends.
Family is important to the Vermont racer, who has been known to work family vacations into stops on the ACT Late Model Tour schedule. This past weekend marked Hoar's wedding anniversary - so a new trophy always makes for a nice gift. Even more importantly though is the fact that this was THE race that his daughters wanted him to win - thanks to the tradition of kissing a unique trophy queen, a dairy cow, as part of the victory lane festivities.
“I've got to tell you that my girls only had one race that they cared that I won,” said Hoar. “That is the one when I'd get to kiss the cow. They've been coming to this deal for a long time. I can remember back when they were very little saying, 'Daddy! You need to kiss the cow!' So it's a pretty big deal. I said this week that it would mean a lot to them…it would mean a lot to me too…but it would really mean a lot to them.”
Being surrounded by friends obviously meant a lot as well. Hoar has found a home with the RPM Motorsports team owned by Rick and Michelle Paya over the past few seasons. They've shared victories at tracks from Canada to the Magic Mile of New Hampshire Motor Speedway to New Smyrna Speedway in Florida. They've won two ACT Tour championships. Now, for the first time together, they've also won the Milk Bowl - the most historical event on the ACT Late Model schedule.
The man who Hoar battled with for the Milk Bowl victory is also one of his closest friends. Nick Sweet, a former track champion at Thunder Road, is a sometimes-teammate to Hoar.
“Before the race today, Nick told me that if he wasn't racing he would be cheering for me,” said Hoar. “I told him the same thing. I'm always a fan of his…every time I come to Thunder Road - but not today! We shook hands and said that we would let the best man win. It's not often that you can race to the checkered flag like that when you have that kind of a relationship.”
“Brian is not only good as a racecar driver, he's also a very, very good person and individual,” said Sweet. “That is what you've got to strive to be - somebody like him. He's honest…he's a professional…everything about him is impressive.”
Immediately after the checkered flag was unfurled, Hoar thought that he would actually be celebrating a victory of Sweet's. The Milk Bowl is scored Monza-style where three segments, consisting of 50 laps, 75 laps and then a final 75 laps, are run with the field being inverted after each segment. The racer with the lowest score at the conclusion of the afternoon wins the race. Hoar won the first segment while Sweet finished second. In the second segment, Sweet came out ahead with a 10th place finish opposed to Hoar's 12th-place result. So when the final segment was finished, with Hoar finishing first and Sweet finishing second, the two ended the day with a tie score. The finish of the final segment broke that tie and gave the overall victory to Hoar - who it turned out was much better at driving a racecar than doing math on the fly.
“I thought that I lost it,” said Hoar. “Rick and I weren't on the same page as to where we were points-wise. We both thought that we lost the race and that Nick had one more point on us. After the race, Nick pulled up next to me and he knew that I won…but I didn't know that. That made it so much sweeter when it sunk in and he pulled off. I had another crew member saying, 'You won it!”…”We won it!' I didn't believe him. I thought he was just confused until we pulled up and they pointed Nick away. I was stunned and said, 'Did we just win the Milk Bowl?'
“I said to myself going into turn one and two after the checkered flag that I couldn't have lost to a better guy. He just told me the same thing. That is the kind of relationship that we have with each other. He's an awesome racecar driver. He's very talented. He also reminds me a lot of myself in the way that he races. He's super-clean and still a hard racer. Long distance events suit his style.”
This year is the third time that Hoar has won the Milk Bowl, but the first time since the 1999 season. In fact, it was the first time since a 2003 victory in what is now known as the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East division that Hoar won at Thunder Road.
“It's been a long time since I won a race here,” said Hoar. “This is a tough little track and there is an advantage to the guys like Nick who race here weekly. I always thought that I got around here pretty good, but I haven't even been in the hunt for a victory here in a few years….well, accept for one time two years ago when I lost to Nick Sweet.”
So when Sweet joined Hoar as a teammate in the middle of the 2011 season, he became a bit of a coach to the winningest driver in ACT Late Model Tour history - despite being several years younger in age.
“He's taught me a lot,” said Hoar. “He showed me how to get around here. On Labor Day, he was my teammate [here]. Last night, he was my teammate at Airborne. We all shook hands last night after the race and said it was a lot of fun, but tomorrow, we are competitors and not teammates.
“To have that kind of a race with Nick and to have it come right to the finish like that is awesome.”
“I shouldn't have helped him so much huh?” laughed Sweet. “I knew that he was the guy to beat.”
Hoar almost felt bad for Sweet not winning the race.
“He hates losing….God, he hates losing…he hates it as much as I do,” said Hoar with concern showing in his voice. “We're both alike in that manner.”
However, Sweet took his runner-up finish in stride.
“It's better to be the bridesmaid than the 15th place car back there I guess,” said Sweet. “It was still a good day.”
Still, it was an even better day for Hoar - who started out the 2011 season by winning the ACT Goodyear Speedweeks Cup at New Smyrna Speedway (thanks to one victory in two races at the Florida track) and then bookended a total of eight victories with the Milk Bowl triumph.
“It's unbelievable….just unbelievable. It's amazing,” said Hoar. “It doesn't get any better than this. I said last year that there was no way that we could have a better season than we had. I said that at the banquet back in January…but I was wrong. I will go on record now and say that there is no way it could get any better than this though. I'm pretty certain of that. There's no way.”
Scott Payea, Phil Scott and Jean Paul Cyr rounded out the top five in the overall results of the 2011 Milk Bowl. Mike “Beetle” Bailey, who won the second segment, was credited with an overall finish of eighth.