BARRE, Vt. – Brian Hoar put family first on Sunday at Thunder Road International Speedbowl, and by doing so family put him first.
Hoar won the first and third segments, holding off track champion and part-time RPM Motorsports teammate Nick Sweet to win the 49 annual People's United Bank Milk Bowl. The victory was Hoar's third career Milk Bowl victory and capped a season in which he won a record eighth career ACT Late Model championship.
"This is unbelievable," Hoar said in Victory Lane. "Man, that was awesome. I thought I lost it. It was wicked. I mean, unbelievable. It had been so many years since I won a race here, and I've always said the Milk Bowls that I won back in the '90s were just awesome."
But Hoar's victory Sunday carried added significance when it came to his family.
In the week leading up to the race, Hoar noted that his daughters – ages 10 and 9 – had never seen him win Vermont's most prestigious short-track event. His previous wins came in 1998 and 1999, before his girls were born, and he joked that his 33 career ACT wins meant little to his little ones.
Those same daughters joined Hoar and the entire RPM Motorsports team for the ceremonial victory lap around the quarter-mile track in the bed of a full-size pickup truck.
The runner-up Sweet has become like family to Hoar, who credited Sweet with helping him conquer Thunder Road yet again. Sweet was running as an RPM teammate to Hoar when he won the ACT Labor Day Classic 200 at the track in September.
"I really went to school last month," Hoar said. "I've really got to hand it to Nick. He helped me a lot here. He's a great racer."
Hoar won his fifth career Milk Bowl pole earlier in the afternoon and led all 50 laps of the opening segment. Like most of the frontrunners, though, Hoar struggled to make it back up through the field after the invert during the 75-lap second segment. Heading into the final segment, he trailed Scott Payea by three points and Sweet by one point.
In the final segment, however, Hoar started ahead of both of those drivers and created breathing room for himself early on. Payea didn't have the momentum of Hoar or Sweet over the final 75 laps – while Hoar and Sweet worked around Randy Potter for the lead with less than 15 laps remaining.
Sweet tapped the rear bumper of Hoar's No. 37 on Lap 60, and on Lap 66 he tried to get to the outside of Hoar off of Turn 2 to no avail.
"Brian Hoar doesn't make that many mistakes," Sweet said. "I just used up too much. I was trying to stay right there to keep him nervous, but I could feel my car lost all side bite."
Hoar and Sweet finished with identical 14-point totals for the day, but Hoar earned the victory by virtue of his better finish in the final segment.
Since winning the Labor Day Classic 200 on his home track – where he won the 2010 Late Model championship – Sweet finished second in the ACT Invitational at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and to Hoar on Sunday.
"I'm getting really good at being the bridesmaid," Sweet said. "(Brian's) definitely a great race car driver, and I'm learning. I hate to say that. Realistically, I hate saying that, but it's just that I'm still learning."
Payea finished 12th in the final segment and finished third overall, eight points behind Hoar. Phil Scott finished fourth, while Jean-Paul Cyr and Dave Pembroke tied for fifth.
Last year's Milk Bowl champion, Joey Polewarczyk Jr. finished seventh.