Vermont’s Governor Phil Scott is a race car driver. He goes against the grain, often racing in events the state’s governor traditionally watches. When faced with the COVID pandemic, Governor Scott leveraged his quick reflexes and network of fans to protect the sport–and the state–that he loves.
Governor Phil Scott Is A Race Car Driver With A Competitive Spirit
Phil Scott grew up watching the stock cars race at the Thunder Road Speedbowl in his hometown–Barre, Vermont. But he began his racing career on snowmobiles. After graduating from the University of Vermont, he opened a snowmobile repair shop in Morrisville, Vermont. He spent weekends traveling around the United States and Canada to compete in races throughout the 1980s. He piloted his #14 sled around icy tracks at over 100 mph, even competing against Formula One veterans.
After a few brutal crashes and some broken bones, Governor Phil Scott became a race car driver. He built up a Chevrolet Impala SS and competed as often as possible at Thunder Road. It is a quarter-mile paved track; the Late Model Stock class (LMS) often reaches 80 mph, completing each lap in 13 seconds. Scott recalls “a steep learning curve” throughout the 1990s.
Driven by his competitive spirit, Scott improved. In his thirties, he was older than many other racers; Scott took up road biking and weightlifting to gain an edge in the grueling sport. In 1996, at the age of 38, he won his first LMS race. The same year he went on to win the championship. Then he repeated this feat in 1998 and then again in 2002.
Scott also travels to race; in 2002, he won both the American Canadian Tour championship and the Airborne Park championship in Plattsburgh, New York. With 31 career victories, Scott is the third-winningest driver in the history of Thunder Road’s LMS division.
Breaking Tradition: The 42nd Annual Vermont Governor’s Cup
For 41 years, the governor of Vermont has hosted Thunder Road’s midseason championship: The Governor’s Cup. As tradition goes, the governor travels from the capital in Vermont to the Thunder Road Speedbowl in nearby Barre. They make a speech, shake some hands, watch the race, and then present the trophy to the winning driver. But for Governor Phil Scott, the race is a homecoming.
On July 15th, 2021, Governor Scott arrived at the Speedbowl to host the annual race. But he had no intention of watching from the stands. Instead, he warmed up his #14 Chevrolet stock car and joined the other drivers on the track. The announcer introduced the familiar Phil Scott as the only driver, “who is guaranteed a place on the podium no matter what.” The crowd roared. Then the flag fell, and the race began.
Governor Scott likens the g-force of short-track racing to “driving around on the street with a 25-pound weight strapped to your head.” He adds, “you are simultaneously trying to use the throttle and brake while staying in your seat and keep your legs from being thrown to the right. All the while, every muscle is tensed up due to adrenaline and competitiveness.”
The Vermont Governor’s Cup is one of the longest races of the Thunder Road Speedbowl season: 150 laps. Governor Scott completed every lap, bumping and fighting for position with drivers half his age. The race leaders lapped his #14 car, but Governor Scott never gave up his position at the head of the second pack. Governor Scott finished in 18th place.
After the race, the cars all retired to the pits. The top-place drivers climbed the podium. Governor Phil Scott’s security team drove him back onto the track aboard a golf cart. The crowd laughed as the State Troopers did their best to keep the Governor safe during the least dangerous part of his night. He handed the trophy over to the driver who had beat him, with a smile. It was two weeks before Governor Scott’s 63rd birthday.
Fast Where It Counts: A Record-Winning Vaccination Rate
While Governor Scott raced in the 42nd Governor’s Cup, a mobile medical station glowed in the Thunder Road parking lot. Vermont motorsports enthusiasts lined up outside the black trailer, waiting their turn to receive the COVID-19 vaccination.
When President Biden challenged Americans to strive for a 70% vaccination rate by the 4th of July, he woke Governor Scott’s competitive nature. As a result, Governor Scott called up his National Guard and opened up the state’s fairgrounds for “Vaccine Fairs.” He deployed mobile vaccination clinics to bring the vaccine to citizens of rural Vermont. He even leaned on his connections to offer vaccines at motorsports events and car shows.
One month before the Governor’s Cup, Scott announced that Vermont was the first state to cross the 80% finish line–vaccinating 81.8% of eligible citizens. He ended his State of Emergency and restrictions on gatherings.
In 2020, most race fans had to watch the 41st Vermont Governor’s Cup online–like many motorsport events. But in 2021, motorsports enthusiasts were again allowed to fill the stadium at the Thunder Road Speedbowl. At the end of the night, Governor Scott may not have won the race, but hosting a regular Governor’s Cup again is a victory of which he can be proud.