America’s Fastest Governor: Vermont’s Phil Scott Is A Race Car Driver And Set A COVID Vaccination Record

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

CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 19: Governer of Vermont, Phil Scott, speaks during the NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at Charlotte Convention Center on January 19, 2018 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) Governor Phil Scott is a race car driver, Vermont set a COVID vaccination record.
Governor Phil Scott speaking at the NASCAR Hall of Fame | Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

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

2014 July 24 | Thursday: Phil Scott (14VT) Chevrolet Impala SS with the checkered flag after winning the third heat race for the Safelite 50 American Canadian Tour (ACT) late model feature at Thunder Road Speedbowl in Barre, Vermont. Scott is the Lt. Governor of Vermont. (Photo by David Allio/Icon SMI/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) Governor Phil Scott is a race car driver and set a COVID vaccination record.
Phil Scott in his #14 Chevrolet | David Allio/Icon SMI/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

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

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 14: U.S. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris (R) meet with a bipartisan group of city and state political leaders, including New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, Vermont Governor Phil Scott and Illinois Governor JB Pritzker, about his proposed infrastructure plan in the Roosevelt Room at the White House on July 14, 2021 in Washington, DC. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and Labor Secretary Martin Walsh also attended the meeting. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images). Governor Phil Scott of Vermont is a race car driver and Vermont set a record for COVID vaccinations.
Governor Phil Scott at the White House | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

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.

Vermont Governor Phil Scott greets voters following a debate with Vermont Democratic gubernatorial challenger Christine Hallquist September 14, 2018 at the Tunbridge World's Fair in Tunbridge, Vermont. - Hallquist is the first openly transgender person nominated for governor by a major party in the United States, defying death threats to take the political fight to Donald Trump. (Photo by Don EMMERT / AFP)        (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP via Getty Images). Governor Phil Scott is a race car driver and Vermont set a COVID vaccination record.
Governor Phil Scott at the Tunbridge Fairgrounds | DON EMMERT/AFP via Getty Images

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.

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