Martell running Thunder Road schedule

Rallycross racer behind the wheel of a late model this Summer
Published: Jul. 30, 2021 at 10:56 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Colchester native Conner Martell is no stranger behind the wheel of a race car. He’s a rising star in rallycross, a discipline which involves modified stock vehicles, with various circuits and races that have had Martell traversing North America and Europe...but this Summer, he’s been competing a little closer to home.

“Yeah so we were really busy in the Spring racing F4 cars out West, and the Rallycross season doesn’t start til September so we wanted to kind of fill our Summer with some stuff,” Martell said. “So we decided to come back to Thunder Road and this is my first ever time racing in Vermont.”

His first season has certainly piqued the curiosity of his competitors, but not for the reason you might think. Most drivers have VT or NH after the numbers on their cars, representing their home state...but Martell’s #21 car features an MT.

“I’ve had quite a few people come up to me and be like, ‘Oh are you from Montana?’” Martell said. “I was like, ‘No, they just didn’t have Vermont or New Hampshire so I picked my second favorite state.”

While this campaign has been Martell’s first rodeo at the nation’s site of excitement, he’s not the first member of his family to race here.

“I grew up watching my dad race here a few times,” he said. “It’s awesome being here, Thunder Road is great. I came here as a kid and it’s cool to finally be able to race here with all the people that are really, really good.”

But even though he’s spent the last few years making a name for himself on international circuits, Martell has learned that Thunder Road isn’t easy on rookie drivers.

“I think it’s just a really difficult track,” Martell said of the High Banks. “I mean there’s been quite a few NASCAR guys who came here and didn’t do well, so I think just how small the track is, you have no room to go anywhere, it makes it very difficult. And you definitely have to earn your respect out there.”

When we first introduced you to Martell in the Spring of 2020, with racing circuits canceled or in doubt, he was figuring out his way around a brand new racing simulator. He’s still got it, but Martell says it hasn’t helped him much this Summer.

“Yeah I think I had like a week of driving a late model on the simulator, but there’s no track that even comes close to simulating Thunder Road,” he said. “And I was terrible on the simulator. I came into the test being like, ‘Wow, we’re gonna be really bad.’”

He has, however, had a decent amount of help in learning from his crew chief, a guy who knows a thing or two about what it takes to win on this track.

“Nick Sweet, he’s a legend here and has won a lot of races and he’s an awesome crew chief to have,” Martell said. “He’s taught me basically everything I know about racing a late model. So it’s been really cool, I’ve met a lot of really cool people.”

Martell is running out of track here at the high banks: with the Nitro Rallycross series set to start back up in September and this week’s race postponed, he’s only planning to run one more race in Barre. But Martell believes there’s something he can take from this experience into his regular competitions.

“I think patience, big time,” he said. “You know rallycross is’re just hitting and battling all the time, which you’re doing here as well, but the cars break easy, and if you make one little mistake, you bump somebody and take them out, you go to the back of the grid after the caution. So I think it’s definitely taught me a lot of patience.”

As for what it would mean for him to claim checkers in his final race at Thunder Road...

“It would be super special,” Martell said. “I’ve definitely worked really hard with the team and they’ve worked really hard helping me out with learning and everything and it is some of the hardest racing I’ve done out of any of the racing I’ve done. SO to win here, it’s like huge for me. Especially because it’s my hometown. I’m in front of all my family and friends, so it would be really special.”

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