When you go to Thunder Road, whether pulling onto the track, strapped into your car, or sitting atop the new wall at Turn 3, you’re entering a place steeped in history.
The speedbowl recently honored a key player in the track’s storied past, naming Waterbury racer Clement “Desperate” Despault the grand marshal for its Myers Container Service Triple Crown Series finale on Aug. 8.
The longtime veteran of the Flying Tiger division helped introduce the starting field and waved the green flag to start the 75-lap main event. Afterward he helped hand out trophies.
Despault raced at Thunder Road since nearly the beginning, spending more than 50 years making laps there.
He was part of the first-generation Flying Tiger class that competed from 1963 to 1969, his ’69 “King of the Road” title capping nine wins during that period. That puts him tied with Thunder Road legends Larry Demar and Russ Ingerson for the most wins among the original Tigers.
Remarkably, 13 years later, when the Flying Tigers were revived, Despault was right back in the driver’s seat, winning his second “King of the Road” crown in 1983.
Despault posted four more wins throughout the 1980s, giving him 17 under the Flying Tiger banner. He also won a Late Model feature in 1995.
The Waterbury racer continued competing in the Tiger ranks throughout the 2000s and into the 2010s. He made his last Tiger start in 2017, just days shy of his 80th birthday.
To this day, he remains a weekly presence in the Thunder Road pit area. Despault received the Ken Squier Award in 2015 for his contributions to the track and the sport of auto racing.
“Clem has been a big part of Thunder Road’s history,” Thunder Road managing partner Cris Michaud said. “You can’t tell the story of the Flying Tiger division or of Thunder Road without mentioning Clem.”