Craig Murto: Phil Scott is one fast politician

Craig Murto

When Phil Scott began racing Late Models at Vermont’s Thunder Road some 25 years ago, he raced with the No. 14.

Before racing Late Models he raced snowmobiles, also with No. 14.

There are 14 counties in Vermont, which is the nation’s 14th state. Scott was elected to Vermont’s state senate 15 years ago, and served five two-year terms before becoming elected to his first two-year term as lieutenant governor of the Green Mountain State.

“When I was elected lieutenant governor, I went to my new office and ironically it’s room No. 14 in the statehouse,” Scott said. “That wasn’t contrived, that’s reality. I sit in room No. 14 at the statehouse.”

The number 14 continues to be significant for Scott. In his last campaign for lieutenant governor, he stopped for 14 minutes in each county and visited 14 counties and participated in parades.

At the racetrack in October for the annual Milk Bowl, Thunder Road’s big season-ending event, Scott was like any other racer, working to get his car right so he could find success in the feature. Success in racing is something Scott has enjoyed, winning one ACT title, as well as three Thunder Road track championships and one track title at Airborne Speedway in New York.

He’s a hometown hero at the Barre, Vermont, speed plant, where he’s been a weekly competitor. But if his current campaign proves successful, racing will have to take a backseat. Phil Scott is running for governor.

“There comes a time and place, whether it’s racing or politics, when you have to decide to move up a division, and I decided I’m going to try to move up a division,” Scott said.

He’s certainly proven his worth to the state. The duties of lieutenant governor are “not spelled out in our Constitution,” Scott says. “In Vermont it’s what you make of it, and for me it’s been about a 50-hour-per-week job.”

But he still opens up the doors at 6:30 a.m. every morning at his construction company, just as he did before the political career.

“I stay connected to my employees and my job sites, then I go on to my other duties about 8 o’clock or so, then come back at night to open up the mail and mop the floor.”

How does racing fit into his schedule?

“Obviously my duties as lieutenant governor come first,” Scott said. “I’ve never put myself in a position where I’ve put something else before that. There have been races that I’ve missed because of emergency situations where I had to perform my duties as lieutenant governor.”

If the duties of lieutenant governor forced Scott to miss some weekly racing events, it’s uncertain as to whether the duties of governor will allow him time to race at all.

“That remains to be seen,” he admits. “I would think that being governor you have to be on 24-7. Would I like to get back in a race car if I’m successful becoming governor? Yes. If I’m going to be realistic, it remains to be seen.”

Asked if becoming governor would mean we’d only see the No. 14 at the track on special weekend events rather than the weekly Thursday night shows, he nodded as if that could be the plan. But his words weren’t as sure.

“Again, there comes a time when you decide whether you’re going to move up a division or move up in politics, and there comes a time and place where you have to cut back,” he said.

“You know it’s funny,” he continued, observing that people approach him about his racing at the track and at the statehouse, “there was one particular case about a month ago when a woman came up to me with her young daughter, about 5 or 6 years old, to get my autograph. So I signed the autograph for the young child and the mom said, ‘You know what? When I was your age, he was my hero here. He was my favorite driver.’ That’s when you start to do the numbers and think how long you’ve been doing this.”

The hometown hero of Barre rewarded his race team’s efforts and grabbed himself a solid sixth-place finish in the Milk Bowl. And though his racing career may be winding down as his bid for governor of Vermont is winding up, fans will see the No. 14 at Thunder Road on a regular basis in 2016.

“I’m definitely coming back to race again as much as I can next year.”

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.