Vermont Governor Phil Scott at the wheel of his modified Chevrolet stock car. Picture: Wilson Ring / AP

Barre, Vermont - Phil Scott ducks into a trailer, changes out of his business suit into Nomex racing overalls, climbs into his modified Chevrolet and heads for Thunder Road.

When his security detail drives him into the pits at the banked, quarter-mile circuit, he is no longer Philip B Scott, the Governor of Vermont - he's Phil Scott, long one of the state's most popular stock car racers.

"It's something that's in my blood, something I've done for three or four decades," Scott said one recent Thursday before the regular races at Thunder Road.

Scott, 58, took office in January after six years as lieutenant governor and a decade as a state senator.

'To us, he's still just Phil'

Thunder Road media director and handicapper Michael Stridsberg said: "We knew Phil and worked with Phil before he was even a state senator, never mind governor.

"Once he walks through those gates, to us he's not the governor, he's just Phil Scott, the race car driver. We treat him the same as every other race car driver in the pits."

Before Scott began stock car racing, he raced motorcycles and snowmobiles, turning to stock cars in his early 30s. He's now in his 27th year of racing at Thunder Road, his 26th in the top late-model division. Over that time he has won three track championships, most recently in 2002. Going into this season, Scott had won 29 feature races at Thunder Road, the most ever. On 6 July, he won his 30th.

Scott now spends most of his time on state business, but he doesn't completely separate his time at the track from his state job. In May, during a news conference at his Montpelier office, he made headlines by talking of spinning out in the 96th lap of a 100-lap Memorial Day feature at Thunder Road. During the news conference, he was asked if he was going too fast. He replied: "I was in second - I wasn't going fast enough."

Fellow racer Mark Lanphear, of Duxbury, Vermont, says he's known Scott for 40 years.

"I don't know that there's any racer that has raced against Phil that can actually say they don't like him," Lanphear said. "You have the everyday mentality of a racer. Nobody likes to be beaten when you're strapped behind the wheel, and there's always a little bit of animosity, but most of that animosity is jealousy, not anger."

When Scott took office, he brought with him many lessons he learned at the track, both about teamwork and the lives of ordinary Vermont people.

Developing trust

"This is a huge melting pot up here; it's part of the social fabric of Vermont, particularly central Vermont," Scott said. "You hear from all kinds of people, from all kinds of economic backgrounds.

"You learn their struggles, and they develop this trust in you. And you listen. I think that is part of my success, as well."

He compares the rough-and-tumble life of racing to politics.

"Some people are pretty aggressive in politics, and I've always maintained that if you treat others with respect, you make mistakes at times, when you get into somebody, you get into their back bumper at times, you spin them out. You own up to it," Scott said. "You go find them and you talk to them about it, you work it out."

Associated Press

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