Contributed by: ACT Staff
The American-Canadian Tour season is set to roll in just over a month's time, and excitement is at an all-time high fever pitch. Of course there has been anticipation for the upcoming season every year, but you'd be hard pressed to find the level of interest that 2007 has generated in any other pre-season. The ACT Late Model Tour, developed in 1992, has spent the last few seasons grinding the axes, burning the midnight oil, doing whatever cliche phrase it takes to re-establish itself as one of the leading touring divisions in northeastern North America. Tom Curley's Tour has exceeded its goals by not only leading the region, but by ranking among the elite traveling shows on the continent, in terms of talent depth, expansion, and close competition. With a roster boasting 96 drivers, including all but one of the series' past champions and no less than 34 different title-winning drivers, all bets may as well be off for the 2007 season.
Defending champion Jean-Paul Cyr has six ACT titles to his credit, including the last four. In any other year, that might mean something. This season, however, Cyr may not qualify for an event or two.
Or any of them, for that matter. More than 60 teams are expected to attempt qualifying for the ACT opener, the New England Dodge Dealers 150 at Oxford Plains (ME) Speedway on April 28, and it's a mathematical certainty that someone capable of winning the race is going to watch from the grandstands.
With veterans like Brian Hoar, Robbie Crouch, and Brent Dragon challenging for the title, you may even forget about Cyr's red #32 car once or twice. It seems impossible to think about, but it's a very real thing. Hoar is a five-time ACT champion, Crouch a six-time titlist, and Dragon has been ready to quit playing second fiddle to Cyr for what seems like, well, four years. Bring in talented young guns like Roger Brown, Scott Payea, Ryan Nolin, and breakout racer Joey "Pole" Polewarczyk, and those older fellas might struggle. Add in the occasional Phil Scott, Joey Laquerre, Mark Lamberton, Jamie Fisher, Joey Becker, A.J. Begin, and, oh, 20 others, and you've got a nice mix of potential story-line spoilers.
And that's just the beginning. At places like Oxford Plains, White Mountain Motorsports Park in New Hampshire, and Seekonk Speedway on the Massachusetts seacoast, you can expect some of the local drivers to defend their home turf in style. "Local" racers, including Eric Williams, Shawn Martin, Dennis Spencer, Stacy Cahoon, and Jeremy Harclerode set the Tour group on its ear more than once last season with surprising, exciting, and in some cases razor-close finishes. North of the border, at places like Circuit Ste-Croix, Kawartha Downs Speedway and others, it's the same story. Donald Theetge and Sylvain Lacombe led a Quebec 1-2 sweep at Ste-Croix last season.
ACT management has taken on a new challenge in Canada, building out of the ashes of the former Serie Nationale Castrol. The new ACT Quebec Late Model Series has given some 25 solid teams, each of which is capable of running with (and very often beating) the Americans, an established and dependable home. In fact, because of the layout of the so-called "American" and "Canadian" schedules, you'll see many competitors test the waters of both series. Early reports have Quebec champion Theetge in a position to compete for the ACT Late Model Tour championship in 2007, in addition to defending his Quebec title.
When you're not chasing the Tour or the Quebec series, you can see ACT-legal equipment in competition in every corner of the region: Barre, Vermont's Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl, White Mountain and Lee USA Speedway in the Granite State, Maine's Oxford Plains, and Ontario's Kawartha Downs and Capital City Speedways all utilize rules in alignment with ACT for their weekly events. Riverside Speedway and Twin State Speedway in New Hampshire allow ACT-legal Late Models to compete with minor modifications, as do Seekonk Speedway, Connecticut's Waterford Speedbowl, and Quebec's Autodrome Chaudiere. The $300,000 Oxford Late Model Challenge and 6-race ACTion Super Series are highlight events, and two of the biggest shows in all the land - the New England Dodge Dealers Milk Bowl at Thunder Road and the TD Banknorth 250 at Oxford are ACT-friendly.
ACT fans better prepare themselves for an exhausting season. Keeping up with hundreds of top-notch drivers in nearly 200 events across six US states and two Canadian provinces can wear you out. Especially when the racing is so good.
The annual ACT/Thunder Road car show at Burlington's University Mall has come and gone, but not without some excitement of its own. With 15 beautiful new race cars on hand, race fans had plenty to look at and talk about. Among the fan-favorite paint schemes were the new colors of Late Model driver David Chagnon, with an eye-catching green, yellow, and black design on his LA Memorial Scholarship Fund/Smuggs.com Chevrolet; the blue-and-white Saturn of South Burlington and White River #03 NAPA Tiger Sportsman of Kevin Campbell; and the all-new lime green-and-baby blue Mountain Air Systems #78 Late Model of Ryan Nolin.
Several ACT competitors and officials also took part in the first-ever "Ultimate Racing Experience" video simulator challenge, and the action was reportedly wild. Veteran racers Robbie Crouch, Owen Wimble, Dave Wilcox, Brian Hoar all showed up to race, expecting to dominate. Instead, they all flipped their cars!
Hoar did in fact win one of Saturday's main events, splitting the bill with second-year Allen Lumber Street Stock racer David Greenslit. Sunday winners included Jean-Paul Cyr, Brent Dragon, Sportsman rookie Derrick O'Donnell, and former Thunder Road Late Model Rookie of the Year Rusty Berger, who dispatched race leader Jamie Fisher on the final lap to take the victory. Fisher failed to retaliate, and that's probably a good thing - Berger is sponsored by Ultimate Racing Experience, and likely would have had bigger problems had he wrecked the "home" car! We'll follow this story as it develops.
The much talked about TD Banknorth 250 at Oxford Plains Speedway (July 22) will run under ACT rules this season, and that has opened the door of opportunity to more potential competitors than ever before. As of this writing, the entry list for the 250 is at 166 drivers from the Canadian provinces of Quebec, Ontario, and Nova Scotia, as well as US states Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, and even as far away as North Carolina, South Carolina, and Corpus Christi, Texas.
And the Texan entered is none other than two-time Nextel Cup Champion (and three-time TD Banknorth 250 veteran) Terry Labonte. Labonte will return to the state where his father, Bob, was born, and race at Oxford for the first time since 1992, when he finished 17th. The 1984 and 1996 Cup champ will compete as a teammate to Ben Rowe, driving a Richard Moody Racing entry out of Auburn, ME.
Rowe, you'll recall, won in four of his eight ACT starts in 2006 at the wheel of David Avery's potent Dodge, including "La Mega Classique 150" at Quebec's Sanair Super Speedway tri-oval and the late-summer event at Oxford Plains. Rowe is also a two-time winner of the TD Banknorth 250 (2003-04) and has won championships at all levels of northeastern motorsports.
Did you know...?
The ACT Late Model Tour saw 26 different drivers earn at least one Top 5 finish in 2006, up from 21 during the 2005 season. First-time Top 5 finishers were Oxford veteran Dennis Spencer (2nd on July 29), Lee USA teenager Jeremy Harclerode (2nd on July 18), former Thunder Road Rookie of the Year Ryan Nolin (best finish of 2nd at Sanair Super Speedway on July 9), Donald Theetge (winner at Ste-Croix on May 13), Thunder Road regular Trampas Demers (3rd on Sept. 2), and Hudson, NH teen Joey Polewarczyk, Jr. (3rd at the Milk Bowl on Oct. 8).
Of all 26 Top 5 finishers, eight drivers were able to post results consecutively. While Jean-Paul Cyr, Ben Rowe, Roger Brown, and Brent Dragon each went for three in a row, Ryan Nolin, Joey Laquerre, and Ryan Vanasse pulled off back-to-back performances. Phil Scott led the group with four straight, though, beginning with a runner-up finish at Seekonk in August. From that point, the Sailing Senator finished fifth at White Mountain, second again at Oxford Plains, and fifth again at Thunder Road's Bond Auto Labor Day Classic 200, part of the ACTion Super Series. Interestingly enough, those four races counted for all of Scott's Top 5s for the year.
Phil Scott's most recent ACT Late Model Tour victory was at the New England Dodge Dealers Milk Bowl at Thunder Road on October 1, 2000. Since that day, 66 races have come and gone without Scott carrying the checkered flag. During that span, the Middlesex, VT native has racked up eight runner-up finishes, one third-place finish, a pair of fourths, and eight more fifth-place results. In case you're keeping score, Scott is in the Top 5 nearly 29% of the time, yet is 0-for-66 in six full years of Tour racing. Scott, who has scored two of his second-place trophies at Oxford Plains Speedway, will undoubtedly try to shoehorn the growing monkey off of his back at the season opener on April 28.