Contributed by: ACT Staff
Lee, Oxford, Thunder Road Openers Challenge ACT Teams
The American-Canadian Tour (ACT) will compete in three 150-lap events on three completely different tracks in all three northern New England states to open the 2015 season. The New Hampshire Governor’s Cup 150, set for Sunday, April 12, is the traditional opening event for ACT teams held yearly at Lee USA Speedway in Lee, NH. Teams will then travel to Oxford Plains Speedway (OPS) in Oxford, ME a week later, followed by their annual visit to Thunder Road International Speedbowl in Barre, VT.
The fast Lee 3/8th-mile oval might statistically favor multi-time Lee champion and two-time ACT champion Wayne Helliwell, Jr., but he has tried eight times to date with a best finish of second in last year’s event, and is long overdue for a win. There is also favorite Eddie MacDonald, who is on a roll with five consecutive wins in recent outings, going back to the Thunder Road Milk Bowl last October. McDonald captured the NH Governor’s Cup last year in his ninth try at his home track. Defending 2014 ACT Champion Joey Polewarczk, Jr. (Pole) is also considered a favorite, but his only win at Lee USA came in a 100-lap opening race back in 2008.
“Well, I have seen them all, and I think it is the most difficult race to make predictions on,” said Tom Curley, President of the American-Canadian Tour. “I think of the win by Jimmy Hebert two years ago, from starting last to the upset win, which established this young team as second-year title contenders. The constant opening event surprises every year. Last year Ben Ashline, after a two-year absence, came back with a solid top-ten effort. It’s what makes the NH Governor’s Cup so much fun for both teams and fans. It’s only one race, but it can give a huge boost to the start of the season for any of the top 20 or 25 teams.”
The present field of teams that make up the ACT U.S. touring series is deep with experienced veterans such as Jeff White, J.R. Robinson, Travis Stearns, and Brad Babb from Maine. Aaron Fellows, Luke Hinkley, and Todd Davis from New Hampshire have won numerous races during their Late Model careers. New young talents such as ACT 2014 Rookie of the Year Brandon Atkins, Emily Packard, and Kyle Welch all have another year of experience, and they are poised to have breakout seasons. There is also the presence of Ray Parent, who led a race-high 117 laps in last year’s NH Governor’s Cup, and Stephane Descoste, who finished a surprising fifth. Both drivers went on to strong 2014 seasons and will similarly look to use Lee USA as a springboard to their 2015 campaigns.
Many will leave the Lee opener looking forward to the ACT/PASS (Pro All Star Series) doubleheader to be held at the OPS on Saturday, April 18. The tricky 3/8th-mile oval will offer a home track advantage to the Maine teams. The excitement of the first ever doubleheader with the two sanctioning bodies will make the Oxford event one of the most popular stops for Late Model fans during the beginning of the season. Other drivers that have OPS circled for the 2015 season include Eddie MacDonald and Joey Pole. MacDonald has three OPS wins and Pole has two to his credit. MacDonald won the Oxford 250 in both 2009 and 2010, while Pole captured the historic event in 2012. Wayne Helliwell, Jr., along with several other teams, is expected to race in both halves of the doubleheader. A Quebec contingent, led by 2014 Serié ACT Champion Alex Labbe of Ste Albert, QC, is also expected to join the list of entrants at the OPS opening event.
The tri-race schedule takes a major U-turn to Vermont and the high banks of Thunder Road for the 17th annual Merchant’s Bank 150 on Sunday, May 3. The ¼-mile track offers a major challenge to ACT touring teams, as Thunder Road weekly Late Models always seem to have a home track advantage. A field loaded with former track champions such as Derrick O’Donnell, Nick Sweet, David Pembroke, Phil Scott, and Dave Whitcomb, along with new rising stars Cody Blake, Eric Badore, Jason Corliss, Brooks Clark, and Shawn Fleury, will add depth to the competition for the touring regulars.
“I really enjoy the challenge of having the Tour teams at Thunder Road,” said Nick Sweet, two-time Thunder Road Champion and two-time winner of the Merchant’s Bank 150. “It helps neutralize the regular competition we face all season. I like our weekly team’s chances in a race at T-Road. When Joey (Pole), Helliwell, Hebert, Parent and all the other ACT teams show up, there is a certain home track pride that kind of enters the equation. I like to think that we Thunder Road regulars can hold our own.”
The 2015 ACT season will open over a three-week period at Lee USA on Sunday, April 12 with the NH Governor’s Cup 150. Oxford Plains Speedway will host the first ever doubleheader 150-lap events for the Late Models of ACT and the Super Late Models of PASS on Saturday, April 18, and Thunder Road Int’l Speedbowl will present the Merchant’s Bank 150 on Sunday, May 3.