2015 ACT Season in Review – Part I
The 2015 American-Canadian Tour (ACT) season was a mix of old standbys and new beginnings, as the Tour continued to build on the present while also looking toward the future. The 30th year of competition saw ACT forge new alliances, visit new tracks, make long-awaited returns to old favorites, and bring the U.S. and Quebec series together at levels unseen since the days of the ACT Pro Stock Tour. Through it all, the on-track action was fast and furious from Quebec to Connecticut, headlined by a season-long championship battle between two of the modern greats of ACT Late Model racing.
Two major offseason developments helped lay the groundwork for the 2015 season. In November 2014, ACT President Tom Curley and Pro All Star Series (PASS) President Tom Mayberry announced an unprecedented cooperation agreement which included four “doubleheader” events. They were the PASS season opener at Maine’s Oxford Plains Speedway in April, which would be ACT’s first visit to the track since 2012; the Memorial Day Classic at Barre, VT’s Thunder Road in May for ACT-type Late Models; the International 500 at Plattsburgh, NY’s Airborne Park Speedway in July; and the Chaudiere Twin 200s at Quebec’s Autodrome Chaudiere in September.
Less than three weeks later, it was announced that the ACT U.S. Tour would close the 2015 season at Connecticut’s Thompson Speedway as part of the World Series of Speedway Racing. The 100-lap event would be the ACT Late Model Tour’s inaugural visit to the historic 5/8-mile speedway, capping a 13-race, 11-track schedule. The developments brought renewed excitement and anticipation for drivers and fans alike as they awaited the new season.
For many drivers and teams, the season would begin not in the familiar confines of New England, New York, or Quebec, but in New Smyrna Beach, FL. ACT returned to New Smryna Speedway in February for the first time since 2011 as part of the World Series of Asphalt Racing. 28 teams made the trek for three days of racing at the ½-mile oval from February 16-18, which included a standalone 100-lap event followed by the American Racer Challenge Cup Twin 100s. Competitors included regulars from the ACT U.S. Tour, Série ACT, Thunder Road Speedbowl, Thompson Speedway, and invaders from Quebec to North Carolina.
Rowley, MA’s Eddie MacDonald was a return visitor from ACT’s previous visit to New Smryna, and 2015 was his time to shine. “The Outlaw” dominated the 100-lap event on Sunday, February 15, leading flag-to-flag in a caution-free race. It wasn’t an easy ride, however, as MacDonald had to hold off a late charge from St-Denis, QC’s Patrick Laperle. Dover, NH’s Wayne Helliwell Jr. finished third, followed by Auburn, ME’s Travis Stearns and defending ACT Champion Joey Polewarczyk Jr. from Dover, NH.
The stage was set for the first round of the American Racer Challenge Cup on February 16 – an instant classic that, like all ACT events at New Smyrna, was seen live on FansChoice.TV powered by Speed51.com. Laperle and MacDonald started on the front row and swapped the lead early, but it was Croydon, NH’s Aaron Fellows finding his way to the front just past the halfway point. The multi-time Claremont and Canaan Fair Speedway Champion built up a sizeable lead and seemed poised for a fairy tale win. However, a series of late cautions closed the field up and allowed MacDonald to seize the advantage back on lap 87. Fellows then tangled with Stearns two laps later fighting for second, allowing MacDonald to cruise to the win. Helliwell slipped through the carnage to finish second. St-Albert, QC’s Alex Labbé was third with Barre, VT’s Nick Sweet fourth and Thunder Road regular Josh Demers a surprising fifth.
Rain delayed the second 100-lap segment until Wednesday, which only postponed MacDonald’s exclamation point on his trip to Florida. After starting at the rear following a full-field inversion, The Outlaw sliced through the pack and took the lead from former NASCAR Champion Keith Rocco on lap 71, winning the segment and completing a New Smyrna sweep. Just like on Monday, Helliwell followed MacDonald across the line, giving him second overall in the Challenge Cup as well. Polewarczyk recovered from problems in Segment 1 to finish third in Segment 2, while Labbé took third in the overall following a fifth in Segment 2. Demers and Sweet completed the overall top-five.
Two months later, on Sunday, April 19, the 2015 ACT Late Model Tour season officially began. The originally scheduled season opener at New Hampshire’s Lee USA Speedway was postponed due to lingering snow from a harsh winter – granting opening day status to the inaugural ACT-PASS doubleheader at Oxford Plains Speedway. The biggest Oxford opening day crowd in years was on hand as ACT commenced its 30th season of racing at one of its original tracks.
Joey Polewarczyk Jr. had won the last ACT-sanctioned event at Oxford when he captured the 2012 Oxford 250 – and he showed in the opener that he hadn’t lost a step at the 3/8-mile oval. “Joey Pole” started on the pole after a strong qualifying effort and led every one of the 150 laps, holding off Helliwell on a late restart to take the win and make a statement that he was ready to defend his title. Helliwell finished second followed by Nick Sweet in third. Emily Packard charged from 20th on the starting grid to finish fourth in her first-ever visit to Oxford while Jimmy Hebert took fifth. Jeff White, Travis Stearns, Mike Ziter, rookie Rich Dubeau, and Quebec invader Jonathan Bouvrette completed the top-10.
ACT then traveled to Lee USA the following Sunday, April 26 for the rescheduled New Hampshire Governor’s Cup 150. Former track champion Helliwell started on the pole, and apart from a brief stint at the front by Jeff White, “The Punisher” dominated the first 92 laps of the event. With the skies threatening, defending race winner Eddie MacDonald made his move, taking over the top spot on lap 93.
But the weather held off, and after the two swapped the lead multiple times, Helliwell regained the upper hand for good following a lap 117 caution when Pole spun while trying to pass White for third. Helliwell then fended off a hard-charging Brad Babb to score the win and take the early point lead. Windham, ME’s Babb finished second, rebounding from a flat tire at Oxford and showing his Joey Laquerre–owned team meant business in 2015. MacDonald settled for third following by defending Série ACT Champion Alex Labbé and former White Mountain Motorsports Park Champion Travis Fadden. Larry Gelinas, White, Kyle Welch, Pole, and Sweet finished sixth through 10th.
One week later on May 3, the Tour completed its opening trifecta at Barre, VT’s Thunder Road with the 17th Annual Merchants Bank 150, pitting the Tour stars versus the weekly standouts. Two-time defending Thunder Road Champion Derrick O’Donnell started on the pole but was felled by a suspension problem following the race’s second and final caution on lap 26. Chip Grenier of nearby Graniteville, VT then found his way to the lead on lap 40 and dominated the middle stages of the race. But Grenier’s car eventually fell off during the long green-flag run, and he surrendered the top spot to Milton, VT’s Scott Dragon on lap 108.
Multi-time Tour winner Dragon looked to have the race in hand – but with 18 laps to go Brad Babb swooped underneath him for the top spot. Babb then pulled away in the final laps to claim his first ACT Late Model Tour victory. It was the first event at Thunder Road since car owner Laquerre’s grandson Joey M. Laquerre was killed in an ATV accident the previous October, leading to an emotional celebration in Victory Lane. Helliwell got by Dragon in the final laps for second. Pole finished fourth with Grenier fading to fifth. Emily Packard again made a run from deep in the field, finishing sixth after starting 23rd. Brandon Atkins, Travis Stearns, Tyler Cahoon, and Cody Blake rounded out the top-10.
Coming in Part II: Pole and Helliwell trade wins, ACT helps begin a new era at Speedway 51, a barnburner at White Mountain, Sweet scores big at International, and more!