2015 ACT Season in Review – Part II
Want to read more about the 2015 season? Click here for Part I!
After a week off following the opening three-race swing, the American-Canadian Tour (ACT) resumed the 2015 season at Plattsburgh, NY’s Airborne Park Speedway on Sunday, May 17 (following a one-day postponement) with the 41st Annual Spring Green 115. The event marked the return of the Spring Green to Airborne for the first time since 2010. It would also be the first of four combination events in 2015 between the ACT U.S. Tour and Série ACT – by far the most since the creation of Série ACT in 2007. The Spring Green (which was also the season opener for Série ACT) drew stars from both sides of the border – and two former champions would end up deciding the outcome.
Devil’s Bowl Speedway standout Josh Masterson of Charlotte, VT started on the pole and led early, but soon fell into the clutches of defending ACT Champion Joey Polewarczyk Jr., who took the lead on lap 24. A trio of cautions between laps 42 and 44 allowed multi-time ACT Champion Patrick Laperle to enter the picture, and he grabbed the top spot following the race’s final restart on lap 44.
But “Joey Pole” refused to surrender, working inside and outside of Laperle for the next 37 laps. Pole finally got the lead back on lap 82, only to be stalked by Laperle for the next 20 laps. Laperle finally faded in the closing circuits and Pole pulled away to secure his second win of the season and retake the ACT Tour point lead. In the process, Pole also led his 2,000th career lap in ACT Tour competition, making him only the second driver in ACT Late Model history to reach that mark after Brian Hoar. Laperle ended up second with Travis Stearns third. Bobby Therrien, 2013 Série ACT Champion Jean-François Déry, Wayne Helliwell Jr., Hoar, Rowland Robinson Jr., Nick Sweet, and Jeff White completed the top-10.
ACT then traveled to the newly-renamed Speedway 51 in Groveton, NH for the Generation Next 151 on Saturday, May 30. It was the first event at the former Riverside Speedway since longtime ACT competitor Joey Laquerre purchased the facility, marking a new beginning for the longtime Tour stop. A surprising 37 cars entered the event in front of a packed grandstand, with a number of weekly competitors from Speedway 51 and Thunder Road joining the Tour regulars.
Rain was on its way to the area when the green flag dropped, leading Rowley, MA’s Eddie MacDonald to eschew his normal “lie-in-wait” strategy and dart to the lead off the outside pole. N. Haverhill, NH’s Derrick O’Donnell was right on his tail, and after the two swapped the point multiple times, O’Donnell settled into the top spot on lap 23 and led a four car breakaway which included MacDonald, Wayne Helliwell, and local racer Jeff Marshall.
A caution on lap 75 – along with four more that followed over the next 12 laps – prompted a mad scramble at the front. MacDonald got the lead back on the restart, with Helliwell moving into second shortly thereafter. A hard crash on lap 85 involving Jimmy Hebert and Jason Corliss allowed Helliwell to draw alongside MacDonald, and “The Punisher” got the break on the restart. MacDonald then began falling back following a lap-86 restart with a broken sway bar, allowing Joey Pole and defending race winner Kyle Welch to enter the picture from deep on the starting grid.
But the rain finally came on lap 91, forcing the race to be declared official. Helliwell thus took his second win of the season and snatched the point lead back in the process. It was the third time in four events the lead had changed hands, offering a sign of what was to come. O’Donnell finished second with Marshall third. Pole took fourth after starting 18th while Welch came home fifth. Derek Ming, MacDonald, D.J. Shaw, Cody Blake, and Tyler Cahoon were sixth through 10th.
A week later on June 6, the Tour made its annual visit to West Haven, VT’s Devil’s Bowl Speedway for a 100-lap affair. It would be the first-ever ACT event at Devil’s Bowl that went caution-free – but the lack of cautions in no way meant a lack of excitement, as three of the top Late Model drivers in the region put on a race-long duel. Wayne Helliwell Jr. grabbed the early lead from polesitter Nick Sweet and led the first 24 laps. Sweet dove underneath him for the lead on lap 25, but Helliwell returned the favor 11 laps later. The two then weaved their way through lapped traffic with Sweet looking low multiple times only for Helliwell to fend him off.
As the two continued to parry and thrust, Joey Pole slowly his way up from the seventh starting position eventually caught the lead duo. Pole got around Sweet for second on lap 67 and quickly found his way to Helliwell’s bumper, getting inside of him on lap 74 and completing the pass a lap later. He then drove away in the final laps for his third win of the year. Sweet finally got back around Helliwell in the final laps for second. Helliwell maintained a slim point lead with his third-place result, while Josh Masterson’s fourth place effort was his best ever in a Tour event. Brad Babb, Tour first-timer Dillon Moltz, Emily Packard, Brian Hoar, Kyle Welch, and Brandon Atkins rounded out the top-10.
The first half of the season came to a close with the official dawn of summer at White Mountain Motorsports Park on Saturday, June 20. The annual White Mountain 150 is perpetually one of the most competitive events on the ACT calendar, and the 2015 edition was no exception. Sophomore driver Mike Ziter of Williamstown, VT surprised everyone by earning the pole for the event, and he showed it was no fluke by leading the first 94 laps, holding off a snarling pack that included fellow sophomore Brandon Atkins, Eddie MacDonald, Quinny Welch, and Wayne Helliwell Jr. Atkins was able to nose ahead for two circuits following a lap-94 restart and finally cleared Ziter following another restart four laps later.
A trio of quick cautions kept the field bunched up as MacDonald and Helliwell bore down on Atkins. The three-way battle came apart on lap 115 when MacDonald got into Atkins entering turn 2, with Atkins going around. Both drivers were sent to the rear, with Atkins subsequently parked for the night after retaliating during the caution. A surprised Helliwell found himself in the lead, and he motored away from rival Joey Pole in the final laps for his third win of the year. Pole finished second to keep the point battle close, while Travis Stearns recovered from a mid-race spin to take third. Ziter held on for a career-best fourth followed by White Mountain regular Oren Remick. Jeff White, Travis Fadden, Nick Sweet, Quinny Welch, and Kyle Welch also earned top-10 finishes.
The season’s second visit to Oxford Plains Speedway was originally scheduled for June 27, but weather forced its postponement to late July, giving many of the Tour drivers a month-long break before the ACT International on Saturday and Sunday, July 18 and 19. With no points on the line, the best and brightest Late Model drivers in the Northeast were focused all-out on the guaranteed $10,000 top-prize in both the ACT Late Model and PASS Super Late Model 200-lap events. In the ACT portion, Nick Sweet overcame long odds to author a storybook weekend.
Sweet originally planned to run the event, but the trip came into doubt as he waited to see whether wife Kristin would be giving birth to the couple’s third child that weekend. Once it became clear the baby wouldn’t yet arrive, Sweet and him team loaded up and headed to the track – arriving on Saturday just as the final practice session was ending. Despite getting no practice time, Sweet charged through his heat race and won the pole for the following day’s event.
After surrendering the initial lead to Jimmy Hebert, Sweet took the top spot back on lap 11 and remained out front until Patrick Laperle gained the point on lap 51. Sweet pitted for right side tires during a lap 78 caution, and Laperle and Wayne Helliwell Jr. swapped the led over the next green flag run. (Their rival Joey Pole was felled by multiple spins throughout the race.) Sweet got the lead back when the rest of the leaders pitted for tires on lap 105 and dominated the next portion of the race.
Defending Série ACT Champion Alex Labbé then entered the frame, and a series of cautions helped facilitate a classic duel which included six leads changes in the final 40 laps. One driver would take the lead off the outside on a restart, only to lose it back on the next restart. It was Sweet inside and Labbé outside for the final restart on lap 191, and Labbé indeed poked the nose of his #48 out front on lap 192. But Sweet found the little something he need on the inside, leading the final eight laps and taking home the win and nearly $11,000 in winnings. Labbé settled for second with Helliwell third. Jean-François Déry, Brandon Atkins, Laperle, Brian Hoar, Dany Trepanier, Patrick Cliche, and Hebert rounded out the top-10.
Coming in Part III: A wild finish at Oxford, redemption at Beech Ridge, ACT heads to Canada, and more!