2015 ACT Season in Review – Part IV
Want to read more about the 2015 season? Click here for Part I and here for Part II, and here for Part III!
The American-Canadian Tour (ACT) returned to New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Saturday, September 26 for the 7th Annual Bond Auto ACT Invitational. Drivers from 7 U.S. states and the province of Quebec joined the 43-car, 50-lap sprint at the “Magic Mile”. Although 14 drivers were making their first Invitational start, they quickly got up to speed; three- and four-wide racing was once again the norm with just three single-car spins slowing the action. Thompson Speedway standout Jeff Rocco grabbed the early lead off the outside pole, but Williamstown, VT’s Jimmy Hebert quickly charged from the 10th starting position to take the lead on lap 6. 2010 Invitational winner Joey Polewarczyk Jr. moved into second soon after and the two drove away from the field. “Joey Pole” eventually caught Hebert in lapped traffic and was perched on his bumper when the caution flew for Rocco’s spin on lap 31.
But the caution allowed Rowley, MA’s Eddie MacDonald to enter the fray. The three-time Invitational winner had moved up to third during the green flag run, but with a big gap to the lead duo he elected to conserve his car and gamble on a caution coming out. The gamble paid off for “The Outlaw”; Pole outgunned Hebert on the restart, but MacDonald deftly moved around both and went to the point on lap 36. Pole had one more shot after another caution with 6 laps to go for John Donahue’s spin, but he came under attack from Wayne Helliwell Jr. on the restart, allowing MacDonald to cruise to his fourth Invitational win. Pole nipped Helliwell by inches for second while Patrick Laperle took fourth and Hebert faded to fifth. Woody Pitkat, Jonathan Bouvrette, Tom Carey Jr., Dillon Moltz, and Alex Labbé completed the top-10.
Both the ACT U.S. Tour and Série ACT were back in action one week later on Saturday, October 3 for the 41st Fall Foliage 200 at New York’s Airborne Park Speedway. The fourth combination event of the season was the season finale for Série ACT as Dany Trépanier entered with a 28-point lead over 2013 Champion Jean-François Déry. It was also the second-to-last ACT U.S. event of the year, ratcheting up the pressure for the two title contenders. Defending Fall Foliage 200 winner Joey Polewarczyk Jr. started on the pole and darted out to the early lead, looking to land the next blow in the title battle. But Pole suddenly slid off turn two on lap 34 with a broken shock mount, forcing him out of the event and putting Wayne Helliwell Jr. in the catbird’s seat.
Patrick Laperle assumed the lead and was uncontested in the middle stages of the event, but a lap-150 caution – during which Helliwell was forced to pit with a flat right-front tire – set up a thrilling battle over the final 50 circuits. Alex Labbé, Nick Sweet, and Brian Hoar all took turns at the front with the top two often inches apart. Laperle was able to fend them all off though and appeared to take his first ACT win of the season. The joy was short-lived, however, as Laperle was disqualified in post-race technical inspection for a violation of ACT’s Koni shock rule. Williston, VT’s Hoar thus inherited the record-extending 41st win of his ACT career. Sweet took second with Labbé in third. Bobby Therrien and Brandon Atkins were fourth and fifth followed by Brad Babb in sixth. Helliwell recovered to finish seventh and take a 42-point lead over Pole with one point-counting race remaining. Déry finished eighth, while Trépanier’s ninth-place effort was more than enough for his first Série ACT championship. Jonathan Bouvrette completed the top-10.
Many of ACT’s top drivers then traveled to Barre, VT’s Thunder Road on Saturday & Sunday, October 10 & 11 for the “toughest short track race in North America”: the 53rd Northfield Savings Bank Milk Bowl. Despite the credentials of Pole, Helliwell, Hoar, and others, it was a pair of Thunder Road regulars who stole the show. Three-time Thunder Road Late Model Champion Derrick O’Donnell won the pole in Booth Bros./H.P. Hood Qualifying with two-time Champion Nick Sweet alongside. The duo finished one-two in the first 50-lap segment before a big crash early in Segment 2 crippled or eliminated many top contenders, including 2014 winner Eddie MacDonald, Brad Babb, Jimmy Hebert, and Jason Corliss. Helliwell fell out of contention later in the segment after an incident with Josh Demers, while O’Donnell calmly sliced through the pack to a sixth-place finish. He entered the third segment with seven total points – five ahead of Sweet in second and six up on Pole in third.
But the final segment would see one of the great comebacks in Milk Bowl history. Sweet stayed in front of O’Donnell as they worked through the pack, and when the first of three cautions flew on lap 37, Sweet was running seventh to O’Donnell’s 11th – just one point behind in the overall. The 2013 Milk Bowl winner then seized the moment, charging from seventh to first in just 7 laps and cruising to the Segment 3 win. Meanwhile O’Donnell got tangled with John Donahue with 12 laps to go, and though he avoided the resulting spin, he could do no better than seventh in the Segment 3 rundown. The result gave Sweet his second Milk Bowl win by one point and set off a delirious celebration for the hometown driver. Pole finished third overall followed by Hoar and Cody Blake. Phil Scott, Kyle Pembroke, Scott Dragon, Helliwell, and Babb rounded out the top-10.
ACT then headed to Connecticut’s Thompson Speedway for their season finale on Saturday, October 17 as part of the World Series of Speedway Racing. The World Series 100 was the inaugural ACT Late Model Tour visit to the historic 5/8-mile oval as well as the Tour’s first trip to Connecticut since 2010. A wave of local Late Model drivers entered the event – which was seen live worldwide on FansChoice.TV – but it was ACT’s best who decided the outcome. Joey Pole, knowing he needed a big night to have any chance of defending his ACT crown, grabbed the lead from Jimmy Hebert on lap 4. Hebert then snatched the lead back on a lap-29 restart, only to surrender it to Eddie MacDonald on another restart 4 laps later. Meanwhile, Helliwell’s vision had been impaired by fluid from Brian Tagg’s overheating car, and he was forced to tiptoe through the pack from his 15th starting position.
MacDonald seemed to have the race in hand, but smoke began floating from his Chevrolet on lap 70. The engine went up in flames five laps later, sending Dillon Moltz to the point with Brian Hoar close behind. The 2014 Granite State Pro Stock Series Champion was looking for his first ACT win, but a caution with 8 laps to go for Tom Carey Jr.’s trip into the frontstretch wall bunched the field back up. Moltz then appeared to miss a shift on the restart and got tangled up with Pole at the start/finish line, sending both hard into the wall and ending their nights. Hoar easily held off Brad Babb and Hebert on the final restart for his second straight victory and 42nd in ACT competition before announcing in Victory Lane he would be stepping away from the driver’s seat. Helliwell made his way through the late carnage to finish seventh – which incredibly matched his WORST finish of the year – and take his third ACT U.S. Tour Championship in the last four seasons. Babb was second while Hebert ended a tough season on a high note in third. Ray Parent, Brandon Atkins, Rowland Robinson Jr., Helliwell, William Wall, Mark Jenison, and Emily Packard rounded out the top-10.
The 2015 ACT season was one that helped set up the series for years to come. New tracks and events debuted with great success and laid the groundwork for the future. The most decorated driver in ACT Late Model history ended his career – for the time being – in winning fashion, while modern giants Wayne Helliwell Jr. and Joey Polewarczyk Jr. both had historically great seasons and made their case to be the future king. Other young talent such as Brad Babb, Emily Packard, Brandon Atkins, and Kyle Welch made big strides towards becoming consistent top runners – all four set career bests for top-ten finishes and final point standing results. With other top talent such as Scott Payea and Dillon Moltz already verbally committing to the full 2016 schedule, everyone will be waiting to see what the 31st season of ACT competition will bring.
Come back next Tuesday for the return of Unbuckled! The profile series will run every Tuesday throughout the winter as we get to know the top drivers of the ACT U.S. Tour and Série ACT.