The inaugural American-Canadian Tour (ACT) Commonwealth Classic 65 on Saturday, March 30 will be more than just ACT’s first visit to Virginia’s Richmond Raceway. It will also mark the return for one of the most accomplished ACT Late Model drivers of the past decade.
Three-time ACT Late Model Tour Champion Wayne Helliwell Jr. of Dover, NH was one of the first entries for the Commonwealth Classic. Helliwell and his Bruce Bernhardt-led team last competed with the series on August 6, 2016 at Maine’s Beech Ridge Motor Speedway. But in less than two weeks, he will be back behind the wheel in the division that has brought him some of his greatest success – and will do so at one of the biggest events in ACT history.
“We were originally already converting one of the (team’s) cars to come back ACT racing,” Helliwell said. “Then we saw the Richmond race had come up, and that’s always been a bucket-list track I’ve wanted to race on. So it was kind of a no-brainer to jump right on the bandwagon. I’m really, really looking forward to it. It looks like an extremely fun place to race, and I think it’s going to put on a really good show.”
Helliwell is one of 36 racers who have officially entered the ACT Commonwealth Classic. While the second-generation driver and his #27NH EKeys4Cars Ford Fusion have won at tracks throughout New England, New York, and Quebec, they come to Richmond Raceway with no prior experience at the track just like every other ACT team.
“I’m going to pick a track that somewhat resembles the turns from something up here, and we’ll shoot from the hip, and hopefully we’re in the ballpark,” Helliwell said. “There’s already a lot of cars, and it seems like more and more are showing up. I think we might take center stage on car counts out of all the divisions that will be there, and that’ll be a good thing for the Tour. I’m sure we’ll put on a good show down there and hopefully we’ll be invited back.”
For Helliwell and Bernhardt, their return to ACT competition won’t stop at Richmond. The team decided during the offseason to run at least a partial ACT Late Model Tour schedule in 2019. They spent the last two seasons focusing on their Super Late Model efforts, which included events with the Pro All Stars Series and Granite State Pro Stock Series along with running most of the 2018 season at Beech Ridge.
However, while the team won the 2016 Oxford 250, they were ultimately unable to recapture the same magic they had found in an ACT Late Model. This year, they will look to add to an ACT résumé that includes three championships, 11 point-counting wins, and a victory in the 2014 ACT Invitational at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Helliwell also earned Late Model championships at New Hampshire’s Lee USA Speedway and the now-defunct Canaan Fair Speedway under ACT rules.
“We enjoy ACT racing,” Helliwell said. “It’s where we’ve had the majority of our success together. And dollars and cents-wise, to us it makes sense to do ACT racing. Super Late Model racing is fun, it’s a challenge, but cost-effective-wise, we’re not making money doing it. And if we can’t cover the bills for the weekend, we’re not going to race. We can cover the bills when we race ACT, and we’ve had success, so that ultimately steered us in the direction that we’re going.”
Helliwell said his team definitely will run the first three events of the ACT Late Model Tour season at Oxford Plains Speedway, Thunder Road, and White Mountain Motorsports Park. Whether the team ultimately makes a run for the championship depends largely where they stand after these events. Helliwell said he is also looking forward to the Quebec doubleheader on June 1 and 2, which includes a point-counting event at Autodrome Chaudiere on Saturday and a non-point event at Circuit Riverside Ste-Croix on Sunday.
“I can’t wait to get back over the border and go up to Canada,” Helliwell remarked. “We’ve always had good success up there. I want to get back to Ste-Croix and Chaudiere. Those are probably two of my favorite tracks on the Tour. And we have an unbelievable fan base over the border. So it’s always good to get back up there and see them.”
Regardless, fans can count on the return of Helliwell’s familiar orange paint scheme when he is at the track. The team went to a different scheme in their most recent ACT Tour season, but Helliwell said the orange is back – and likely for good.
“That’s something that will probably never change again,” he said. “We had no good luck with (the other scheme), and Bruce is pretty much cured of ever changing the color again.”
ACT begins its season with the Commonwealth Classic 65 on Saturday, March 30 at 1:00pm. The $5,000-to-win non-point event at Virginia’s Richmond Raceway is part of a card that includes the Pro All Stars Series Super Late Models, Tour-type Modifieds, Mid Atlantic Street Stocks, and North East Mini Stock Tour. Almost $165,000 in total awards have been posted for the first edition of the Commonwealth Classic. Open practice is scheduled for 11:00am to 5:00pm on Friday, March 29.