Location: Lee, NH
Track: 3/8-mile semi-banked asphalt oval
Preceded By: Lee Raceway, 1964-1979, 1/3-mile tri-oval (dirt and asphalt)
# of ACT Races Held: 28
ACT Pro Stock Tour – 12
ACT Late Model Tour – 16
ACT Pro Stock Tour – Robbie Crouch, 3
ACT Late Model Tour – Brian Hoar & Scott Payea, 2
A Brief History of Lee USA
The history of racing at Lee USA Speedway is actually a history of two different tracks – three if you want to get creative. Lee Raceway first opened in 1964 as a 1/3-mile dirt tri-oval. The track, conceived by Bob Bonser, was notable for having not one but two elevation changes – one uphill and one downhill. However, Bonser paved the track the very next year in an effort to get the New England Super Modified Racing Association (NESMRA) to come to Lee. This effort paid off in spades, as the NESMRA not only came, but made Lee their home track. The following year, the inaugural NESMRA Super Classic was held. While this event would eventually follow the NESMRA to Star Speedway and become the Star Classic, Lee remains the “Home of the Supermodifieds” to this day.
The track continued to operate throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Lee hosted multiple NEMA Midget events in the late 1960s, and in both 1968 and 1973, they held two events as part of the NASCAR Modified National Championship. However, Lee Raceway fell on hard financial times in the late 1970s, and the track was closed in 1979. After the property sat unused for three years, the trio of Kenny Smith, Russ Conway, and Charlie Elliott purchased Lee in November 1982. The group of friends already owned Star Speedway and Hudson Speedway plus other business ventures, but Smith convinced them to take on a new project. They immediately made plans to tear down Lee Raceway and construct Lee USA Speedway, the 3/8-mile oval that modern fans recognize, in its place.
What happened next and when is a little unclear. According to the Lee USA Speedway track website, all of 1983 and the first part of 1984 was spent laying out and constructing the track. The first event at the new Lee USA Speedway – called “The Teaser” – was held July 4, 1984 with a trio of midget series: NEMA, USAC, and ARDC (American Racing Drivers Club) on hand and Nokie Fornoro taking the first win on the new configuration. However, as of this writing, we have not yet been able to find any official records of this event. (If anyone does have any records of this event, we would love to see them.) We do know that the inaugural “Oktoberfest” – the end-of-season racing festival that is now a staple of the Lee schedule, was held in October 1984. A video photo album of this event featuring the photos of Cynthia Tebbets can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RRyjGEf92nA&feature=youtu.be (Interestingly, the video implies that Oktoberfest was the first event on the new rack, with a title card saying the facility wasn’t complete but that a race needed to be held in 1984 for permitting reasons.)
Regardless, a new era had begun for Lee. The track held special events only in 1985 and 1986, including Oktoberfest, the various midget series, and the Pro Stock Showdown of Champions (won both times by Dale Earnhardt). In December 1986, Red and Judy MacDonald purchased the facility, and they decided to bring back weekly racing. Ever since, Lee has operated on Friday nights throughout the summer, hosting the Small Block Supermodifieds along with an evolving cast of support divisions that have the NASCAR weekly sanction. Under the MacDonalds, the track also quickly became a “hot spot” for touring series in the Northeast. The ACT Pro Stock Tour, NASCAR Busch North Series, NEMA Midgets, International Supermodified Association, Modified Racing Series, PASS Super Late Models, NELCAR Legends Tour, and many others have enjoyed long stints at the speedway at various times.
After more than 30 years owning and operating the track, the MacDonalds decided to get out of the racing game in early 2018. On February 27, they announced the sale of the track to Nashua, NH businessman and longtime racer Norm Wrenn Jr., with his son Norm Wrenn III taking over day-to-day operations. The Wrenns will go into their second year running the track in 2019. While the season schedule has not been posted on their website as of this writing, it is expected to include many of the same divisions and events as it did in 2018. During the offseason, Lee also joined the New Hampshire Short Track Racing Association (NHSTRA), an alliance with Star, Hudson, Monadnock, and Claremont to get more of their divisions on the same rules and promote more cooperation between the tracks.
Random Track Fact: The inaugural NESMRA Super Classic was an event unlike any before or since. It stood out in four ways:
1) The event was a 200-lapper split into segments of 100, 50, and 50 laps. While segment racing is more common nowadays, it was rare in 1966 – the only other event in the area that used segments was the Vermont Milk Bowl at Thunder Road Speedbowl.
2) It took more than six hours to run those 200 laps. The race started at 8:00pm and ended at 2:10am. (This was before the days of the town curfew.)
3) Lee Raceway needed three flaggers to complete the event. The first one quit mid-race and the second one was assaulted on the flag stand.
4) When the final checkered flag fell, Eddie West, Bob Cloutier, and Don MacLaren were tied for the overall win. Rather than using tiebreakers, they were declared co-winners and the prize money was split evenly between the three.
ACT at Lee USA
Both the American-Canadian Tour and the modern era of Lee USA Speedway are tied closely together. In fact, the ACT Pro Stock Tour’s first event at Lee on April 19, 1987 was also the track’s first event under the MacDonald ownership banner. The 100-lap event was won by Beaver Dragon – you’ve heard his name a lot throughout this series – and kicked off a great relationship between the track and series throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s. A total of 12 ACT Pro Stock events were run at Lee, including a 300-lap Stock Car Connection event in 1988 won by future NASCAR star Ted Musgrave. (Several videos of ACT Pro Stock action at Lee are available on YouTube; you can view the heat races for the October 3, 1993 event here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LVfwYKyOqIg). It’s worth noting that Lee was one of the few tracks to host both ACT and the NASCAR Busch North Series during this time. The fact that the bitter rivals could race at the same track – though not on the same day, of course – was a testament to how desirable the track was and how respected the MacDonalds were.
After ACT shut down the Pro Stock Tour, it would be eight years before they made the trek back to Lee, NH. The triumphant return happened on September 21, 2003 with a 100-lap ACT Late Model Tour event won by Patrick Laperle. The following year, Lee was the site of the first event in the first ACT-ion Super Series, and future NASCAR Pinty’s Series Champion and Xfinity Series regular D.J. Kennington made the trek from St-Thomas, ON to take the $10,000 top prize. After some shifting around on the schedule, ACT found its long-term spot on the Lee schedule in 2008 with the season-opening New Hampshire Governor’s Cup in mid-April – a spot it would hold for the next 11 years.
Along the way, ACT became known for two things at Lee. The first was seeing a different face in Victory Lane almost every time out. In 16 Late Model Tour races at Lee, 14 different drivers carried the checkered flag. This continued a trend from the Pro Stock Tour days where there were 9 winners in the 12 events. Winners ranged from established champions such as Brian Hoar, Wayne Helliwell Jr., and Jean-Paul Cyr to complete surprises such as Kennington, Miles Chipman, and Jimmy Hebert, who all took their first ACT wins at the speedway (and only win to date in the first two cases). The other thing was something ACT didn’t want to be known for: postponements. The final four editions of the Governor’s Cup (and at least five overall) were all postponed at least once, either due to rain or to leftover snow and mud from the previous winter. It created a weird stop-and-start where teams were ready to get the season started, but Mother Nature kept saying “not yet”.
Random ACT Fact #1: Kennington’s $10,000 victory came in his lone start with ACT. He is the only driver in ACT Late Model Tour history to go 1-for-1.
Random ACT Fact #2: Brian Hoar and Scott Payea were the only drivers to win more than one ACT Late Model event at Lee USA – and they both drove for RPM Motorsports when they won (Hoar in 2010 and 2011, Payea in 2016 and 2018).
ACT’s Future at Lee USA
The 2018 edition of the Governor’s Cup – which (fittingly) was postponed twice and then battled rain showers the day it was finally run – would prove to be the last one at Lee for now. The track and series could not come to an agreement for 2019, resulting in ACT’s history at Lee being put on pause and the Governor’s Cup being moved to White Mountain Motorsports Park. ACT enjoyed going to Lee every year, and the events almost always produced exciting racing to go with the parade of different winners. We shall see whether another return is ultimately in the cards.
(ACT would like to thank and credit www.leeusaspeedway.com for much of the information found in the “A Brief History of Lee USA” section.)