With a successful debut at Virginia’s Richmond Raceway in the rear-view mirror, the American-Canadian Tour (ACT) now has its eyes set on the Northeast racing season. The ACT Late Model Tour heads to Maine’s Oxford Plains Speedway on Sunday, April 14 at 1:30pm for the first event of the 2019 championship chase. Many stars of the Richmond event will now shift their focus to the 10-race point-counting schedule throughout New England and Quebec.
As the Tour opener inches closer, the season-long picture is already starting to taking shape. Colchester, VT’s Scott Payea is the first name on almost everyone’s list of title contenders. Payea has won the last two ACT championships and has not finished outside the top-10 during that time. Should he maintain this consistent excellence, he will be hard to beat for a third straight crown.
But there are plenty of challengers to the throne. Williamstown, VT’s Jimmy Hebert and Lebanon, NH’s Rich Dubeau, who finished third and fourth in points this past season, have put themselves on the short list of racers who can contend at almost any given event.
Hebert has been a top runner with ACT for years and was in the hunt for the 2018 championship until a qualifying-race accident at the season finale. He also tied for the series lead with two wins. Dubeau has improved his points position each of his four years on the Tour. He enters the opener coming off a third-place effort in the Commonwealth Classic at Richmond Raceway.
“That meant the world to the team,” Dubeau said. “I think that when you have a successful run like that, you generally carry momentum over to other tracks. I think it’s going to pump the team up. It’s a great way to start the year, and hopefully it does carry over.”
“Every time we show up at the track, we give it our best shot to win,” he added. “We haven’t won yet in four full years of running, but every year we’ve improved steadily, which is really cool. I’m fortunate that things have gone that way. I think this year we have a good chance, and if we keep improving, that win is going to come.”
Three-time ACT Champion Wayne Helliwell Jr. of Dover, NH is also returning to Tour competition after a two-year hiatus. His runner-up effort at Richmond shows he still is a threat in an ACT Late Model. Helliwell has stated he will remain on the circuit as long as things are going well for his team. Still, it seems a safe bet to put him on the early list of title contenders considering his ACT history.
Many other drivers are looking to build on their 2018 campaigns. Rookie of the Year Dylan Payea of Milton, VT has a new car that he believes can lead to greater things. Graniteville, VT’s Chip Grenier earned his first ACT podium finish last year and will try to put together a consistent start-to-finish season. Ageless veteran Claude Leclerc of Lanorie, QC is back after finishing seventh in points the year he turned 77.
Barre, VT’s Christopher Pelkey will chase both the ACT Late Model Tour and the Thunder Road Late Model weekly schedules once again in 2019. He has moved to the Rodney Rood team in a new car that made its debut at Richmond. Duxbury, VT sisters Reilly and Peyton Lanphear gained valuable experience their rookie seasons and hope to get the results to show for it in year two. And longtime supporter Jimmy Linardy of Somerville, MA is back again for another go-round with ACT.
Several teams are also joining or returning to the ACT fold. Former Série ACT champions Jonathan Bouvrette of Blainville, QC and Jean-Francois Dery of Quebec City are looking to add an ACT Late Model Tour title trophy to their mantles. They join Leclerc; Blainville, QC’s Mathieu Kingsbury; and Saint-Donat-de-Montcalm, QC’s Jean-Phillippe Bergeron as part of a large Canadian contingent. Newcomers Trenton Goodrow of Carver, MA and Scott Coburn of Barre, VT will also enter the fray. Hinesburg, VT’s Bobby Therrien, a former Thunder Road Late Model Champion, has filed entries for the first three events and could continue with the Tour if those go well.
In addition to changes with teams, new events are on the docket for this year. They include dates at Vallée, QC’s Autodrome Chaudiere and Epping, NH’s Star Speedway; a second date at Connecticut’s Thompson Speedway; and a $10,000-to-win event at N. Woodstock, NH’s White Mountain Motorsports Park. There is also return of the Spring Green and the Summer Kick-Off Series of $5,000-to-win events in June. In short, every ACT Late Model race team and fan will have something to look forward to in 2019.
Obviously, we’re looking forward to Thompson,” Dubeau said. “I can’t wait to get back there and try to put together a good run and actually finish it off well. I don’t really know much about Star, to be honest, but anytime we go to a new track, we feel good about it. We’ve just gotten used to doing the best we can with what we have at new tracks. The first year on the Tour, every track we went to was new to us, so now going to a new track isn’t a big deal to us anymore.”
The battle for the title begins at Maine’s Oxford Plains Speedway on Sunday, April 14 at 1:30pm. The Oxford 150 is part of a card that includes the Pro All Stars Series Super Late Models, Honey Badger Street Stock Series, and North East Mini Stock Tour. The pits open at 8:00am and the grandstands open at 10:00am. Admission is $25 for adults, $12 for kids ages 6-12, and $60 for a family of four (two adults, two kids).