NEW ENGLAND MOTORSPORTS NORTH For March 27th 2016
By Lou Modestino
The American-Canadian Tour (ACT) opens its 25th season of ACT Late Model racing, along with the 33rd season of racing at Lee USA Speedway, with the New Hampshire Governor’s Cup 150 on Sunday, April 10. The traditional ACT season opener often sets the tone for what to watch throughout the season, and the 2016 edition should be no exception.
ACT competition at the 1/3-mile speedway has historically been hard to predict. The previous 13 ACT Late Model Tour events at Lee have seen 12 different winners, with Brian Hoar’s back-to-back Governor’s Cup wins in 2011 and 2012 standing as the only repeat triumph. Former Lee USA Champion Wayne Helliwell, Jr. of Dover, NH became the latest ACT winner at the track when he captured the 2015 Governor’s Cup, the first of his four wins en route to the 2015 ACT Championship.
Surprise performances at the event also abound, and performances by these drivers have frequently led to even bigger things for them. Williamstown, VT’s Jimmy Hebert was the surprise winner of the 2013 Governor’s Cup, which kick-started a breakout season that saw him finish third in ACT points. In 2015, Windham, ME’s Brad Babb scored a then career-best runner-up finish at Lee. Babb went on to win two races and finish third in the final 2015 standings.
“That race gave us a lot of confidence that running for Joey Laquerre was the right decision,” Babb said. “It wasn’t really much of a decision at all – my mind was made up as soon as he asked me to drive the car – but it solidified that we could run up front with the best of ACT. It gave us a lot of confidence going forward for the rest of the season.
“I’ve pretty much been ready for this season since last season ended,” Babb added. “I had a lot of fun last year, and I want to get back into it again.”
Helliwell and Babb will be among the top contenders when the ACT Late Models roll into Lee, NH next month. Rowley, MA’s Eddie MacDonald, the 2014 Governor’s Cup winner, is expected to try and reclaim the title at his home track. The event marks the return of Scott Payea to ACT competition, and he does so at a track where he has posted multiple podium finishes.
As history has shown, the stage could be set for an unexpected winner as well. Kyle Welch earned a top-10 finish at Lee last year en route to his best ACT season to date. Teenager Ryan Olsen is a multi-time Late Model winner at White Mountain Motorsports Park and will make his debut for Joey Pole Racing. Former Série ACT Champion Alex Labbé has entered the event and will look to become the first Canadian ACT winner at Lee since D.J. Kennington in 2004. Multi-time White Mountain Late Model Champion Quinny Welch has also entered the event.
The New Hampshire Governor’s Cup 150 at Lee USA Speedway kicks off the 25th season of ACT Late Model racing on Sunday, April 10. Teams will have a full practice day on Saturday, April 9.
The 25th season of the ACT Late Model Tour will see a number of exciting new events that showcase the best of Late Model racing in the Northeastern United States. Among the highlights of the silver anniversary is the debut of the Southern New England Tripleheader, which will pit the standouts of the ACT Late Model Tour against the best weekly Late Model racers in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island.
The three race series will be contested at Connecticut’s New London-Waterford Speedbowl and Thompson Speedway, along with Massachusetts’ Seekonk Speedway, which is located just outside of E. Providence, RI. In addition to awarding ACT Late Model Tour championship points at each event, a separate $7,500 point fund has been posted for local weekly competitors who run all three events.
“Going from Waterford, to Seekonk, and then to Thompson will be a great way to showcase the talent that we have down here versus the ACT talent from up north,” Seekonk Speedway Director of Business Development Ed St. Germain said. “We’ll be strengthening our own Late Model division with the top competitors coming in from Thompson, Waterford, and ACT.”
The Southern New England Tripleheader begins with a 100-lap event at New London-Waterford Speedbowl on Saturday, May 21. It will be the first ACT Late Model Tour event at the 1/3-mile speedway since 2010. ACT then heads to the ¼-mile Seekonk Speedway for the first time since 2007 on Saturday, July 16, for a 150-lap event at the “Cement Palace”.
“I think we’re going to see some great top-notch racing,” St. Germain added. “We have a good field of competitors that we feel can compete with the ACT drivers, and we’re looking forward to seeing how they stack up. We even have some drivers from our Pro Stock class who are looking to get into Late Models for those particular races, along with our regular Late Model drivers.”
The Tripleheader concludes with a 75-lap event at Thompson Speedway on Saturday, October 15, as part of the World Series of Speedway Racing. The event will crown the 2016 ACT Champion as well as the Tripleheader Champion.
The 2016 schedule promises to make the 25th season of ACT Late Model racing one of the most exciting in the Tour’s history. ACT will run four doubleheaders with the Pro All Stars Series (PASS) Super Late Models, beginning at Maine’s Oxford Plains Speedway on Sunday, April 17. Both series will return to the speedway for Oxford 250 Weekend, with the ACT event held on Saturday, August 27. ACT-PASS doubleheaders will also be held at N. Woodstock, NH’s White Mountain Motorsports Park on Saturday, July 23, and Scarborough, ME’s Beech Ridge Motor Speedway for New England 500 Weekend on Saturday and Sunday, September 17 and 18.
The Beech Ridge doubleheader also marks the return of the Fall Foliage 200 to the 1/3-mile speedway, where it was previously held from 1987 to 1989 on the ACT Pro Stock Tour. A number of other popular events also have returned to the schedule, including the Merchants Bank 150 at Barre, VT’s Thunder Road on Sunday, May 1, and the 8th Bond Auto Parts ACT Invitational on Saturday, September 24.
The landmark season gets underway with the New Hampshire Governor’s Cup 150 at Lee USA Speedway on Sunday, April 10. A full practice day will be held on Saturday, April 9.
As the start of the 2016 racing season nears on April 9-10 for the traditional Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park Icebreaker, the Sunoco Modified field is shaping up to be one of the most competitive in recent history. Woody Pitkat returns as the division’s champion in the Stan Mertz owned Sunoco Modified. By virtue of winning the title, Pitkat’s team decided to rebuild the car in time for the championship banquet that was held in December for the first time at Mohegan Sun. Since that time, the car has been ready to race and to begin a title defense.
“It’s been a weird off season because the car has been ready to go and I haven’t been to the shop all winter,” said Pitkat.
When asked if being separated from the team for five months will impact his on track performance, Pitkat felt it would make the team stronger.
“If anything a long break would only fuel the fire more because the team hasn’t been doing the daily grind. Some people may be rushing and burning the midnight oil, but we are ready to go and to fire on all eight cylinders so it will be more of an advantage to us,” he said.
2014 division champion and defending Icebreaker winner, Ryan Preece, has moved up to the national scene and is competing full time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series for JD Motorsports. Preece is scheduled to be on hand for the season opener driving for Al and Cathy Moniz in the Sunoco Modified division. The husband and wife duo also back Preece’s Xfinity Series car as an associate sponsor with their company Falmouth Ready Mix appearing on the car for all 33 events this season. The remainder of his schedule will be determined on a race by race basis.
Adding his name to the list of regulars for 2016 is Rowan Pennink who hasn’t raced at Thompson full time since 2010 when he too drove for the Moniz family in the 31 machine. Pennick, the reigning SK Modified champion at Stafford Speedway, will replace Keith Rocco in the Ceravolo machine and make the weekly 4 hour drive from his home in New Egypt, NJ to compete at Thompson. Pennink will also be on hand for the Whelen Modified Tour event as he takes over the Boehler Racing No. 3 full time this season.
Rocco, a 4-time Thompson champion will return once again, but not only as a driver. He will also enter as a car owner for rookie Ronnie Williams who will run full time. Williams at just 19 years old has already garnered a lot of attention after a 6 win season at Stafford in 2015. He has never run a Sunoco Modified at Thompson and has only two starts at the track including his first ever SK Lite Modified start in 2011 at only 15 years old. It was the first time he drove anything other than a go kart. However, regardless of William’s inexperience at the Big T, he is expected to be a factor this season.
“I’m not worried at all. Keith’s cars are the best out there so at this point it is all up to me,” said Williams. “Last year I gained a lot of experience and matured a lot. I’m racing against guys I know; Keith, Woody, and Rowan. It’s going to be a new track, but I am definitely looking forward to it.”
Not only is this the first time Rocco will own a car he will race against all season for the drivers championship, it is also the first time Williams will drive a car that isn’t prepared by his family team.
Thompson Speedway opens its gates for the first time this season on Saturday March 26, for an open practice session. The Icebreaker kicks off the season on the weekend of April 9-10. An additional practice day is scheduled for Friday, April 8.