Championship Defenses Beginning in Earnest at Northeast Classic
Waterbury, VT and Naples, ME — The inaugural Northeast Classic debuts this Saturday, April 17 at Loudon’s New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Although the prestige and big payday of winning at “The Magic Mile” is foremost in many racers’ minds, the card is also an early proving ground in five different major regional touring series.
The American-Canadian Tour (ACT) Late Model Tour and Northeast Mini Stock Tour (NEMST) have their first point-counting events of the season on Saturday. For the Pro All Stars Series (PASS) Super Late Models, it’s their second North Series and third National Series events of the year. The EXIT Realty Pro Truck Challenge has its second event of 2021 after they and PASS North debuted at the Thompson Speedway Icebreaker That means for defending champions Jimmy Hebert (ACT), D.J. Shaw (PASS North), Mike Hopkins (PASS National), Desmond Skillings (NEMTS), and Duane Noll (Pro Trucks), a strong run at the Northeast Classic would put them in great early position for a championship defense.
In the process, they get the chance to shine at New England’s only superspeedway. NHMS is the region’s biggest motorsports mecca, and the Northeast Classic allows anyone from touring legends to low-buck weekly warriors an opportunity to race there.
“I think events like the Northeast Classic are good for short track racing in general,” Williamstown, VT’s Hebert said. “It’s good for sponsors because you can get them recognized on a bigger stage. We’ve seen the success the Dirt Track Nationals had at Bristol, and then the Short Track Nationals of the last couple years. I think if more regions around the country started doing things like this, it would be good for their individual series, and it would be good for different tracks allowing small teams to compete in big shows like that.”
Hebert is coming off the season of his life, posting two ACT Tour wins and a perfect record of top-10 finishes. It’s no secret how badly he wants to add an NHMS winner’s trophy to his collection. Hebert has three straight runner-up finishes at “The Magic Mile” dating back to the days of the ACT Invitational. Now that the Hebert Excavation team finally has the championship they’ve been dreaming of, they can go for broke at the track they crave the most.
“I remember going to the very first ACT Invitational (in 2009) back when I was racing Tigers and watching from the stands,” Hebert said. “Me and my dad looked at each other and said, ‘we’ve got to win this race someday.’ Obviously, we don’t have the Invitational anymore, but luckily we still get to race there.”
“Starting the season at NHMS will actually be better for us,” Hebert continued. “Last year we couldn’t be really aggressive with the setup or my driving because I had a point cushion I was trying to protect going into the last race. So we had to go about things a lot differently, whereas at the Invitational, there were no points, so you just went for it. We’ve won the championship now…so there’s no points lead to protect this time. We’re going to go for it.”
Many other ACT stars look like potential NHMS winners and championship contenders. Center Conway, NH’s D.J. Shaw and Turner, ME’s Ben Rowe, both multi-time PASS champions, begin full-season ACT campaigns at NHMS. Shaw finished second in ACT points for 2020 while Rowe won the season finale. Warwick, MA’s Tom Carey III has multiple top-10s at NHMS while N. Darmouth, MA’s Derek Gluchacki is aiming for greater things after winning the 2020 ACT Rookie of the Year award. Ryan Kuhn, Bobby Therrien, Woody Pitkat, Stephen Donahue, Jesse Switser, Dylan Payea, and others fill out an impressive early entry list.
On the PASS side, Shaw got a solid start at Connecticut’s Thompson Speedway last weekend in his bid for a fourth straight PASS North title. Hopkins, meanwhile, began his PASS National Championship defense with a pair of podium finishes at North Carolina’s Hickory Motor Speedway. Both know a win at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, with its $5,000 prize, would be a big boost to their title dreams and bank account.
They’ll both have to beat Rowley, MA’s Eddie “The Outlaw” MacDonald to win this weekend. PASS has held two previous NHMS events in its long history, and MacDonald won both. Hudson, NH’s Derek Griffith has won all three PASS-sanctioned events this year, meaning at least one perfect streak must end. Johnny Clark, Travis Benjamin, Gabe Brown, Ben Ashline, Curtis Gerry, and Ben Ashline are among those trying to end the run for both.
In the North East Mini Stock Tour, Antrim, NH’s Desmond Skillings begins his title defense. Skilling won the 2020 championship by a single point thanks to a victory in the season finale. Another former champion, Berlin, NH’s Cody Leblanc, is one of his likely challengers. So is Contoocook, NH’s Emerson Cayer, who has multiple top-5 finishes at the track.
Defending EXIT Realty Truck Series champion Duane Knoll started his campaign with a fourth-place finish at Thompson Speedway. However, 2019 champion Gerard “G-Rod” Giordano Jr. sits on top of the standings after edging Ryan Vanasse for the win. Young Emma Monahan is off to a strong start, too.
Although the Open Tour-type Modified and Open Street Stock events don’t have points on the line, there are still some big names chasing big prize money. The expected Modified entry list includes many stars from the Thompson Outlaw Open Modified Series opener last weekend, including top-10 finishers Bobby Santos III, Craig Lutz, Sam Rameau, and Mike Christopher Jr. Other early entries are recent Martinsville Speedway winner Eric Goodale, veteran Charles Pasteryak, and rising youngster Chase Dowling.
On the 8-Cylinder Street Stock side, you have Danielson, CT’s Ryan Waterman, who just missed the winner’s check at the Thompson Icebreaker. Fellow top runners from that event such as Kyle Gero and Jimmy Renfrew Jr. are planning for a second round. Fans should also watch out for Corey Hutchings, who won the Street Stock Showdown Series event at NHMS in 2017.
The Northeast Classic at Loudon’s New Hampshire Motor Speedway makes its long-awaited debut this Saturday, April 17. A six-division card features $5,000-to-win events for the ACT Late Model Tour, PASS Super Late Models, and Tour-type Modifieds. The EXIT Realty Pro Truck Challenge, 8-Cylinder Street Stocks, and North East Mini Stock Tour are also on the card.
Qualifying begins at 11:00am with features at 1:30pm. General admission is $30 for adults and $10 for kids ages 12 and under. Tickets will be sold at the track on race day. A live pay-per-view is available on Speed51.TV for $29.99. Visit www.acttour.com/northeast-late-model-classic for the complete schedule, registration forms, and other info.