Through grinding crashes, red flags and restart battles, the only thing that could stop Woody Pitkat was the setting sun. The Modified ace from Stafford, CT was awarded the win in Saturday evening’s ACT Invitational, with only 18 laps of the 50-lap feature on the scoreboard.
The ninth running of the American-Canadian Tour’s annual all-star race was plagued with misfortune from the green flag. An opening-lap crash brought out the red flag for cleanup, and a scoring snafu setting the lineup meant that only one green-flag lap was completed nearly forty minutes after the race had started.
Pitkat, who started 19th, diced his way through the field early, taking the race lead from front-row starter Adam Gray on lap six. Another caution slowed the field with 12 laps complete. On the restart, Ray Christian III and Mike Ziter collided, crashing into the sand barrels at the end of pit road. A lengthy cleanup process ensued, delaying the race another forty minutes.
With daylight fading fast, patience faded as many fast cars still needed to work their way from the rear of the field. Tour regular Jimmy Hebert had advanced from 27th at the start to second place when the yellow flew for another grinding crash on the backstretch. Kyle Welch’s car was destroyed in the wreck, and pre-race favorite Eddie MacDonald, a five-time winner of the Invitational, was caught up in the aftermath.
Eighteen laps were on the board with visibility becoming a concern, yet no official word suggested if or when the race would end early. A restart attempt was negated by a turn-three crash that drew another yellow flag for cleanup. Officials waved off the next two restart attempts as both Hebert and Pitkat, trying to outgun the other, jumped the start. Almost two hours after the initial green flag, the race was called official.
Pitkat, who competed in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour race earlier in the day, took the checkered flag on the frontstretch before making a pass by the grandstands with a large white flag honoring ACT founder Tom Curley, who passed away earlier this year. Once in victory lane, Pitkat dedicated the win to fellow Modified racer Ted Christopher, who passed away in a plane crash a week before.
Pitkat’s Invitational victory came in his third start in the event, all in Marcus Stetson’s #07 Summit Ice entry. Pitkat previously finished eighth in 2016 and sixth in 2015.
The finishing order was at odds with the running order at the end of the race. Per ACT rules, no laps were scored after lap 18, so scoring reflected the rundown prior to the backstretch crash. Kyle Welch, who spent the last two restarts in the infield, was credited with third place, with Joel Monahan fourth and Aaron Fellows fifth. Eddie MacDonald, despite pitting for repairs, was credited with seventh place. The shortened race left many top contenders mired in traffic with inadequate time to work through the field; two-time 2017 ACT winner Dillon Moltz was 12th, and perennial Quebec challenger Patrick Laperle finished 13th.
The ACT Invitational was conceived in 2009 as a non-points all-star celebration, pitting the stars of the Vermont-based late model tour and the Quebec-based Série ACT against winners and track champions from the ACT’s partner tracks throughout New England and eastern Canada. New Hampshire Motor Speedway provided the ACT teams with their biggest stage, their biggest audience, and the honor of performing in front of the visiting touring teams of NASCAR.
But the ultimate outcome of this year’s Invitational — two hours on track, eight cautions, at least ten cars sidelined by crash damage, and a race that still ended seven laps shy of halfway — overshadowed the quality of the competition on the track. Earlier in the week, NHMS announced a NASCAR-sanctioned tripleheader for September 2018 to replace the departing Cup and Truck Series races. The tripleheader leaves little room on the schedule for a fourth race that weekend, lending to concerns that the ninth ACT Invitational may have been the last.
If this was indeed the last ACT Invitational, it seems fitting for the final impression of the race to be Woody Pitkat’s double tribute: a victory lap to commemorate a fallen leader, and a victory-lane salute to a fallen friend and hero.
With only one points race remaining on the schedule, ACT competitors will turn their attention this weekend to Vermont’s Thunder Road International Speedbowl and the 55th Vermont Milk Bowl. The non-points three-segment race promises its winner $10,000 and a kiss from a cow. The ACT Tour season concludes on October 14th with the season finale at Thompson Speedway in Connecticut.