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Payea Returns To Winning Form At Lee, Weekly SLM Stars Shine: Northeast Late Model Update

Each week, Short Track Scene looks back at results and news from northern New England’s Late Model and Super Late Model competition, from the region’s premier tours — the American-Canadian Tour, the Granite State Pro Stock Series, and the Pro All Stars Series — to the tracks and drivers that support them. Thanks to the local journalists and fans who report in from the track each week to keep their fellow fans informed.

ACT TOUR: PAYEA RETURNS TO LAST YEAR’S FORM WITH LEE WIN

Wasting no time after the season opener at Thunder Road, the American-Canadian Tour Late Models hit the road for their second date of the season, the rescheduled Governor’s Cup 150 at Lee (NH) USA Speedway. The unusual Saturday date was the opening race for Lee under the ownership of Norm Wrenn, who acquired the track from the retiring MacDonald family earlier in the year.

The event originally tabbed as the Tour’s season opener had been delayed twice already from its April date. With two postponements already on hand, race officials likely had fits when more rain was anticipated for Saturday afternoon. Faced with the prospect of running the race on Mother’s Day, a day typically verboten for stock-car racing, the Wrenns indicated they would take every measure to get the race in on Saturday, pushing the event’s post time from early afternoon to later in the afternoon to early evening.

Afternoon showers arrived as scheduled, but the track was dried and brief practices were scheduled with a further revised post time of 7:00pm, allowing Lee’s opening day to go on almost as scheduled.

There were a few surprises among the twenty-five ACT Late Models in the pit area. Season opener winner Jason Corliss, as hinted at in the ACT’s mid-week press release, was a no-show. Former Tour regular Ray Parent, fellow Thompson (CT) Speedway racers Brian Tagg and Walter Sutcliffe, and Seekonk (MA) Speedway regular T.J. Moreshead were on hand for one of the closer Tour races to their regular haunts. Mike Ziter, in a Ford prepared by Joey Polewarczyk, Jr., was ready for his first start of the season. Larue Motorsports was one of two teams to make the trip from Quebec. With longtime driver Alex Labbe graduating to NASCAR’s Xfinity Series, the #48QC was driven by Pier-Luc Ouellette.

Ray Parent, Adam Gray and Scott Payea picked up heat wins to start the evening, though strong charges by Eddie MacDonald and Corey Mason elevated them to the front row through the plus-minus system. T.J. Moreshead won the consi to seed the rest of the field. Mike Ziter had a strong run going in his heat, but a late spin in a bid for the lead left him mired at the rear of the field for the start.

For Eddie MacDonald, a front-row berth is almost an unfair advantage at Lee USA Speedway. “The Outlaw,” a native of Rowley, MA, cut his teeth racing at the oval his parents Red and Judy owned before making the leap to NASCAR’s Busch North Series. The cheers he gets at his home track are deafening, so much so that another driver once directed a “Wayne’s World”-inspired “we’re not worthy” bow at MacDonald during driver introductions. But for all the advantage of birthright, despite never finishing worse than eighth in the Governor’s Cup 150, Eddie Mac only has one Governor’s Cup trophy to brag on.

In the opening laps, it seemed that MacDonald was well on his way to a second. Corey Mason gave MacDonald a brief challenge on restarts, but within a few laps MacDonald had pulled out to an advantage. Behind them, Scott Payea and Miles Chipman were engaged in a spirited battle for third. Deeper in the pack, Jimmy Hebert, from sixteenth, worked his way through traffic, looking for his first win since 2013. Mason began to fade with about fifty laps complete, and Payea moved to second with Rich Dubeau, Hebert and Chipman in tow.

A grinding crash on lap 70 eliminated C.J. McLaughlin, Peyton Lanphear, and Christopher Pelkey, whose wrecked #41VT was towed to the pits. On the restart, Jimmy Hebert dropped back off turn two, stacking up the field and drawing a yellow as Mike Ziter was turned around back in the pack. Hebert dove for the pits, complaining of suspension trouble in the front end.

For the rest of the race, it was MacDonald versus Payea, with Miles Chipman and Rich Dubeau waiting in case either of the veterans slipped up. MacDonald held the advantage, with Payea drawing close on restarts. But with two thirds of the race complete, MacDonald’s advantage started to wane. Using the high line and a lap-106 restart, Payea worked his way into the lead with 42 laps remaining.

It was green to the finish, but Payea’s competition was seeing red as not even MacDonald could mount a charge against the red Dodge up front. Lapped traffic in the final few laps allowed Eddie Mac to get door-to-door with Payea, but the same traffic that erased Payea’s lead blocked a line past the leader. At the checkered flag, it was Scott Payea beating Eddie MacDonald for the first win of his title defense and his fourteenth career ACT Late Model Tour victory.

Miles Chipman, who ran in the top five all night in the Sullivan Motorsports #0NH, finished third for his first ACT podium finish in several years. Rich Dubeau finished fourth in the black #30NH. And after a fierce battle with Pier-Luc Ouellette in the final laps, Jimmy Hebert overcame his mid-race suspension troubles to fight back for a top-five finish.

Ouellette, in his first Tour start since 2010, finished sixth. Corey Mason held on for seventh over Thunder Road star Matt White. Ray Parent finished ninth with Bryan Mason rounding out the top ten.

Fourteen cars finished on the lead lap, and all but three of the starters were running at the finish. Heat winner Adam Gray was spun early and could only work his way back to twelfth at the end. Septuagenarian Claude Leclerc, who finished second in the first Governor’s Cup back in 1987, ran in the top ten mid-race before finishing thirteenth. Mike Ziter finished a lap back in seventeenth in his debut with Joey Pole turning the wrenches. Dylan Payea, cousin of race winner Scott, was fast in practice but finished two laps down in eighteenth. Consi winner T.J. Moreshead finished one spot back in nineteenth.

After failing to make the field at Thunder Road, sisters Peyton and Reilly Lanphear made their Tour debuts on Saturday night. Younger sister Peyton was eliminated in the midrace pileup in turns three and four. Big sister Reilly soldiered on to finish eight laps behind, her finishing position (21st) matching her car number. Lee is a challenging track for a touring debut; as the two sisters gain experience, expectations will surely rise accordingly.

With two races complete, the championship picture already has a distinct form. Early favorites Scott Payea and Eddie MacDonald sit atop the standings, with Jimmy Hebert one point back in third. Behind them are a sea of new faces and question marks. Matt White sits fourth in the standings, with Miles Chipman fifth and Rich Dubeau sixth. Corey Mason and Bryan Mason, both expected to run the full schedule, are seventh and eighth, ahead of rookie Dylan Payea and veteran Claude Leclerc. Only one other driver, Christopher Pelkey, has run both races so far (though others have attempted both events).

Of those who have attempted every race in 2018, only Scott Payea and MacDonald have recorded wins since 2013. Hebert and Chipman are the only other drivers in the top ten to have recorded a Tour win at all.

Meanwhile, five drivers who were in the top ten in last year’s points have yet to make a Tour start this year. Dillon Moltz and Kyle Welch are focusing on Super Late Models. Josh Masterson’s car was up for sale at season’s end with no updates on his plans. J.R. Robinson was expected to run the Tour schedule again in 2018 but has been absent. Mark Hudson, who made every start in 2017 despite poor results, has yet to surface this year.

Factor in stars like Jason Corliss (and former Tour winners like Bobby Therrien) who have opted to race weekly, along with the recent retirements, graduations and alternate plans of many Tour regulars, and it makes for significant driver turnover in the last few years. In a touring series desperate for established stars, this is certainly a cause for concern.

This is also a tremendous opportunity for the Tour’s rising stars to fill the void. But much as in NASCAR’s top ranks, the rising stars need to win to gain clout. And in fairness, teams can’t be faulted for struggling to beat the best. Eddie MacDonald is a threat to win whenever he races, and the Rick Paya entry is an instant favorite no matter who sits behind the wheel. Legitimate opportunities for a first-time winner have been few and far between.

The ACT Tour wraps up a three-week stretch of consecutive races by heading to Oxford Plains Speedway this weekend. After bypassing the legendary venue in 2017, the Tour will make its first of two 2018 visits with a Sunday-afternoon doubleheader with the PASS North Super Late Models.

WEEKLY RACING: RODGERS, DRAKE TOPS IN SLMS, WMMP OPENS WITH WELCH WIN

Corey Bubar went from the penthouse to the outhouse in one week at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway. After winning the first Pro Series feature of the season, Bubar finished dead last in last Saturday night’s feature. Bill Rodgers won the race over Dalton Gagnon and PASS veteran Trevor Sanborn. Brandon Barker and Dan McKeage were fourth and fifth, with 2015 PASS champion Mike Rowe finishing sixth. Curtis Gerry was eighth in the final rundown, ahead of track title hopefuls Dave Farrington, Jr. (eleventh) and Wayne Helliwell, Jr. (twelfth). After two weeks of weekly racing, Dan McKeage leads the track standings over Barker and Rodgers, with favorite Curtis Gerry sitting fourth in points.

Justin Drake bested the Oxford Plains Speedway Super Late Model field Saturday night, winning his first feature event of 2018 and the third of his career. Drake beat Scott Robbins and visiting PASS regular Derek Griffith for the win. TJ Brackett finished fourth in the feature; defending track champion Alan Tardiff was tenth. Two young rookies scored top-ten finishes; Legends star Austin Teras finished sixth while Gabe Brown came home ninth. TJ Brackett currently leads the weekly standings over Brown, Andy Saunders, and Tardiff.

White Mountain Motorsports Park kicked off its weekly racing schedule Saturday night. The North Woodstock, NH quarter-mile features ACT-rules Late Models as its top class. Opening-week victory spoils went to multi-time track champion and occasional ACT Tour racer Quinny Welch, who battled Stephen Donahue for the win. With seven laps remaining, Stacy Cahoon made contact with Donahue racing for second, and Welch went unchallenged on the restart en route to victory. Jerry Lesage, Scott Corey, Paul Newcomb and Oren Remick rounded out the top five.

Former ACT Tour regular J.R. Robinson was in action in Wiscasset (ME) Speedway’s weekly Late Model Sportsman program. Robinson started deep in the field, but finished third in the 40-lap feature behind Andrew McLaughlin and Chris Thorne. The majority of the ACT Tour schedule is a long haul from Robinson’s shop in Steuben, Maine; weekly competition at Wiscasset will be friendlier on the budget.

NEXT ON THE SCHEDULE

The ACT Late Model Tour and PASS North Super Late Models are back in action Sunday afternoon with a doubleheader at Oxford Plains Speedway. The twin 150-lap features are the first of a few times in 2018 when the two tours will rub elbows at the same track. Weather appears to be a threatening factor once again, but track officials have pledged to get the show off on schedule for the 2:00pm post time.

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Jeff Brown is a contributor to Short Track Scene. Brown provides a fan's perspective as he follows New England's regional late-model touring series.

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