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New England Notebook: Joey Pole wins ACT return to Star

Joey Polewarczyk, Jr. (97NH) makes the winning move on Rich Dubeau in the American-Canadian Tour Dream Ride 150 at Star Speedway. The win moved "Joey Pole" into second place in all-time Tour victories. (Jeff Brown photo)

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: POLE COMES FROM OUTSIDE POLE TO WIN 20TH ACT TOUR RACE

The sixth race of the American-Canadian Tour schedule was a kickoff in many ways. First, it was the kickoff of the second half of the ten-race championship schedule. Second, it kicked off a month-long break for the teams, with the Tour schedule thinning out through the summer months. And all this came in the final race of the aptly-named Summer Kickoff Series, the third of three $5,000-to-win events.

And to wrap up the Summer Kickoff Series, the Tour returned to Star Speedway in Epping, N.H., a track the Tour had raced at only sporadically since the early 2000s. After a July 2003 event won by Todd Stone, the track disappeared from the ACT schedule until 2013. That evening, Joey Polewarczyk, Jr. and Wayne Helliwell, Jr., two local stars and dominant Tour rivals at the time, battled door-to-door until “Joey Pole” began to pull away for the win.

The Tour had not raced at Star since, with the Pro All Stars Series and Granite State Pro Stock Series making regular trips to the tight quarter-mile each year. However, in 2018, track owner Bobby Webber, Jr. reintroduced Late Models to Star’s weekly racing program, using the ACT rule book to sanction the class. A few rule changes at season’s end made the weekly cars officially ACT-compliant, opening the door for a Tour return in 2019.

Polewarczyk and Helliwell were both available for a rematch of their battle from six years ago. Pole, the winner of March’s non-points Commonwealth Classic in Virginia, had dabbled in driver development on the Tour but was back to wheeling his own ACT cars on a limited basis. Helliwell had returned to ACT competition after a few years of racing Super Late Models, but illness and on-track misfortune had forced the three-time Tour champ to adjust his racing schedule.

But aside from Polewarczyk and Helliwell, Tour points leader Jimmy Hebert was the only other driver in the pits who had taken the green flag six years ago. Defending two-time champion Scott Payea had never turned a lap at Star, a case that was likely familiar to many of the twenty-three racers on hand. One racer who had plenty of Star experience was Bryan Kruczek, driving Bobby Webber’s #19NH entry for his fourth start of the year. Star weekly racers Tom Mackey, Michael Toner, Jr., Randy Cole, Jr., and Erick Sands joined Kruczek in hopes of turning their regular experience into a surprise victory. Michael Wray towed from Connecticut for the event. Stephen Donahue, who had started all five races in 2018, was a no-show at Star, dropping him from the full-time pool.

Rookie Ryan Kuhn and sophomore Christopher Pelkey scored two heat wins, while Scott Payea showed that his lack of Star experience mattered little with a win in the third heat. Joey Polewarczyk won the consi. The plus-minus scores following the consi placed Wayne Helliwell on the pole with Joey Pole outside. If fans wanted a rematch of the 2013 Star showdown, the fates were certainly conspiring to set the stage. One element of concern had popped up, though; Joey Pole’s team had been fighting a skip in the motor all evening. Even though Pole’s car had shown speed, it was unknown if he had enough power to go the distance.

In the opening laps, Helliwell jumped to an early lead while Pole slipped to third behind Rich Dubeau. The last few years had not been easy for the former Tour frontrunner. Helliwell and car owner Bruce Bernhardt, amid a merely-average 2016, stepped back from the Tour and threw their focus into a Super Late Model. The move paid off with a win in that August’s Oxford 250. But the 250 would be his last race of the season. Helliwell, who had battled multiple sclerosis for years, suffered a flare-up after the 250 that put his racing on hold until the following year. After the 2018 season, when Helliwell tasted victory for the first time since the 2016 Oxford 250, he and the team elected to return to the ACT Tour for 2019, posting a runner-up finish in the Commonwealth Classic.

Since then, little had gone right for Helliwell’s team, with problems taking them out of contention at Oxford and WMMP, and illness ending the weekend early at Thunder Road. In recent weeks, Helliwell had run Star’s weekly Late Model features, winning twice and building a baseline for the car that was now leading the Dream Ride 150.

But the orange Ford became a pumpkin with thirty laps complete. As Rich Dubeau closed in, Helliwell drifted high down the backstretch, exiting the track for the pits in turn three. “Broken panhard bar” crackled over the team radio as the race leader called it a night.

Dubeau inherited the lead, and after a brief yellow flag two laps later, the recent first-time winner drove away from the field. A long stretch of green-flag racing allowed Dubeau to start working around the slower cars on the track, as he built an advantage in search of his second career win and his second win in three races.

Behind Dubeau, though, Joey Pole continued to run second, putting away the lapped cars as quickly as Dubeau could dispatch them. Despite the engine issues from practice, Pole closed the gap on Dubeau, catching him in traffic with sixty laps remaining. Pole worked around Dubeau to take the lead one lap later.

Earlier in the year, Pole found himself in a similar position to Helliwell; in May’s PASS race at Star, a drivetrain failure on a restart stacked up the field and ended the night early for Pole. Engine issues through the day had been a point of discussion, but as Pole lapped into the top ten, it appeared they had sorted themselves out. And while Dubeau wanted to give fans a race to remember, all he could do was watch Pole carve through lapped traffic only to face the same drivers a few laps later.

And all Dubeau could do was watch from a distance as Joey Polewarczyk, Jr. crossed the start-finish line on lap 150, earning the checkers for his first ACT Tour points win of 2019 and his first points-counting win in ACT competition since 2017. Polewarczyk’s victory was a milestone in multiple ways: it was his twentieth ACT-sanctioned win, and it broke a tie for second all-time with ACT veterans Patrick Laperle and Jean-Paul Cyr.

Dubeau was a distant second, with Ryan Kuhn finishing third. Jonathan Bouvrette in fourth passed more cars than anyone all night; after being involved in an early wreck that ended the night for fellow Quebecer Claude Leclerc, Bouvrette was sent to the tail of the field. A later spin sent him to the back again, forcing him to earn his top-five finish the hard way. Bryan Kruczek drove the Bobby Webber car home in fifth.

Rookie Trent Goodrow turned in a career-best effort with a sixth-place run, getting around Scott Payea in the closing laps. Payea held on for seventh, the last car on the lead lap. Star regular Erick Sands was eighth, with Jimmy Hebert and Mathieu Kingsbury rounding out the top ten.

Sophomore stars Dylan Payea and Christopher Pelkey were 11th and 12th, with Shawn Swallow 13th. Jason Larivee, Jr. was a career-best 14th after a rough night of his own. Mike Toner, Jr., who won his first feature at Star a few weeks before, was 15th. Nineteen of the starters finished the race, including Scott Coburn, who had to make repairs after the consi just to take the green flag.

In Victory Lane, Polewarczyk and team promised to donate $1,000 of their winnings to the Special Olympics. The Dream Ride program is a motorcycle rally and car show that raises funds for the Special Olympics, and prior to the race, a few other car owners promised donations to the organization if they took the victory.

Dubeau’s runner-up finish and Hebert’s ninth-place run moved Dubeau back to the top of the points standings, with the New Hampshire racer nursing a fourteen-point advantage. Scott Payea remains third, unable to gain any ground on the points lead. Ryan Kuhn is fourth, with Jonathan Bouvrette moving into a distant fifth with a one-point advantage over sixth-place Dylan Payea. Twelve drivers have made every attempt this season so far. With four races to go, and with Scott Payea’s consistent performances still yielding little return in the standings, a two-driver title race is shaping up.

That title race will be on hold for the next month, as the Tour returns to action in early August for the Midsummer 250. The event that was originally part of WMMP’s anniversary celebration last year is now a points race for the ACT Tour, with $10,000 up for grabs to the race winner.

PASS NORTH: OPEN 100 POSTPONED FOR RAIN

The Pro All Stars Series North schedule is in a brief holiday recess, but many PASS teams were planning on a visit to Oxford Plains Speedway for the Open 100 last weekend. The 100-lap event, open to teams winless on the PASS North circuit in the past five years, awards provisional berths for August’s Oxford 250.

However, the weekend rains that toyed with Saturday night’s features lingered on Sunday as well. PASS officials called off the race early in the day, rather than risk waiting for the inevitable.

The Open 100 will now run this Sunday, a day after Oxford’s weekly SLMs wage war for a 100-lap Saturday-night feature. Interestingly, PASS has opened the Open to former winners as well, with the top non-winners still eligible for provisionals.

LOCAL RACING: GERRY TAKES CHARGE, AVOIDS RAIN AT OXFORD

Curtis Gerry won his third weekly feature of the year at Oxford Plains Speedway to pad his lead in the Budweiser Championship Series standings. The only driver to win multiple features this year, Gerry took the lead late, with early contender Calvin Rose, Jr. finishing second. Scott Robbins, Shawn Martin and Ryan Deane rounded out the top five. Sixth-place finisher Austin Teras made his first start of the season. Brandon Barker (14th), Scott Chubbuck (16th) and Travis Benjamin (18th) were some of the non-regulars taking advantage of the weekly feature.

At Beech Ridge Motor Speedway, Corey Bubar took his second weekly feature of the year Saturday night over Trevor Sanborn, with Mike Rowe and Dave Farrington, Jr. on their heels. A quick turnaround brought the Pro Series entries back to Beech Ridge Tuesday for Fourth of July festivities. Bill Rodgers got around Dave Farrington, Jr. with about 15 laps left to score his third feature win of 2019, with Farrington holding off Nick Cusack for second. Two average nights for David Oliver allowed Farrington to take the track points lead, with Bubar holding third over Mike Rowe by a single point.

While Oxford and Beech Ridge narrowly dodged incoming weather, White Mountain Motorsports Park and Wiscasset Speedway were among those that were not so fortunate. Rain caught both tracks before their premier features were to take place, forcing yet another weather-induced rescheduling for 2019.

Tommy Adams became the first repeat winner in Seekonk Speedway’s Late Models in 2019, beating Vinnie Arrenegado and Gerry DeGasparre, Jr. to earn his second checkered flag of the year. In the Pro Stocks, Dylan Estrella came back from destroying a car a few weeks ago to winning the feature, with Fred Astle second and favorite David Darling third.

Thunder Road got another weekly feature off as scheduled this week, with the weekly Thursday racing program running on Independence Day. Late Model leaders Stephen Donahue and Christopher Pelkey made contact with five laps to go, handing the lead to Trampas Demers. Demers went on to win the night’s feature over Cody Blake and Marcel Gravel. Demers’ first win of the year also moved him to the points lead.

NEXT ON THE SCHEDULE

The Granite State Pro Stock Series raced Friday night under the lights at Lee USA Speedway. Full coverage will be included in next week’s Notebook.

Oxford Plains Speedway will run two 100-lap features in two days that will serve up provisional options to competitors racing in August’s Oxford 250. Saturday night’s feature is for Oxford’s weekly SLM combatants; Sunday’s feature is the rescheduled Open 100 for the touring drivers. A number of drivers are sure to cross over and run both features in hopes of securing a starting position in the $25,000-to-win event.

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Jeff Brown is a contributor to Short Track Scene. A native of New Hampshire and a long-time fan of New England racing, Brown provides a fan's perspective as he follows New England's regional Late Model touring series.

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