The American-Canadian Tour delivered a Thanksgiving surprise for restless race fans this Monday, unveiling the preliminary schedule for the 2021 ACT Late Model Tour season.
A diverse slate of twelve points races, a pair of non-points majors, and six events with $5,000 or more in store for the winner highlight the thirtieth season of the ACT’s signature touring program.
The announcement was an early holiday-season gift for New England fans, though circumstances beyond the sport’s control will dictate whether the gift turns out to be more of a wish list.
The ACT is New England’s longest-tenured Late Model sanctioning body, carrying on the tradition of founder Tom Curley’s involvement with the NASCAR North Tour in the early 1980s. The ACT Late Model Tour debuted in 1992 and succeeded ACT’s Pro Stocks after the 1995 season as the organization’s primary touring series. The ACT Late Model platform, with an eye to cost-conscious competition, is used not only by the Tour but as a weekly ruleset at short tracks throughout New England.
Last year’s ACT Tour season was delayed until early June due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but ACT managing partner Cris Michaud was able to salvage the second half of the year, cobbling together a nine-race points run shared between five tracks throughout New England.
Nine different tracks will welcome the ACT Late Models in 2021. Thunder Road International Speedbowl, the ACT’s home track in Barre, Vt., and White Mountain Motorsports Park in North Woodstock, N.H. are the only tracks slated to host multiple points races in 2021. Both tracks are owned by Michaud and ACT partner Pat Malone.
Thunder Road will host its two signature Tour events, the mid-May Community Bank N.A. 150 and September’s Labor Day Classic 200. WMMP will stage the richest race on the points schedule, July’s $10,000-to-win Midsummer Classic. The high-banked oval is also the site of two iconic regional events, hosting the 46th running of the Spring Green in June and the return of the Fall Foliage 200 in late September. The Spring Green has run at WMMP the last two years; the last Fall Foliage 200 was held at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in 2016.
The other seven speedways are a mix of established Tour staples and returning venues looking to add to their own history with the Tour.
New Hampshire Motor Speedway will again look to host the ACT Tour season opener with the inaugural Northeast Classic on April 17. The Classic, a doubleheader with the Pro All Stars Series Super Late Models, was planned as last year’s opener, but the event was rescheduled and ultimately postponed to 2021 as a result of the pandemic. The race will be the Tour’s third-ever points race at the “Magic Mile,” though the track hosted the ACT Invitational all-star event from 2009 through 2017.
Lee USA Speedway will host the second race of the season, returning to the Tour schedule for the first time since 2018’s rain-delayed Governor’s Cup 150. The New Hampshire oval was the scheduled site of the season opener dating back to 2011, though late-winter weather often nudged the event further down the itinerary.
Two other New Hampshire tracks will return to the Tour schedule for the first time in several years. Hudson Speedway will welcome the Tour in June for its second visit ever and its first since 2001. July’s Independence Day 150 will be the third-ever visit to Monadnock Speedway, and the first to the Winchester, N.H. quarter-mile since 2003.
Oxford Plains Speedway will revert to a single event in 2021 after hosting three ACT Tour appearances last year, including the season finale. The legendary Maine speedplant will welcome the ACT Late Models in August for the traditional Saturday-evening program leading into the Oxford 250.
The other two tracks on the 2021 schedule were slated for 2020 events that were canceled due to the pandemic. Autodrome Chaudière in Quebec, a longtime partner of the American-Canadian Tour and its north-of-the-border touring associates, is back on the schedule with the second running of the Claude Leclerc 150, honoring the septuagenarian “Iron Man” of the ACT schedule. The inaugural Claude Leclerc 150 in 2019 marked the return of the ACT Tour to Canada for a points race for the first time since 2015. Canadian border closures kept Leclerc and his fellow Quebecers from racing with the Tour in 2020.
And Seekonk Speedway is scheduled for the ACT Tour season finale, a late-October tripleheader with the PASS Super Late Models and Tri-Track Open Modified Series. Seekonk was stymied by Massachusetts’ travel bans and strict limitations on fan attendance at sporting events; the track’s weekly program and all special events were shelved for the season.
Two additional events on the schedule include the Bacon Bowl 200 at Autodrome Chaudière in early August and October’s 59th running of the Vermont Milk Bowl at Thunder Road. While neither pays points toward the championship, $10,000 top prizes await the winning drivers in two thrilling battles pitting local stars against the touring visitors.
In addition, the NHMS Northeast Classic, the Claude Leclerc 150 and the Fall Foliage 200 each promise a generous $5,000 to the winners, leaving plenty of money on the line for the Tour faithful.
The twelve-race ACT Tour romp also hints at the foundations of this year’s PASS North schedule, with six race weekends scheduled in conjunction with the Maine-based Super Late Model tour. The Northeast Classic, the visits to Lee, Hudson and Monadnock, August’s trip to Oxford and the Seekonk season finale will all be run in conjunction with PASS.
One track missing from the new schedule is Riverside Speedway. The Groveton, N.H. oval, formerly owned by ACT veteran Joey Laquerre, has hosted the Tour on-and-off since 2001 and held one rain-rescheduled Tour event there in 2020. Star Speedway in Epping, N.H. is also absent; Star’s planned ACT/PASS doubleheader in June was canceled in the wake of the pandemic.
Thompson Speedway is another track that managed to miss the cut. With Michaud and PASS’ Tom Mayberry promoting the Connecticut track in 2021, a return visit to the fast oval seemed probable. With the ACT calendar vacant on Thompson’s World Series weekend, a late addition remains a remote possibility.
As drafted, the 2021 ACT Late Model Tour schedule is the most ambitious Tour itinerary since 2016’s 13-race schedule. The Tour has favored a ten-race target for the last several years, offering drivers a balance between touring events and their home tracks’ weekly championships. As more drivers have favored one approach over the other rather than balancing the two, an increased touring presence makes sense, especially later in the year as track championships wrap up in mid-September.
The real wildcard facing next year’s schedule, though, remains the COVID-19 pandemic, an X-factor well out of the control of the Tour or its tracks. An excess of caution in the early phases of the pandemic forced tracks to close and resulted in a delayed start to the 2020 season. As the pandemic pressed on, varying state and provincial responses to public health recommendations allowed some tracks to re-open, while others remained shuttered for the year.
While definitive answers are hard to come by, the protective and preventive measures put in place by regional tracks through the end of last season suggest that a similar approach should make regional racing manageable next year. However, racing is likely to be subject to the same mitigation strategies as other entertainment, which could result in postponements or cancellations as the season advances. The success of a broader mitigation tool, like a vaccine, could hasten a return to normalcy.
To that end, the cross-border events at Chaudière and the early-season races seem like the most at-risk dates. How many of those could be rescheduled for open weekends later in the year remains to be seen. With any luck, none will have to be moved at all.
For now, the first fourteen fendered races of the 2021 season are on the schedule.
And fans can start marking their calendars, if only in pencil.
2021 American-Canadian Tour Late Model Tour Schedule (current as of 11/28/2020):
Sat | Apr 17 | New Hampshire Motor Speedway | Loudon, NH
Sun | May 2 | Lee USA Speedway | Lee, NH
Sun | May 16 | Thunder Road International Speedbowl | Barre, VT
Sat | June 12 | White Mountain Motorsports Park | North Woodstock, NH
Sat | June 20 | Hudson Speedway | Hudson, NH
Sun | July 4 | Monadnock Speedway | Winchester, NH
Sat | July 24 | Autodrome Chaudière | Vallée-Jonction, QC
Sat | July 31 | White Mountain Motorsports Park | North Woodstock, NH
Sat | Aug 7 * | Autodrome Chaudière | Vallée-Jonction, QC
Sat | Aug 28 | Oxford Plains Speedway | Oxford, ME
Sun | Sept 5 | Thunder Road International Speedbowl | Barre, VT
Sat | Sept 25 | White Mountain Motorsports Park | North Woodstock, NH
Sun | Oct 3 * | Thunder Road International Speedbowl | Barre, VT
Sat | Oct 23 | Seekonk Speedway | Seekonk, MA
* Non-points event