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Experience Pays Dividends as Helliwell Claims ACT NHMS Return

Wayne Helliwell, Jr. celebrates his second win at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and his second ACT Tour win of 2020 in Saturday's Full Throttle 75. (Tom Morris photo)

The American-Canadian Tour Late Models had not raced at New Hampshire Motor Speedway since 2017. Wayne Helliwell, Jr. had not raced at the “Magic Mile” since 2015.

But it didn’t take long for the two to find a rhythm again.

Helliwell, a three-time ACT Tour champion, took control after a mid-race break and earned his second ACT Tour win of the year in Saturday afternoon’s Full Throttle 75, the second points-paying ACT Tour event at NHMS in series history.

 

Wayne Helliwell, Jr. was alone on the big track for much of the afternoon, gapping the field by half a straightaway on long runs. (Tom Morris photo)

The series veteran from Dover, N.H. was strong all day, but it was the second half of the race where he put his expertise on display, gapping the field by as much as half a straightaway and leaving his competition to battle for second.

“I’ve never had a car here that can turn and get on the throttle so soon,” Helliwell said from victory lane, praising the work of the Bruce Bernhardt-led team that has prepared Helliwell’s cars since 2008.

At the same time, Helliwell was acutely aware that muscle alone from his orange-and-black Ford might not be enough to secure his fourteenth points-paying Tour win.

“You’d like to think that,” Helliwell said, “but anything can happen.”

Indeed, Helliwell’s lead was erased with six laps remaining, when second-place Dillon Moltz lost a tire and spun between turns three and four to bring out the caution flag. Bryan Kruczek assumed the runner-up spot and gave Helliwell a scare on the restart, but it only took a lap for Helliwell to re-assert his dominance and drive away from the field.

 

Tom Carey III (#5MA) prevailed in a four-wide race to fourth-place, nipping DJ Shaw by a few feet. (Jeff Brown photo)

Points leader Jimmy Hebert slipped past Kruczek for second, while Kruczek nursed his own failing tire to a third-place finish. Behind Kruczek, the field fanned out for a four-wide battle with Tom Carey III nipping DJ Shaw for fourth. Woody Pitkat, whose team was forced to make repairs after a heat race incident, was sixth, while Moltz drove back to seventh in the final sprint.

The Full Throttle 75 marked the return of the American-Canadian Tour to New Hampshire Motor Speedway’s fall lineup for the first time since 2017. The Tour debuted at NHMS in 2009 with the non-points ACT Invitational, part of a NASCAR-backed tripleheader in support of the track’s fall Cup Series weekend. When NHMS’ fall Cup date was realigned, the track announced the Full Throttle Fall Weekend for 2018 and beyond, with the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour anchoring a regional touring tripleheader format. With NASCAR’s divisions filling all three legs of the tripleheader, there was no more room for the ACT Tour.

Nevertheless, after two years away, the ACT cars were slated to return to NHMS for two dates in 2020, with the Vermont-based organization opening the season alongside the Pro All Stars Series in the inaugural Northeast Classic, then joining the Full Throttle Fall Weekend in replacement of the NASCAR Pinty’s Series. But the Classic was rescheduled quickly in the early phases of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, then postponed to 2021 when race tracks were further delayed from opening.

That made Saturday’s race the first ACT-sanctioned event at NHMS since the ninth and final ACT Invitational in 2017, a calamitous affair that was called official seven laps short of halfway due to darkness. Woody Pitkat was awarded the win.

Saturday’s race was also the first points race at NHMS since 2011, when ACT and the Whelen Modified Tour ran as support events for the visiting IZOD IndyCar Series. That Tour race was run in two segments scored similarly to the annual Vermont Milk Bowl, with now-retired multi-time series champion Brian Hoar taking the overall win.

Besides Pitkat, Helliwell was the only other driver in the field with prior victories at Loudon, with his win in the 2014 Invitational, a race also halted due to darkness.

Hebert and Kruczek earned heat wins on Friday, with Ryan Kuhn awarded the pole through the ACT plus-minus system and the customary winner’s handicaps. However, Kuhn was among a few drivers who failed Saturday’s pre-race technical inspection, moving rookie Derek Gluchacki to first on the grid.

Hebert’s second-place finish, his third in the last three ACT events at NHMS, will keep the Williamstown, Vt. driver atop the standings by a healthy margin heading into the season’s final race at Oxford Plains Speedway. While he has not clinched the title, it will take a Herculean effort for DJ Shaw, Ryan Kuhn or Bryan Kruczek to unseat Hebert atop the standings.

In only three Tour starts this year, Helliwell has two wins and a runner-up finish, a testament to the strength of the Helliwell-Bernhardt tandem. Since first teaming up, the pair has won multiple weekly and touring championships, the 2016 Oxford 250, the 2019 ACT Midsummer 250, and plenty of Late Model and Super Late Model races along the way. The team builds their own chassis, running Fords as a tribute to Bernhardt’s days working for legendary short-tracker “Dynamite” Dave Dion. Since 2016, the team has run a flexible schedule, with Helliwell’s battle with multiple sclerosis often dictating when he can race.

But despite the challenges, Helliwell and Bernhardt keep winning.

Unofficial Results, ACT Full Throttle 75 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway:
1. (27NH) Wayne Helliwell, Jr.
2. (58VT) Jimmy Hebert
3. (19NH) Bryan Kruczek
4. (5MA) Tom Carey III
5. (04VT) DJ Shaw
6. (07MA) Woody Pitkat
7. (5ME) Dillon Moltz
8. (72MA) Ryan Kuhn
9. (7NH) Dylan Payea
10. (25NH) Jesse Switser
11. (5VT) Bobby Therrien
12. (86VT) Marcel J. Gravel
13. (41VT) Jamie Aube
14. (50RI) Mike Benevides
15. (49NH) Matt Anderson
16. (03MA) Derek Gluchacki
17. (15NY) Gerald Giordano, Jr.
18. (22RI) Mark Jenison
19. (71CT) Michael Lindquist
20. (21VT) Jimmy Linardy
21. (4ME) Ben Rowe
22. (64VT) Christopher Pelkey
23. (2VT) Stephen Donahue
24. (65NH) Tom Sheehan
25. (6MA) Nick Johnson

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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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