When Jimmy Hebert rolled into victory lane in Sunday’s Northeast Classic at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, the defending American-Canadian Tour Late Model champion thought he was celebrating yet another second-place finish at the “Magic Mile.”
But in fairness to Hebert, so did everyone else.
A post-race violation found on DJ Shaw’s car handed the win to Hebert, who opened his championship defense in style with his eighth career ACT Tour victory.
Hebert had been the bridesmaid in his last three NHMS starts, finishing second to Wayne Helliwell, Jr. in last fall’s Full Throttle 75 at the big track. In 2017, Hebert was running second to Woody Pitkat in the final ACT Invitational when the race was called well short of halfway due to darkness. And in 2016, Hebert had led 44 of 50 laps in the Invitational but lost in the closing laps to Eddie MacDonald.
Sunday afternoon, the driver from Williamstown, Vt. had another fast mount, but Shaw’s car was faster. Shaw, known best for his exploits with the Pro All Stars Series, ran the full ACT Tour schedule in 2020 for the first time, finishing second in points to Hebert without scoring a win.
In a brand-new car owned by Arnie Hill, Shaw blistered the field, taking the lead in the early laps and never looking back. A competition caution gave Hebert and Tom Carey III a brief reprieve, but Shaw powered ahead on the restart, looking to be in control for the second half of the race.
Jimmy Renfrew, Jr.’s crash in turn two with eleven laps remaining tightened up the field, and Hebert was able to get ahead of Shaw. A final caution with seven laps to go gave Hebert lane choice for the restart, and he was able to keep Shaw in the mirror for a few laps. But the veteran racer and car builder stalked Hebert waiting for him to slip, making the pass for the lead with three laps left on the scoreboard.
Shaw, who planned to chase the Tour title again with the Hill team while running his own equipment in PASS, appeared to have secured his first ACT Tour win and the first for car owner Hill.
But in post-race inspection, a carburetor infraction was discovered. Shaw and team were stripped of the win.
Hebert, who finished second, inherited the victory, becoming only the third driver to win a points-paying race on the mile-long oval. Eight-time ACT Tour champion Brian Hoar won the only other points race at NHMS in 2011; Hebert, preparing for his rookie campaign, failed to make the show.
Tom Carey III, who praised the performance of the three Dale Shaw Race Cars chassis in victory lane, was credited with second. Carey, who won last week’s Late Model feature at the Thompson (Conn.) Speedway Icebreaker, ended last year on a strong note with top-four finishes at NHMS and Oxford Plains Speedway in his first full season on the Tour.
Ben Rowe, who like Shaw had run the PASS Super Late Model feature earlier in the afternoon, was third, with Mark Jenison and Vermont’s Derek Ming rounding out the top five.
Stephen Donahue was scored sixth after the race, with Trent Goodrow seventh. Star Speedway regulars Erick Sands and Robby Gordon Douglas were eighth and ninth. Dylan Payea, whose stalled car brought out the final caution, drove back to a tenth-place finish.
Sunday’s race was the final race for ACT on American Racer tires. Starting with the next event on the schedule, the Tour will move to Hoosiers. The Tour had run American Racers since Goodyear’s departure from short track competition.
Hebert was one of the title hopefuls who did not make the trip to North Carolina for the Tour’s PASS double-feature two weeks ago. Interestingly, Wayne Helliwell, Jr., who won both ACT features at Hickory Motor Speedway and was the defending winner at NHMS, was not in attendance Sunday.
Hebert, who has traditionally run Chevrolets in ACT competition, also earned his first win at the wheel of a Ford. Hebert was one of several drivers to switch to the Blue Oval for 2021, including Shaw, Derek Gluchacki, and Jesse Switser.
Shaw’s disqualification leaves him on the outside looking in in a championship battle where one bad race can be too much to overcome. Scott Payea managed a top-four points effort in 2019 despite failing to qualify for a race, but Shaw will start this title battle from the absolute bottom. And for Shaw, a mere top-five season effort is not part of the plan.
The ACT’s next race is in two weeks at Vermont’s Thunder Road International Speedbowl, with the Community Bank, N.A. 150 on Sunday, May 2.
Official Results, ACT Northeast Classic 50 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway:
1. (58VT) Jimmy Hebert
2. (5MA) Tom Carey III
3. (4ME) Ben Rowe
4. (22RI) Mark Jenison
5. (45VT) Derek Ming
6. (2VT) Stephen Donahue
7. (31MA) Trent Goodrow
8. (36NH) Erick Sands
9. (27NC) Robby Gordon Douglas
10. (7NH) Dylan Payea
11. (25NH) Jesse Switser
12. (50RI) Mike Benevides
13. (41VT) Jamie Aube
14. (71CT) Michael Lindquist
15. (15NY) Gerard Giordano, Jr.
16. (49NH) Matt Anderson
17. (03MA) Derek Gluchacki
18. (65NH) Tom Sheehan
19. (04NH) Shawn Swallow
20. (00NH) Jimmy Renfrew, Jr.
21. (70VT) Kevin Vaudrien
22. (72MA) Ryan Kuhn
23. (91CT) Woody Pitkat
24. (4NH) Jamie Swallow, Jr.
25. (04VT) DJ Shaw (DQ)