If Wayne Helliwell, Jr. has any plans of bringing momentum home from North Carolina, the rest of the American-Canadian Tour field could be in for a long season.
Helliwell delivered another dominating performance in Saturday night’s Easter Bunny 125, leading the final 81 circuits to complete a clean sweep of the ACT Late Model Tour’s first-ever visit to Hickory Motor Speedway.
“To get two wins is unbelievable,” Helliwell told ACT announcer Aaron Maynard in victory lane. “I was hoping to come down here and, you know, pull off some top-threes, but this thing tonight was just absolutely dominant. I’ve never had a car that good.”
Helliwell led more laps in Friday night’s Hickory 125, but did so from the pole position. Friday’s win ensured that the Dover, N.H. veteran could start no better than tenth Saturday. A heat win ensured that tenth starting position. But with Friday’s runner-up, Mike Hopkins, rolling off in first, Helliwell would have a tough battle ahead.
Hopkins was fast, swapping the top spot with Tyler Cahoon before giving up the lead to Tom Carey III on lap 26. Eight laps later, Helliwell slipped past Hopkins for second and set his sights on the former Thompson Speedway regular at the point.
Lapped traffic in Carey’s path gave Helliwell the opening he needed to sneak past the Massachusetts racer and into the top spot, a position he would never relinquish.
Carey held tough in second, until a flat tire sent him out of control from second place on lap 72. A timely caution kept Carey from losing a lap to make the change, but he would have to battle back from the tail of the pack. Hopkins moved back to second, but cooperative lapped traffic kept Helliwell from being held up as he caught the field.
A spin for Jamie Swallow, Jr. while running sixth brought out the final caution flag of the night on lap 104, tightening the pack up front. Helliwell broke away, while Ben Rowe made a move on Hopkins for second. Over the final sprint, Hopkins found himself fending off aggressive charges from Jimmy Renfrew, Jr. and a resurgent Carey, both of whom resorted to some physicality in the closing circuits.
But out front, Rowe had nothing for Helliwell, who cruised to his third straight win in his last three ACT Tour appearances.
Jimmy Renfrew, Jr., who had bowed out of Friday’s race before spending well into the morning making adjustments to their car in a hotel parking lot, finished third with a frustrated Tom Carey III clawing his way back to fourth. Hopkins finished fifth, his worst result of the doubleheader weekend.
Marcel J. Gravel drove a patient race to finish sixth, with Stephen Donahue seventh for a second time. Friday fifth-place finisher Chip Grenier was eighth at the line, with Trent Goodrow ninth and Jamie Swallow, Jr. hanging on for tenth. Twenty-seven cars took the green flag, with Peyton Lanphear withdrawing her car after heats.
With Derek Griffith winning Friday’s and Saturday’s Pro All Stars Series Easter Bunny 150s, Helliwell completed a clean sweep for New Hampshire drivers in the unique road trip to start the PASS and ACT seasons. PASS has a sixteen-year history invested in the Easter Bunny 150, but 2021 marks ACT’s first time as a part of the long-tenured event.
The ACT Late Model Tour schedule resumes in two weeks with the first points-paying event of the season, the inaugural Northeast Classic at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The Classic was originally scheduled for last April, but was postponed a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. ACT still ran one event last year at NHMS, September’s Full Throttle 75, a race won by Helliwell.
Helliwell, who has not raced full-time since 2016, may not be a threat for the season championship.
But at Loudon, Helliwell and his Bruce Bernhardt-led team are sure to have momentum on their side. And that may apply just about anywhere.
Unofficial Results, ACT Tour Easter Bunny 125 at Hickory Motor Speedway:
1. (27NH) Wayne Helliwell, Jr.
2. (4ME) Ben Rowe
3. (00NH) Jimmy Renfrew, Jr.
4. (5MA) Tom Carey III
5. (15ME) Mike Hopkins
6. (86VT) Marcel J. Gravel
7. (31VT) Stephen Donahue
8. (9VT) Chip Grenier
9. (31MA) Trent Goodrow
10. (4NH) Jamie Swallow, Jr.
11. (15VT) Joey Laquerre
12. (32NH) Jeff Marshall
13. (68VT) Brooks Clark
14. (38VT) Tyler Cahoon
15. (8VT) Andy Hill
16. (10ME) Jesse Switser
17. (45NC) Reilly Lanphear
18. (90NH) Floyd Bennett, Jr.
19. (39VT) Mike Foster
20. (3NH) Mike Kenison
21. (78NH) Quinny Welch
22. (5VT) Bobby Therrien
23. (03MA) Derek Gluchacki
24. (04NH) Shawn Swallow
25. (29NH) Aaron Fellows
26. (40RI) Mike Mitchell
27. (8NH) Ryan Bell
DNS (22VT) Peyton Lanphear