With the American-Canadian Tour championship battle behind him beginning to take shape, Jimmy Hebert was focused forward.
The ACT Tour points leader opened the second half of the season in the same way he started the first, taking a commanding victory in Sunday’s rain-delayed Oxford Plains 150 at Oxford Plains Speedway, a prelude to the evening’s 47th Annual Oxford 250.
With his second win of the season, Hebert stretched his advantage over his closest adversaries as they wage war to become the next ACT Late Model Tour champion.
Polesitter Marcel Gravel and Maine’s JR Robinson traded the early race lead before a different Jimmy, Jimmy Renfrew, Jr., took charge. The New Hampshire teen held the point until lap 53, when four-time Pro All Stars Series North champion Ben Rowe stormed to the front. Rowe, who debuted his new ACT Tour mount for longtime PASS car owner Richard Moody in August’s Midsummer Classic 250, was hunting for his first Tour win since 2006.
Robinson’s spin from third on lap 69 drew a caution that was nicely-timed for Hebert, who had steadily climbed from tenth to fifth in the first half of the race. On the restart, Hebert made a power move to Oxford’s outside groove, leapfrogging Renfrew and a stout Dylan Payea to take second. Hebert shadowed Rowe until the caution was thrown again on lap 75. Lining up on the outside of Rowe, the Vermonter outdueled the Maine veteran for the lead, taking it for himself a lap past halfway.
Rowe battled back into the top spot, but Hebert kept the pressure on Rowe, making a move for the lead on lap 94 and leaving Rowe to battle for second with Midsummer Classic winner Dillon Moltz, a hard-charging Bryan Kruczek, and sophomore contender Ryan Kuhn.
Three more yellow flags, including two in quick succession with under twenty laps remaining, but Hebert timed his restarts well, and fierce competition and contact behind him kept the pack racing for second. After consecutive runner-up finishes at White Mountain Motorsports Park and Riverside Speedway, Hebert drove off in the final laps to earn his seventh career ACT Tour victory.
Hebert joined the American-Canadian Tour ranks full-time in 2012, finishing tenth in points as a Tour rookie. The Williamstown, Vt. native broke into victory lane the next year with wins at Lee USA Speedway and Sanair Super Speedway in Quebec, finishing third in series points. The promising young driver went winless in his next four seasons on the Tour, but has placed second or third four times since 2013, establishing himself as a title contender.
With last year’s champion, Rich Dubeau, taking leave from the tour mid-season for family reasons, Hebert has emerged as the odds-on favorite for the championship, with one finish worse than third (a ninth at Thunder Road) in five races this year. Oxford was a prime location for Hebert to return to victory lane; since finishing 22nd in his first of nine visits to the track, Hebert has finished no worse than sixth, including two second-place finishes in 2018.
Despite multiple challenges in the closing laps, Ben Rowe finished second for his first ACT top five since 2010. Bryan Kruczek used the high line to his advantage, finishing third for his third-straight top-five finish after a challenging start to the season. Dylan Payea finished fourth, a career best for the younger cousin of former Tour champion Scott Payea. Dillon Moltz climbed to second with only 16 laps remaining, but faded to fifth in the final shootout.
Championship contenders Ryan Kuhn and DJ Shaw, who along with Rowe were slated to compete in the evening’s Oxford 250 as well, finished sixth and seventh. Unofficially, Shaw will remain second in the standings to Jimmy Hebert.
Hebert and his fellow competitors had to wait a day for their turn at the legendary speedway. A damp forecast for Saturday led ACT and Oxford officials to reschedule the day’s program Friday evening, shoehorning three feature races and practice sessions into Sunday’s already-dense schedule. Twenty-eight cars still answered the mid-morning call for heat races, with John Donahue, Ryan Olsen and Kruczek earning heat wins and Derek Gluchacki clinching the consi.
The American-Canadian Tour resumes its fall schedule with Sunday’s running of the Labor Day Classic at Thunder Road International Speedbowl in Barre, Vt. Reigning champion Dubeau was the winner of last year’s postponed Classic, the only Tour competitor to finish in the top ten. Hebert, who finished 20th in last year’s Classic, will look for his first career win at the ACT’s home venue.
Unofficial Results, ACT Tour Oxford Plains 150 at Oxford Plains Speedway:
1. (58VT) Jimmy Hebert
2. (4ME) Ben Rowe
3. (19NH) Bryan Kruczek
4. (7NH) Dylan Payea
5. (5ME) Dillon Moltz
6. (72MA) Ryan Kuhn
7. (04VT) DJ Shaw
8. (00NH) Jimmy Renfrew, Jr.
9. (28ME) JR Robinson
10. (03MA) Derek Gluchacki
11. (47NH) Brockton Davis
12. (64VT) Christopher Pelkey
13. (0NH) Max Dolliver
14. (25NH) Jesse Switser
15. (61NH) Ryan Olsen
16. (2VT) Stephen Donahue
17. (8NH) Connor McDougal
18. (86VT) Marcel J. Gravel
19. (21VT) Reilly Lanphear
20. (77MA) Jimmy Linardy
21. (50RI) Mike Benevides
22. (69ME) David MacDonald
23. (49NH) Matt Anderson
24. (15VT) Joey Laquerre
25. (26VT) John Donahue
26. (20ME) Garret Leiter
27. (5MA) Tom Carey III
28. (12NH) Jeff Lebrecque, Jr.