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New England Notebook: Hebert wins ACT opener at WMMP

Hebert-Welch Oxford 2019
Jimmy Hebert (#58VT) battles Quinny Welch (#78NH) last August at Oxford Plains Speedway. Hebert earned his sixth ACT Tour win last Saturday at Welch's weekly haunt, White Mountain Motorsports Park in North Woodstock, N.H. (Jeff Brown archive photo)

Each week, Short Track Scene looks back at results and news from northern New England’s Late Model and Super Late Model competition, from the region’s premier tours — the American-Canadian Tour, the Granite State Pro Stock Series, and the Pro All Stars Series — to the tracks and drivers that support them. Thanks to the local journalists and fans who report in from the track each week to keep their fellow fans informed.

ACT TOUR: HEBERT CLAIMS ONE FOR THE REGULARS WITH WMMP TRIUMPH

The American-Canadian Tour may have been the last of New England’s three touring Late Model series to open its season, but the Vermont-based series still managed a first, with fans in attendance for last weekend’s Spring Green 120 at White Mountain Motorsports Park.

With New Hampshire allowing race tracks to allow fans at a reduced capacity effective this past Monday, an exception was made at the eleventh hour for the ACT lidlifter. A planned Pay-Per-View broadcast was maintained for those who could not make the trip to North Woodstock, but those who could would be able to fill the grandstands to half-capacity.

While fans were permitted at the track for the first time, part of the series’ name was still kept out. With the Canadian border closed to nonessential travel until later this month, the Tour’s few Quebec regulars would not be able to make the trip, leaving Claude Leclerc, Jonathan Bouvrette, Mathieu Kingsbury on the sidelines for the start of the season.

Even without Canadian visitors, shuttered ACT-rules tracks throughout New England and a healthy crowd of WMMP and Thunder Road regulars bolstered the entry list, with over forty cars in attendance to qualify for the thirty-car field. At the core of the field were last year’s title contenders, champion Rich Dubeau and challenger Jimmy Hebert, series sophomores Ryan Kuhn and Trent Goodrow, third-year racers Christopher Pelkey and Dylan Payea, and sisters Peyton and Reilly Lanphear with new Port City cars. After running most of the schedule and sweeping Oxford, Bryan Kruczek was back with car owner Bobby Webber, Jr. with a new car for a championship bid. Former Thunder Road track champion Bobby Therrien would make another run at the ACT title as well, after calling off last year’s bid early on.

Reporting in from Thunder Road was Marcel J. Gravel, wheeling the Joey Laquerre #15VT. From WMMP, multi-time track champions Quinny Welch and Oren Remick headlined a list including Stacy Cahoon and Dave LaBrecque. Tour sophomore Stephen Donahue and father John, both WMMP and Thunder Road regulars, had their eyes set on solid runs as well.

Adding extra local flavor were Jesse Switser, Shawn Swallow, Corey and Bryan Mason. And hauling in from the ACT-friendly tracks of Massachusetts and eastern Connecticut were Tom Carey III, Tyler Tomassi, Derek Gluchacki, Mark Jenison and Mike Benevides.

To win, though, the ACT faithful would probably have to go through the ringers. Three-time ACT champion Wayne Helliwell, Jr., winner of last August’s 250-lapper at WMMP, and former Tour champ Joey Polewarczyk, Jr. were back for more action on familiar turf. Making his first Tour start since 2015 was Pro All Stars Series champion DJ Shaw, who shook his new ACT Tour entry down a week before in WMMP’s first weekly feature of 2020. Granite State Pro Stock Series regular Jimmy Renfrew, Jr. had two cars at the track, one for him and one for multitalented racer Alby Ovitt. Modified racer Woody Pitkat, always a threat in the #91CT entry at Thompson, took advantage of a quiet Modified racing scene to head north as well.

Missing from the lineup, though, was two-time champion Scott Payea. A year before, Payea had redeemed himself from missing the Thunder Road field in the year’s second race, winning at WMMP. This year, the Rick Paya-owned #37VT was not at the track. Payea, who finished fourth in points in 2020 despite his missed race, was an easy favorite for the title, and his absence would open the door once again for some fresh blood to challenge for the American-Canadian Tour championship.

To challenge for the title, one had to make the starting grid. Woody Pitkat, Quinny Welch, Mark Jenison and Derek Gluchacki won the four heats, making a strong argument for the “away” team. Vermont’s Joel Hodgdon and Wayne Helliwell, Jr. won the two consis, with John Donahue edging out son Stephen in a 25-lap B-feature. Reilly Lanphear finished sixth in the B-main, making her the last car to advance to the field and locking out younger sister Peyton. Marcel Gravel, Jason Larivee, Maine’s JR Robinson, Tyler Tomassi, and Matt Anderson were among the eleven drivers who would load up early.

With the ACT’s plus-minus system for heat racers in effect, Tom Carey III was awarded the pole, alongside DJ Shaw. Ryan Kuhn rolled off third with Christopher Pelkey fourth and Stacy Cahoon fifth. Jimmy Hebert would start eleventh. Defending champion Dubeau, who nearly suffered the same fate as Scott Payea a year ago, finished fifth in the B-main to start 29th of 30 cars.

The ACT’s annual Spring Green event’s lap count has always been tied to the year of its running. With only 120 laps ahead to conquer the quarter-mile confines of White Mountain Motorsports Park, those with an eye to victory would have to act swiftly. And DJ Shaw did exactly that, not even giving polesitter Carey a chance to lead a lap. Shaw’s career focus was never the ACT; since 2006, the four-time PASS North champion had made six Tour starts with three top-ten finishes. But as he led the opening laps, he looked very likely to improve that record.

Ryan Kuhn, though, made the first charge on behalf of the full-timers, asserting himself at the point for forty laps and dueling with Shaw through the halfway point of the race. Kuhn’s rookie season had been a success, with the former Seekonk Speedway track champion completing all but one lap in his nine starts and finishing in the top ten in seven of them. Kuhn had yet to win in touring trim, but he came close in the PASS season finale at Seekonk, finishing second to Mike Hopkins.

To win at WMMP, Kuhn would have to find an answer for Shaw’s long-run speed.

But behind the top-two battle, Hebert was knocking on the door of the top five. With just over thirty laps left, Hebert worked past Stacy Cahoon to move to third.

Two cautions in quick succession brought Hebert within striking distance of the lead. And as the field went back to green, Hebert used a lapped car to set up a three-wide move that nudged DJ Shaw back to third. A lap later, Hebert got to the outside of Kuhn and took the lead for his own.

Veterans Helliwell and Polewarczyk slipped past Kuhn in the closing laps, but while they were able to run down Hebert in traffic, with only 120 laps on the board they were unable to make a move around him. Jimmy Hebert held on in the final green-flag stint to claim his sixth career ACT victory, his first since last June at Thompson (Conn.) Speedway, and his second at WMMP.

Helliwell, with a new ARBodies Revolution body on his car, finished second, with longtime Tour rival Polewarczyk third. Shaw finished fourth, his third top-five start to the season in the region’s three touring series. WMMP specialist Quinny Welch rounded out the top five.

Kuhn slid back to sixth at the checkers, with Stacy Cahoon, Tom Carey III, Derek Gluchacki and Christopher Pelkey completing the top ten.

Rich Dubeau ended the evening 12th after starting second-to-last, with fellow title hopeful Bryan Kruczek 14th in his #19NH. Alby Ovitt was 17th in his first ACT Tour start since a three-race stint in 2015. Ovitt’s teammate, Jimmy Renfrew, Jr., was a lap back in 20th. Eighteen cars finished on the lead lap.

Full-time drivers finishing deeper in the pack included Trent Goodrow (22nd), Reilly Lanphear (23rd) and Bobby Therrien, who dropped out after only 64 laps to finish 28th. Assuming the usual Tour suspects hold sway, Jimmy Hebert’s win gives him a 16-point advantage over Ryan Kuhn (currently tied for fourth) and a 30-point gap over tenth-place Christopher Pelkey.

The next stop on the ACT Tour schedule is Oxford Plains Speedway, as Maine will allow tracks to re-open for events without fans in the coming weeks. The ACT Tour and PASS Super Late Models will team up to kick off Oxford’s 2020 touring season next weekend.

ACT TOUR: REVISED SCHEDULE UNVEILED FOR REMAINDER OF SEASON

Shortly after last weekend’s Spring Green at White Mountain Motorsports Park, the American-Canadian Tour announced a revised schedule for the remainder of the season. And with a few changes of note, the new schedule looks quite similar to the schedule announced in the offseason.

The Tour season will continue next Sunday, with a doubleheader at Oxford Plains Speedway alongside the PASS North Super Late Models. As per Maine regulations, fans will not be allowed to attend. The two series were scheduled for a Saturday-night doubleheader at Star Speedway, but fan limitations surrounding New Hampshire’s own COVID-19 mitigation procedures led to the cancellation of the event.

The Tour’s remaining visit to Autodrome Chaudière appears to be off the schedule as well, with the province of Quebec not likely to greenlight large-group events for some time still. The track in Quebec’s Beauce region was scheduled to host two ACT-sanctioned events this year, a points race in May and the non-points Bacon Bowl in August.

Beyond that, the schedule will retain the other six points events planned, starting on July 11 at Riverside Speedway in Groveton, N.H.

A new season-ending event at Oxford Plains Speedway has been added for mid-October, running alongside the Pro All Stars Series event already scheduled that week. Officials are also considering available weekends for another visit to Thunder Road Speedbowl, after this year’s Community Bank 150 was lost to the pandemic.

Fan attendance at the remaining events has yet to be determined, contingent upon state mandates for large events. Maine is still not allowing fans at races, while New Hampshire tracks are allowed up to half capacity. Massachusetts has not issued any firm guidance for the July PASS-ACT doubleheader.

WEEKLY RACING: THUNDER ROAD OPENS, GRAVEL TAKES OPENING-NIGHT CHECKERS

Thunder Road International Speedbowl opened its weekly season at last on Thursday night, kicking off the summer stretch of ACT-rules Late Model competition. Marcel Gravel, back in his own car, fought a power steering failure to win the season opener over defending Thunder Road champion Jason Corliss and ACT Tour regular Christopher Pelkey. Bobby Therrien was ninth in the 15-car field.

UPCOMING EVENTS

The Pro All Stars Series visited White Mountain Motorsports Park for their second race of 2020 this Sunday afternoon.

The PASS Super Late Models and the American-Canadian Tour will come together next Sunday at Oxford Plains Speedway to continue the 2020 season. Fans will not be allowed at Oxford, but can tune into Northeast Sports Network for Pay-Per-View streaming coverage.

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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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