The last time Ben Rowe won an American-Canadian Tour Late Model feature, the rest of the top five in Sunday’s Lee’s Family Trailer Sales & Service 150 had yet to earn a driver’s license. The first time Rowe started an ACT Late Model feature, two of them had not even been born.
With age comes experience, and with experience, victory.
The Turner, Me. veteran dominated the second half of Sunday’s season-ending bout at Oxford Plains Speedway to claim his first ACT Tour win since 2006.
Meanwhile, after challenging for the race lead, Jimmy Hebert crossed the line third, clinching his first ACT Late Model Tour championship.
Rowe, a four-time Pro All Stars Series North champion and the all-time win leader in the PASS ranks, found victory lane in only his fourth start in the new Late Model prepared by his longtime Super Late Model team, Richard Moody Racing.
Despite winning his heat, Rowe started deep in the field, rolling off 13th in the 30-car field. Marcel Gravel and Jamie Swallow, Jr. brought the field to green, with Swallow getting the jump to take the early lead. Making his first ACT Tour attempt since 2010, Swallow held the lead through three quick caution flags and built an advantage over Tom Carey III and Ryan Kuhn on a green-flag run.
On lap 42, Kuhn made contact with a lapped car in heavy traffic, spinning the lapped car and stacking up the field. Rowe, who had climbed into the top five, slowed to avoid the wreck and was tagged in the rear by Bryan Kruczek, who took most of the damage. As the field came to green for the restart, Kruczek and Dillon Moltz got together, bringing out another caution.
On the next restart, Rowe made quick work of the traffic in front of him, settling into second behind Swallow. A crash for Star Speedway regular and ACT newcomer TJ Laro brought out another caution on lap 62, closing the gap between Swallow and Rowe.
Rowe stalked Swallow on the next green flag run, making his move on lap 80 to take the lead. A quick yellow kept Swallow in contention, but Rowe grabbed the lead back on lap 83, leaving Swallow to deal with a hungry pack of cars led by Jimmy Hebert.
Hebert spent the first half of the race in a close battle with championship rival DJ Shaw. But as Shaw faded, Hebert inched his way toward the front. The Williamstown, Vt. driver got around Swallow for second, setting up a repeat of August’s ACT prelude to the Oxford 250, in which Hebert bested Rowe for his second win of the season.
A chain-reaction incident that started with Moltz getting into Shaw and ended with Jeff Lebrecque stuffed into the frontstretch wall brought out the night’s final caution flag with 34 laps left on the scoreboard. Rowe established himself as the best car on the final run, but lapped traffic kept the top four under a blanket in the closing laps. Tom Carey III slipped by Hebert with only a few laps to go, making a last-ditch charge for the lead. But while he could close within a few inches of Rowe’s bumper, Carey opted not to get physical in the final turns.
Only a couple hours after finishing seventh in the afternoon’s PASS feature, Rowe crossed the line under the lights to take his first touring win of the season.
Tom Carey III finished second, a career best for the New Salem, Mass. racer, who ended his first full Tour effort with consecutive top-five finishes. Hebert finished a close third, with Ryan Kuhn hot on his heels in fourth. Kuhn’s fellow Seekonk Speedway graduate Derek Gluchacki finished a career-best fifth, locking up top-rookie honors for the Massachusetts teen.
Early leader Jamie Swallow, Jr. held on for sixth at the finish, with Stephen Donahue coming home seventh. Shaw faded to eighth, with Star Speedway regular Erick Sands ninth and Marcel Gravel rounding out the top ten. Bryan Kruczek, the distant fourth man in the title battle, limped home 14th with brake trouble late in the race.
But while Jimmy Hebert settled for third on the track, he took home the evening’s biggest prize, earning the title of ACT Late Model Tour Champion for the first time in his ten-year Tour career.
Hebert, twice a runner-up in the standings, won the season-opening Spring Green 120 at White Mountain Motorsports Park to open his championship charge. Hebert’s closest competition was DJ Shaw, with the defending PASS North champion taking the year race-by-race for car owner Arnie Hill. Shaw finished every race in the top ten, but never found victory lane. With two wins and only two finishes worse than third all year, Hebert’s season was hard to beat.
Interestingly, after running part-time in 2016, Hebert has improved his points position in each year since, finishing fourth in the standings in 2017, third in 2018, and second last year to Rich Dubeau.
Sunday’s feature was originally scheduled for Saturday, as the opening leg of a two-day event to close the ACT and PASS seasons at Oxford. However, morning rain and cold temperatures forecast for Saturday made drying the track in a timely manner unlikely. ACT and Oxford officials opted instead to move Saturday’s program to Sunday, with Sunday’s PASS season finale bumped to next Saturday instead.
A last-minute schedule change on Sunday moved the ACT Tour feature to the end of the afternoon, to allow for a more leisurely celebration of the race and championship. But with the program running late and ending after darkness, the on-track celebrations were kept to a minimum.
With Sunday’s win, Ben Rowe became the fifth ACT Tour non-regular to win a feature this year, with six of the season’s nine races going to drivers running part-time schedules.
Rowe is best known for his exploits at the wheel of a Super Late Model, but he found success at the wheel of an ACT Late Model earlier in his career. Rowe made four starts in an ACT Late Model in 1995, when the division was still an undercard to the now-defunct ACT Pro Stocks. He would not race an ACT Late Model again until 2006, when he teamed up with the Avery family, the former owners of White Mountain Motorsports Park, to wheel their ACT Tour entry. Rowe won his first three starts in the Averys’ entry, adding a fourth win in a limited schedule that year. Since then, Rowe has only made sporadic starts under the ACT flag.
In August, Rowe made his first ACT start since 2013 in August’s Midsummer Classic at WMMP, dropping out late in the race and finishing 21st. Rowe finished second to Hebert a few weeks later at Oxford. The team brought the car back to New Hampshire Motor Speedway, where they again parked the car shortly before the finish with handling issues.
Sunday night, as Hebert posed for photos with father Larry and his family-owned team to one side of the start-finish line, Rowe’s car sat parked on the other, pointed toward turn one, his family gathered around in a celebration of their own.
And for reasons entirely their own, both Jimmy Hebert and Ben Rowe were all smiles.
Unofficial Results, ACT Lee’s Family Trailer Sales & Service 150 at Oxford Plains Speedway:
1. (4ME) Ben Rowe
2. (5MA) Tom Carey III
3. (58VT) Jimmy Hebert
4. (72MA) Ryan Kuhn
5. (03MA) Derek Gluchacki
6. (4NH) Jamie Swallow, Jr.
7. (2VT) Stephen Donahue
8. (04VT) DJ Shaw
9. (36NH) Erick Sands
10. (86VT) Marcel J. Gravel
11. (7NH) Dylan Payea
12. (15VT) Joey Laquerre
13. (5ME) Dillon Moltz
14. (19NH) Bryan Kruczek
15. (64VT) Christopher Pelkey
16. (47NH) Brockton Davis
17. (21VT) Reilly Lanphear
18. (77MA) Jim Linardy
19. (22VT) Peyton Lanphear
20. (41VT) Jamie Aube
21. (49NH) Matt Anderson
22. (65NH) Tom Sheehan
23. (69ME) David MacDonald
24. (12NH) Jeff Lebrecque, Jr.
25. (55MA) Randy Cole
26. (25NH) Jesse Switser
27. (10NH) Bryan Mason
28. (27NC) TJ Laro
29. (9NH) Matthew Morrill
30. (5VT) Bobby Therrien