In this year’s American-Canadian Tour Late Model season opener, DJ Shaw thought he had earned his first ACT victory before the honor was rescinded after post-race inspection.
On Sunday, Shaw got his win back the same way.
The five-time Pro All Stars Series North champion was credited with his first career ACT Tour win in Sunday’s 150-lap feature at Lee USA Speedway, closing out the New Hampshire track’s three-day “May Madness” opener.
Three-time ACT Tour champ Wayne Helliwell, Jr. was unflinchingly dominant en route to the apparent victory, but a chassis infraction uncovered in a prolonged post-race inspection cost the veteran racer the victory.
Instead, the spoils went to Shaw, who threw everything he had at the pursuit of his first series win. Shaw started third and moved to the lead early, but Helliwell took the lead for the first time only thirteen laps in. Shaw kept Helliwell honest, pressuring the Tour veteran at every turn. But Helliwell, who opened the 2021 season with back-to-back wins in ACT’s first trip to Hickory Motor Speedway, looked every bit as dominant as he did in North Carolina.
Shaw showed signs of life just before halfway, getting around Helliwell on lap 67 using a lapped car as a pick. For a few laps, Shaw seemed able to work lapped traffic better than Helliwell could.
But a spin for Jesse Switser erased Shaw’s meager advantage, and when Shaw slipped on the restart, Helliwell was back in control. Shaw suddenly found himself racing for third and fourth with Joey Polewarczyk and Dillon Moltz, both former ACT Tour winners at Lee.
In the final fifty laps, lapped traffic again gave Shaw a shot at the lead. Shaw poked his nose ahead to lead lap 137, but Helliwell parried back to retake the top spot. Incidental contact forced polesitter Donahue to check up in turn four, with Helliwell tagging the slowing Donahue and turning him around. Shaw, the leader of the last completed lap, was given the point for the restart, but Helliwell had a tremendous launch at the drop of the green, leaving Shaw in the dust to fend off Polewarczyk and Moltz once again.
Two more quick cautions gave Shaw two more shots at Helliwell, but Helliwell’s grip on restarts was impressive, with Shaw struggling to find traction. “That was a good race,” Shaw said immediately after the event. “I needed long runs, and Wayne really had me on the short runs there…We had a great car, we prepared a good car, they brought me a good car.”
Shaw still led four times for a total of 31 laps on a day when Helliwell had every angle covered.
Moltz, the winner of last year’s Midsummer Classic 250 at White Mountain Motorsports Park, assumed second place behind Shaw. The former Granite State Pro Stock Series champion and ACT Tour title runner-up wheeled a brand-new car to his first podium since last August’s win.
“We were psyched to get back here,” Moltz said. “Just an unknown with the new Hoosier tire, but we definitely had some good notes to build off of. The track has changed, but that was a fun race. There were so many comers and goers. The race went through stages. You wanted to be on the bottom, you wanted to be on the top.”
Polewarczyk, making his first ACT Tour start since last year’s Midsummer Classic 250, assumed third place. Jimmy Renfrew, Jr., who won Saturday night’s weekly Late Model feature at WMMP, made the trip south to place fourth for a career best in Tour competition. Erick Sands, a weekly racer at nearby Star Speedway, was fifth, also a career best for the Tour rookie.
Derek Gluchacki was sixth after hovering around the top five all race long. Shawn Swallow came back from multiple pit stops to finish seventh. Ben Rowe was eighth after losing a tire late. Stephen Donahue and veteran Joey Laquerre rounded out the top ten.
Twenty-two teams took the green flag Sunday afternoon, but not among them was reigning ACT Tour champion Jimmy Hebert. Hebert’s day ended early when he hit oil on the track during practice, backing his car into the wall. Peyton Lanphear offered her car to Hebert for him to collect points, but Hebert was unable to fit Lanphear’s much-smaller seat, and the pace of the afternoon did not offer enough time to change seats. Hebert’s team loaded up early, likely ending their title defense after a poor finish at Thunder Road set them back.
Lanphear would go on to finish eleventh, matching her career best.
Following the race, Helliwell’s team reported via their Facebook page that the chassis infraction was relative to a measurement of the location of the fuel cell. “They measured it differently than we did,” Helliwell shared. “We’ll get them at the next one.” Helliwell and car owner Bruce Bernhardt have run their own in-house chassis design for years with great success.
The same could be said for Shaw, whose family’s Dale Shaw Race Cars operation builds cars for plenty of teams in both ACT and PASS. Unlike Shaw’s PASS ride, though, his ACT Tour entry is a customer operation, a Shaw chassis maintained by the Arnold Hill Motorsports team.
Shaw picked up the Hill ride in 2020, running the full ACT Tour schedule for the first time in his career. After falling short of a win, Shaw redoubled his efforts for 2021. Shaw drove the Hill-owned #04VT to victory over Jimmy Hebert at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, but an engine infraction cost Shaw the trophy.
“I’ve gotta thank Arnie Hill, Andrew and everybody, the A.H. Fence Company,” Shaw said of the team. “They get this thing to the track, and I don’t even have hardly a thing to do with it. They prepare me an awesome race car, and it’s a pleasure to drive for them.”
With some pressure lifted, both from his duties at the track and from the weight of not winning, Shaw may be poised to chase a few more ACT victories in the coming weeks.
Unofficial Results, ACT Tour May Madness 150 at Lee USA Speedway:
1. (04VT) DJ Shaw
2. (5ME) Dillon Moltz
3. (97NH) Joey Polewarczyk
4. (00NH) Jimmy Renfrew, Jr.
5. (36NH) Erick Sands
6. (03MA) Derek Gluchacki
7. (04NH) Shawn Swallow
8. (4ME) Ben Rowe
9. (2VT) Stephen Donahue
10. (15VT) Joey Laquerre
11. (22VT) Peyton Lanphear
12. (49NH) Matt Anderson
13. (5MA) Tom Carey III
14. (70VT) Kevin Vaudrien
15. (7NH) Dylan Payea
16. (21VT) Reilly Lanphear
17. (25NH) Jesse Switser
18. (17MA) Eddie MacDonald
19. (4NH) Jamie Swallow, Jr.
20. (77MA) Jim Linardy
21. (10NH) Bryan Mason
DQ (27NH) Wayne Helliwell, Jr.