When Ben Rowe saw constant contact among the leaders in Saturday’s American-Canadian Tour Haunted Hundred, he figured all niceties were off the table.
Rowe muscled his way into the lead, then drag-raced DJ Shaw to the checkered flag to take his first ACT Late Model Tour win of the season at Seekonk Speedway. And with his win, Rowe also claimed his first ACT Tour championship.
Just like that, twelve races and over 1600 laps all came down to a matter of inches.
“The #04 drove into the #03, and I thought ‘all the gloves are off,’” an elated Rowe said in victory lane.
Rowe’s win came in a physical finale for the Vermont-based ACT Tour’s 30th season, one in which the race win and the title outcome were in doubt all the way to the final flag at the beloved Massachusetts oval.
The Turner, Me. veteran took the green flag two points in arrears of Shaw, but eleven positions ahead on the starting grid. Outside polesitter Josh Hedges, one of many Seekonk regulars in the field, led the first seven laps, but Rowe took command after that, seeking bonus points to apply toward the title battle.
Shaw, meanwhile, had to charge forth from 14th in the shortest short-track event of the season. Forty laps into the feature, Shaw had finally cracked the top five while Rowe continued to lead. Ryan Kuhn and Derek Gluchacki, though, had cut into Rowe’s advantage as the leaders negotiated slower traffic.
Two spinning cars drew a caution flag on lap 49, bunching up Rowe with Kuhn and Gluchacki. On the restart, Gluchacki made an aggressive bid for the lead, taking the top spot just as Vinnie Arrenegado, Jr. was spun from the top five. Polesitter Richard Murray, early leader Hedges and reigning ACT Tour champion Jimmy Hebert were among those caught up in the fracas, while Rowe was moved back to the lead for the restart.
Gluchacki again challenged Rowe on the restart, taking the lead on lap 52 while Rowe slid back to fourth. Gluchacki, a first-time Tour winner at Thompson (Conn.) Speedway two weeks before, hoped to go two-for-two to end his sophomore Tour season.
Shaw and consi winner Tom Carey III, meanwhile, had moved into a battle for second, with Rowe still in the championship fight in fourth. With local racer Chase Belcher keeping Rowe occupied, Carey got the better of Shaw, setting off in search of his own second win of the season.
Carey ran down Gluchacki, making his move for the top spot with thirteen laps remaining. As he dove low on Gluchacki in turn one, Gluchacki dove low to defend the lead, with Carey climbing Gluchacki’s left-rear fender. Both cars slowed on the backstretch, with Gluchacki getting freed just as Shaw closed the gap to his rear bumper. Carey limped around for another lap before pulling to the pits.
Having dodged catastrophe, Gluchacki remained at the point with Shaw in his mirror. A caution for Jacob “Rowdy” Burns’ spin with seven laps to go moved Shaw from Gluchacki’s mirror to his door, but Gluchacki kept the veteran at bay for another few laps. A backstretch incident brought out yet another caution, this one leaving three laps on the scoreboard.
Gluchacki got the better of Shaw on the restart, but Shaw pressured the youngster, giving Gluchacki a shove through turn four that got him out of shape. Shaw took the lead as Gluchacki struggled to gather his car up, collecting Chase Belcher and stacking up the field into the first turn.
Rowe emerged from the turn-one mess in second, lining up alongside Shaw for the restart with two laps to go. With the title likely to fall to whoever won the race, both drivers knew the playbook.
The two longtime Pro All Stars Series rivals and multi-time champions, each seeking a first career ACT Tour title, gave no quarter in the last two laps. Shaw pulled ahead of Rowe to take the white flag. Rowe gave Shaw a shot in the bumper out of turn two, dropped to the inside in turn three, then held the inside line to edge out Shaw for the win.
Shaw, who expressed his displeasure with Rowe on the backstretch after the race, was subdued in victory lane, but shared a handshake and a few words with the champion before returning to the pits.
While the focus was on the race and championship leaders, rookie Erick Sands dodged calamity all race long, coming home a career-best third and sealing up Rookie of the Year honors.
Arrenegado recovered from his mid-race spin to finish fourth, best in class among Seekonk Speedway regulars. Belcher battled with the point leaders all afternoon and placed fifth in his first ACT Tour start.
Ryan Kuhn, who finished fifth in the PASS Haunted Hundred to open the afternoon’s feature racing, was sixth in the ACT feature. Nicholas Uhrig rebounded from a crash to finish seventh, followed by “Rowdy” Burns and polesitter Richard Murray. Jimmy Renfrew, Jr. rounded out the top ten.
Derek Gluchacki, whose shot at a win came unglued with two laps remaining, drove his way back to 11th at the finish.
Gluchacki, last year’s top Tour rookie, was one of a few drivers who expanded their Tour schedules last year when weekly racing at their local tracks was doubtful. Gluchacki and Tom Carey III joined a growing roster of young drivers who bolstered the Tour’s full-time participants while established stars had moved on.
Oddly enough, those rising stars took a back seat in 2021 to a pair of decorated veterans looking for another feather to add to their caps. DJ Shaw, a multi-time PASS North champion but never a regular ACT competitor, ran a race-by-race itinerary for car owner Arnie Hill in 2020, finishing second in the point standings. Ben Rowe, PASS’ all-time win leader with ten titles under the PASS banner, made his first ACT Tour starts since 2013 last year, driving a Richard Moody Racing entry to victory at Oxford (Me.) Plains Speedway to close out the season.
Shaw and Hill, whose chassis come from the Dale Shaw Race Cars shop, committed to the ACT title chase again in 2021. The team’s win in the season opener at New Hampshire Motor Speedway was negated at the tech shed, but Shaw would come back to claim his first career Tour win in the same fashion a few races later.
Rowe was third in the NHMS opener, then fifth at Thunder Road in Vermont. With plenty of ACT-PASS doubleheaders and no direct conflicts on the schedule, Rowe’s team opted to run the full ACT and PASS schedules. And while their Super Late Model program struggled, they were a model of consistency in ACT, with a worst finish of 11th at Thunder Road in September.
Shaw was more competitive throughout the year, scoring four runner-up finishes and finishing no worse than ninth after the season opener. The NHMS disqualification, in retrospect, looms particularly large.
Rowe is the first Maine racer to win the ACT Late Model Tour championship in the division’s 30-year history, and the first Mainer to win ACT’s top-billed championship since his father Mike won the ACT Pro Stock title in 1994. The Pro Stock Tour was disbanded after the 1995 season.
In scoring his second-straight ACT Tour season finale win, Rowe also completed a perfect sweep, with all three of New England’s touring Late Model champions winning their season-ending races. Gabe Brown won the Granite State Pro Stock Series finale last Sunday, while Johnny Clark won the PASS Haunted Hundred earlier in the afternoon.
Rowe’s thrilling drive to the championship caps off a competitive year for the ACT Tour, with only two drivers winning more than once and six drivers earning their first-ever Tour victories. With Jimmy Hebert stepping away from full-time competition after this year, and full schedules for both ACT and PASS yet to come, who returns for the title battle in 2022 is hard to say for sure.
But as championship battles go, this year will be hard to top.
Unofficial Results, ACT Tour Haunted Hundred at Seekonk Speedway:
1. (4ME) Ben Rowe
2. (04VT) DJ Shaw
3. (36NH) Erick Sands
4. (17RI) Vinnie Arrenegado, Jr.
5. (35MA) Chase Belcher
6. (72MA) Ryan Kuhn
7. (11RI) Nicholas Uhrig
8. (30RI) Jacob “Rowdy” Burns
9. (08RI) Richard Murray
10. (00NH) Jimmy Renfrew, Jr.
11. (03MA) Derek Gluchacki
12. (04NH) Shawn Swallow
13. (49NH) Matt Anderson
14. (22VT) Peyton Lanphear
15. (7MA) Tyler Lallier
16. (1MA) Andrew Gillis
17. (21VT) Reilly Lanphear
18. (77MA) Jim Linardy
19. (31MA) Trent Goodrow
20. (75MA) Louis Romiza III
21. (67MA) Johnny Silva
22. (5MA) Tom Carey III
23. (58VT) Jimmy Hebert
24. (29MA) Josh Hedges
25. (2VT) Stephen Donahue
26. (3RI) Jeramee Lillie
27. (50RI) Mike Benevides
28. (71RI) Brandon Hammann
29. (91CT) Fred Astle, Jr.
30. (22RI) Mark Jenison