It’s certainly shaping up to be DJ Shaw’s year on the American-Canadian Tour.
The ACT Late Model Tour points leader took another step toward his first Tour title Sunday, edging out Shawn Swallow in the final laps to win the 44th running of the New England Federal Credit Union Labor Day Classic at Thunder Road International Speedbowl.
And with only three more points-paying events on the ACT calendar in 2022, a major twist of fate may be necessary to derail the Center Conway, N.H. veteran’s march to the championship.
A major twist of fate dropped the race into Shaw’s hands with only a handful of laps remaining. Before that, the five-time Pro All Stars Series North champion was battling for second on back, while Jason Corliss put a beating on the field. The 2018 Labor Day Classic winner and three-time reigning “King of the Road” took control on lap 29 from Brendan Moodie, setting off in search of his second Labor Day Classic win and his first Tour win since last summer’s Midsummer Classic 250.
Shaw had climbed to second by halfway, but Corliss was in control out front and Shaw had a mirror full of Swallow and Marcel Gravel. Gravel, charging from the rear after making a pit stop under caution, followed Swallow past Shaw on a restart, then made his own pass for second, chasing Corliss in search of his second Tour win of the season.
With twenty laps left on the scoreboard, Corliss and Gravel had the race in control while Shaw and Swallow battled for third. Five laps later, Gravel’s car expired in a cloud of smoke. As Gravel guided his car to pit road, Corliss slowed with a flat tire, bringing out the caution flag. With 185 laps complete, Shaw assumed the point with Swallow second and three-time Thunder Road champion Derrick O’Donnell third.
Shaw took the inside line for the restart, with Swallow battling hard from the outside groove for his first Tour win. The two ran door-to-door, Shaw unable to gain an advantage, while O’Donnell and Nick Sweet kept close to the leaders hoping for one or both to slip.
But neither driver backed down.
Shaw held his ground on the inside, Swallow kept the pressure from the outside, but on the last lap it was Shaw who beat Swallow to the line, nipping Swallow by just over a tenth of a second to earn his second ACT Tour win of 2022, the third of his career, and his first at the “Nation’s Site of Excitement.”
Shaw’s win comes 23 years to the day after father Dale won the NASCAR Busch North Series Jiffy Lube 150 at Thunder Road, a race recognized as the 1999 Labor Day Classic. Shaw, then, will join his father on Thunder Road’s granite monument listing the winners of the annual event.
Swallow, a track champion at Riverside Speedway in northern New Hampshire and the two-time defending winner of Riverside’s year-ending Fall Brawl, finished on the podium for the first time with the Tour. Swallow’s best prior run in ACT Tour competition was in last year’s Spring Green, when he finished sixth.
O’Donnell, dubbed the “Black Knight of the White Mountains” during his own championship three-peat, finished third, just shy of matching his runner-up finish in May’s Community Bank, N.A. 150.
Sweet, who won May’s Tour visit to Thunder Road, was fourth in his second ACT Tour start of the year. Bobby Therrien was fifth in his first touring start of the season for car owner Pete Duto.
Oxford Plains Speedway winner Derek Gluchacki broke into the Thunder Road top ten at last, finishing sixth ahead of a series of Thunder Road specialists. Rookie Stephen Martin was seventh, ahead of a resurgent Jason Corliss. Early leader Brendan Moodie was ninth. Brooks Clark, who swept the 2021 ACT dates at Thunder Road, was tenth.
Tour full-timers Erick Sands and Alexendre Tardif were 14th and 15th, with Tardif crashing back to earth after a streak of podium performances. Fellow rookie Cody LeBlanc was 18th at the finish.
Tardif, notably, was the lone Canadian to make the trip to Vermont. Remi Perreault had attempted every race thus far, with a best finish of eighth at Autodrome Chaudiere. Jonathan Bouvrette was not at Oxford after a crash at Autodrome Montmagny, and also skipped the visit to Thunder Road. Sunday’s race marked the third straight week for Tour activity, meaning some teams likely pumped the brakes to regroup for the end of the year.
DJ Shaw, though, has his foot firmly on the gas this season. In his third full ACT Tour season with car owner Arnie Hill, Shaw has two wins, seven top-five finishes, and a worst result of ninth. Shaw’s commanding advantage in the points is a combination of his performance and the divergent plans of other racers. However, Shaw is setting a pace that would be hard for other drivers to meet.
Shaw has another three wins in PASS North competition, where he sits fifth in points after missing one race to attend an ACT show in Quebec. Eliminate that conflict, which was set in place well after the start of the season, and Shaw could be threatening for a sixth PASS title. And in select starts with the Granite State Pro Stock Series, Shaw has two more wins. Five of his seven feature wins in 2022, including his two ACT Tour triumphs, are on quarter-mile bullrings.
ACT’s next race, the Fall Foliage 200, is a return to White Mountain Motorsports Park, where Shaw picked up his first win of the year in July. And Shaw has been flexing his muscle in the longer races on the schedule this year.
Shaw is probably not done winning just yet.
Unofficial Results, ACT Tour New England Federal Credit Union Labor Day Classic at Thunder Road International Speedbowl:
1. (04VT) DJ Shaw
2. (04NH) Shawn Swallow
3. (60NH) Derrick O’Donnell
4. (40VT) Nick Sweet
5. (5VT) Bobby Therrien
6. (03MA) Derek Gluchacki
7. (01VT) Stephen Martin
8. (66VT) Jason Corliss
9. (94VT) Brendan Moodie
10. (68VT) Brooks Clark
11. (27VT) Kyle Pembroke
12. (58VT) Jimmy Hebert
13. (64VT) Christopher Pelkey
14. (36NH) Erick Sands
15. (21QC) Alexendre Tardif
16. (0VT) Scott Dragon
17. (7VT) Cooper Bouchard
18. (7NH) Cody LeBlanc
19. (86VT) Marcel J. Gravel
20. (99VT) Cody Blake
21. (2VT) Stephen Donahue
22. (17VT) Darrell Morin
23. (9VT) Chip Grenier
24. (91CT) Woody Pitkat
DNS (42VT) Matt White