After dominating the first half of Saturday’s Milton CAT Midsummer Classic 250 at White Mountain Motorsports Park, DJ Shaw found himself in pursuit mode in the final 30 laps, needing a caution flag to contend for the win that had seemed so certain.
And as if on cue, two cars went careering through the turn-two grass, and Shaw got his break.
Shaw muscled past Jason Corliss on the final restart, then drove off into the night to claim his long-awaited second American-Canadian Tour Late Model victory in the biggest race of the season.
The Center Conway, N.H. veteran led the lion’s share of the laps Saturday, but after opting for a late-race pit stop, he could be excused for thinking the win had slipped through his hands for a second year.
“We definitely did when [Corliss] got up there on strategy,” Shaw said after the race. “Luckily, we caught [a caution], and made our move, and ran away.”
Saturday’s race marked the midpoint of the ACT Tour’s 2022 season, with six of twelve events complete after the checkered flag flew. Despite arriving at the North Woodstock, N.H. track with the points lead, Shaw had yet to visit victory lane for car owner Arnie Hill.
Starting from the pole, Shaw was on a mission to break that drought, leaving multi-time WMMP champion Quinny Welch to battle Patrick Laperle and defending race winner Corliss for the runner-up spot.
Corliss climbed to second with 40 laps complete, but lost ground on a restart as Shaw continued to lead. With a scheduled fuel stop approaching, Shaw was able to build an advantage over Jimmy Hebert, Welch, Corliss, and Derek Gluchacki, who had won a pair of 100-lap special features at WMMP in preparation for the big race.
The yellow flew as promised on lap 100, with the whole field ducking into the pits for a controlled fuel break and several drivers, including Corliss, returning for tires and adjustments. Shaw stayed out along with Welch, Gluchacki, and WMMP regular Jesse Switser, who was a late entry after thrashing to get his car back together in time for Saturday’s race.
Shaw drove away from the pack, but Tom Carey III spun a few laps later to slow the race again. Welch and Switser gave up their top-five berths to pit, advancing Shawn Swallow, Gabe Brown and Stephen Donahue into the top five.
Two separate races emerged over the next fifty laps, with Shaw and Gluchacki setting a torrid pace out front while Corliss, Welch and other drivers who had already pitted for tires climbed through the field. Lapped traffic came into play, giving the leaders a buffer between Corliss and the others on fresher rubber.
Suddenly, a heated battle for fifth came to a head on lap 159. Laperle, recovered from his early spin, had raced back into the top six and was dueling with 2020 Midsummer Classic 250 winner Dillon Moltz as the two worked past lapped traffic. Laperle had taken fifth when Moltz fired his car deep into turn three, dumping Laperle into the turn-four tire barrier. Moltz was parked for the night for intentional contact.
Corliss assumed the race lead as Shaw, Gluchacki and Gabe Brown pitted at last for fresh tires. Shaw rejoined the field in eleventh, with 91 laps left to get back to the front. Corliss and Ryan Olsen brought the field back to green as Shaw tried to work through traffic deep in the field. Shaw had clawed his way to eighth when Carey went for another spin, this time after help from Gluchacki. The yellow flag was displayed on lap 176, re-racking the field for another restart.
As the laps counted down, those who had pitted early on began to fade, and Shaw’s tire advantage became clearer. Shaw picked his way through traffic to run fifth with fifty laps to go, and one by one he worked past Brown, Welch and Switser to take second place on lap 214. Corliss was still a straightaway ahead, with a few lapped cars in Shaw’s path.
Without a caution, it was Corliss’ race to lose.
But then Jaret Curtis spun into the turn-two grass with Ryan Ward, and the caution flag waved with nineteen laps to go, setting up a rematch of last year’s finish. Corliss opted for the outside line for the restart, with Shaw lining up on the inside.
A first attempt at a restart was waved off, but the field took the green the second time without incident, diving into turn one. Corliss and Shaw battled door-to-door, Shaw holding his own on the inside. The next lap, Shaw forced Corliss up the race track, taking the lead for himself as Switser slipped past and into second. Corliss gathered up his car and settled into third.
With clean race track ahead, Shaw set sail, cruising to his second-ever ACT Tour victory and a $10,000 payday.
“It was my call to pit there,” Shaw said of the late stop. “I thought Jason’s strategy was…” He paused. “Once they all did that, I thought we were a sitting duck.
“I drove my ass off for that one.”
Switser, who returned to weekly competition this year after two seasons with the Tour, also drove the race of his life in the closing laps, holding back Corliss’ advances to finish a career-best second.
Corliss, who made a similar pass on Shaw in the closing laps of last year’s Midsummer Classic 250, settled for third.
Laperle raced his crumpled car back from the lap-159 crash to finish fourth, with Gabe Brown rounding out the top five.
Gluchacki, second in points, ended the evening in sixth, ahead of home-track favorite Welch. Brothers Jamie and Shawn Swallow were eighth and ninth. Ryan Olsen, who restarted second after the lap-159 incident, was tenth at the end, his first top-ten finish since a full-time Tour campaign in 2016.
Thirty cars took the green flag, with two consis and a B-feature needed to pare the 43-car entry list down. ACT Tour full-timers Cody LeBlanc and Rémi Perreault were among those left on the sidelines, along with WMMP regular Jeff Marshall and Maine visitor Ben Ashline. Weekly racers Tanner Woodard and Bryan Wall, Jr. advanced to the feature to make their ACT Tour debuts.
Shaw was met with some boos from the grandstands as he exited his car, despite this year’s race serving as a rebuttal to last year’s dramatic finish. Corliss and Shaw restarted the 2021 edition of the race with four laps to go, but Corliss’ hood came loose at speed, flying back into the Vermonter’s windshield. With his vision largely blocked, Corliss held his ground in the final laps, forcing Shaw up the banking to secure his victory. Shaw held on for second.
This year, redemption was on the table.
The win also cements Shaw’s status as the undisputed title favorite, with Gluchacki a distant second in the standings. The next race on the schedule is another cross-border trot to Quebec; a mere appearance at Autodrome Montmagny could give Shaw an insurmountable advantage through the second half of the year.
A five-time Pro All Stars Series North Super Late Model champion, Shaw has spent the last three seasons running the full ACT Tour schedule in addition to his PASS program. Shaw raced a car from his own shop to a fourth-place finish in the 2020 season opener before teaming up with Vermont car owner and Dale Shaw Race Cars customer Arnie Hill, who fielded a car for Shaw for the rest of the year. Shaw finished second in points.
The team opened the 2021 season in victory lane, but a carburetor infraction resulted in disqualification. Shaw inherited a win two races later, turning in another consistent season en route to second place in points. In his third year with the Hill team, the disqualification is the only time the pairing has finished outside the top ten in an ACT Tour race.
While Shaw-built cars have been a force on the Tour, an ACT driver’s championship is one career milestone that Shaw has not yet achieved.
Saturday’s win was Shaw’s fifth touring win of the season, with two wins each on the PASS North and Granite State Pro Stock Series circuits. Three of those wins came at quarter-mile ovals, with his most recent PASS win coming at WMMP. That his second career ACT Tour win came at the track where he launched his stock car career was surely not lost on the veteran.
With plenty of visits to quarter-mile ovals yet to come in 2022, Shaw could easily add to that win total before the season finale at Seekonk Speedway.
But Saturday’s victory will be tough to top.
Unofficial Results, ACT Milton CAT Midsummer Classic 250 at White Mountain Motorsports Park:
1. (04VT) DJ Shaw
2. (25NH) Jesse Switser
3. (66VT) Jason Corliss
4. (91QC) Patrick Laperle
5. (61ME) Gabe Brown
6. (03MA) Derek Gluchacki
7. (78NH) Quinny Welch
8. (4NH) Jamie Swallow, Jr.
9. (04NH) Shawn Swallow
10. (61NH) Ryan Olsen
11. (30NH) Rich Dubeau
12. (86VT) Marcel J. Gravel
13. (36NH) Erick Sands
14. (58VT) Jimmy Hebert
15. (41QC) Jonathan Bouvrette
16. (5MA) Tom Carey III
17. (0VT) Scott Dragon
18. (21QC) Alexendre Tardif
19. (32VT) Ryan Ware
20. (3NH) Mike Kenison
21. (77NH) Bryan Wall, Jr.
22. (67MA) Jaret Curtis
23. (2VT) Stephen Donahue
24. (74ME) Justin Eldridge
25. (35NH) Alby Ovitt
26. (9QC) Mathieu Kingsbury
27. (47NH) Brockton Davis
28. (49NH) Matt Anderson
29. (68VT) Tanner Woodard
DQ (5ME) Dillon Moltz