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New England Notebook: Helliwell earns ACT Midsummer 250 win, Shaw takes third PASS win at Spud

Wayne Helliwell, Jr., seen here at Star Speedway earlier this season, righted a challenging 2019 with a win in last Saturday's Midsummer 250 at White Mountain Motorsports Park. (Jeff Brown photo)

Each week, Short Track Scene looks back at results and news from northern New England’s Late Model and Super Late Model competition, from the region’s premier tours — the American-Canadian Tour, the Granite State Pro Stock Series, and the Pro All Stars Series — to the tracks and drivers that support them. Thanks to the local journalists and fans who report in from the track each week to keep their fellow fans informed.

ACT TOUR: HELLIWELL AVOIDS SKIRMISH, NABS MIDSUMMER 250 WIN

The American-Canadian Tour ended its summer vacation last Saturday, with White Mountain Motorsports Park welcoming the Tour back for its first points race since June’s event at Star Speedway. The Midsummer 250, instituted last season as a part of WMMP’s 25th-anniversary celebration, became part of the ACT Tour schedule for 2019, giving the Tour its longest race in four years.

The 250-lap battle at the New Hampshire quarter-mile had more than distance in store for the Tour teams, with a $10,000 winner’s share awaiting whoever could top the field. Indeed, 32 teams were in the pit area with only 26 guaranteed to start.

Joining the ACT Tour regulars were one-time Tour rivals Wayne Helliwell, Jr. and Joey Polewarczyk, with Helliwell a week removed from a WMMP feature win and Polewarczyk the winner of the Tour’s last event at Star Speedway. Season opener winner Bryan Kruczek was back in action in Bobby Webber, Jr.’s #19NH entry. From the ACT’s home turf at Thunder Road, defending T-Road track champion Scott Dragon and Tour winner Jason Corliss were joined by Cody Blake, who was entered in Mike Foster’s #7VT car. Mark Jenison towed north from Rhode Island to seek the big winner’s check. And to win, the road warriors would have to fight through some of the best of WMMP’s weekly competitors, including multi-time champion Quinny Welch, Jesse Switser, and rookie Cody LeBlanc.

Jonathan Bouvrette, Dylan Payea and Rich Dubeau each won heats to advance to the starting lineup. Wayne Helliwell, Jr. and Joey Polewarczyk won the two consis, but Polewarczyk was too low at the height stick and was stripped of the consi win. Faced with the prospect of racing through the B-feature, Pole loaded up for home early, leaving eleven cars to battle for four spots and two provisionals. Cody LeBlanc won the B-feature, with Scott Payea finishing third to advance to the 250. In addition to Polewarczyk, Peyton and Reilly Lanphear, Michael Wray, Star Speedway’s Erick Sands, and “Ironman” Claude Leclerc were left to pack up early.

Scott Dragon and northern New Hampshire racer Shawn Swallow brought the field to the green flag, but rookie Stephen Donahue wasted no time going to the front. The Thunder Road and WMMP weekly regular had raced in all but one Tour event in 2019, skipping the last race at Star. On his home turf, he looked like a veteran, leading the first stint of the race before a competition caution on lap 75. Quinny Welch rose to the occasion, dueling with Donahue for the race lead while looking to secure his first career Tour win on a track he knew well. A lap-170 caution drew the field back to Welch’s rear bumper, with Jimmy Hebert assuming the lead when most of the lead lap cars pitted for tires.

Hebert, still on his original rubber, hoped to use track position and the advantageous high line to maintain the lead. Hebert’s strategy only lasted a few laps before Scott Payea moved to the top spot. The defending champion held court for 40 laps before Stephen Donahue reassumed the lead on a lap-219 restart.

Hebert was not done out front, though, keeping Payea and Donahue honest despite his worn tires. With fourteen laps left, the Thompson winner got past Payea on a restart and looked to be en route to his second win of the year. A spin for Trent Goodrow moved Payea back alongside Hebert with only four laps left, and after two aborted restarts, the two leaders made contact racing for the lead, with Payea going for a spin and drawing a twelfth caution on the event. Hebert, for his part in the duel, was sent to the rear of the field as well.

That moved Donahue back to the lead, with Wayne Helliwell, Jr. sitting second. Helliwell had started 15th, only breaking into the top five in the final segment of the race. Even Helliwell’s entry had been a wait-and-see. The three-time ACT champion has battled multiple sclerosis for years, but flare-ups of the condition had hampered his racing plans in 2019, forcing Helliwell and car owner Bruce Bernhardt to pick and choose their races, sometimes at the last minute. Helliwell had felt well enough to race a week before at WMMP, winning the 150-lap New Hampshire Governor’s Cup. And he felt well enough to give the Midsummer 250 a go.

On the restart, the veteran had plenty left in the tank. Helliwell shot into the lead, then held off Donahue in a clean battle for the top spot. Helliwell only led four laps all night, but they were the most important four, as he rolled on to his twelfth career ACT Tour win, his first of the year and his first since his last full-time title run in 2015. Remarkably, Helliwell’s win was also his first top ten in four points races this year; despite leading laps early, Helliwell had fallen out of his two previous Tour attempts at WMMP and Star Speedway.

Stephen Donahue’s runner-up result was the best run of his Tour career. Behind him, Thunder Road regulars Jason Corliss and Scott Dragon were third and fourth, with Tour points leader Rich Dubeau the best full-timer in fifth.

WMMP ace Quinny Welch finished sixth, leading 91 laps early in the race. Rookie Ryan Kuhn was seventh. Scott Payea battled back to eighth, with Joel Hodgdon ninth and Jimmy Hebert rounding out the top ten. Dylan Payea finished 11th, the final car on the lead lap.

Two laps back from Payea, Christopher Pelkey was 12th, ahead of Trent Goodrow and part-timer Adam Gray. Mathieu Kingsbury, advancing to the feature with a provisional, was the best-finishing Quebecer in 15th. Matt Anderson and Scott Coburn were the only other two racers to finish, several laps behind the leaders.

B-feature winner Cody LeBlanc was 18th after a late-race crash. Jonathan Bouvrette was credited with 20th. Rhode Island’s Mark Jenison was 21st. Bryan Kruczek and front-row started Shawn Swallow were next with mechanical issues. Corey Mason was credited with last place, after being thrown from the race for contact under caution.

With the late dust-up for Jimmy Hebert and Scott Payea, Rich Dubeau padded his points lead over Hebert, with Payea still a distant third. Rookie Ryan Kuhn sits fourth, sandwiched between cousins Scott and Dylan Payea. While the top two are only 21 points apart, the gaps back to third, fourth and fifth will need significant misfortune to shuffle around. The top three have yet to finish outside the top ten this year (Scott Payea’s Thunder Road adventure excepted), while fifth-place Dylan Payea and his nearest rivals for fifth have only racked up a handful of top-ten finishes this year. Strong local fields at the Tour’s events have not only made qualifying itself a challenge, but they have scrambled the top ten in points with many top finishes going to the local stars.

It seems appropriate, then, that the next Tour event is at a track that does not feature ACT-spec Late Models at the weekly level. The Tour is off for the next couple weeks, reconvening at Oxford Plains Speedway later this month for a 150-lap Saturday-night prelude to the PASS-sanctioned Oxford 250.

PASS NORTH: SHAW BESTS SWEET IN SHOOTOUT AT SPUD SPEEDWAY

Despite Tuesday evening’s 200-lap feature at Star Speedway being called off on account of the weather, the Pro All Stars Series teams hardly had a week off. The touring Super Late Models were booked for a Sunday afternoon showing at Spud Speedway in Caribou, Maine. The third-mile oval only a few miles from the Canadian border was the host to the Firecracker 200, a double-bill with the PASS Modifieds that marked the northernmost stop on the schedule.

Eighteen teams made the long trek to Spud, with local racer Kirk Thibeau having perhaps the shortest drive. Bangor-area racers Mike Hopkins and Andy Saunders hoped to copy Gary Smith, who won at Beech Ridge Saturday night and was in action Sunday as well. Smith was not the only Beech Ridge regular in the field, with Mike Rowe racing a #8 car owned by Hal O’Neal. Spud Speedway graduate Austin Theriault, fresh off two starts in NASCAR’s Cup Series, had made a trip home for the weekend, dusting off “T-Rex” for a run at his home track. College student Wyatt Alexander was back in his family’s #96 looking for a strong run leading into the Oxford 250. Brandon Barker, after a night at Oxford in his own #88, was in the Wright Pearson #16 ride he had been running in the Granite State Pro Stock Series.

One surprising absence was that of Travis Benjamin. Last year’s title runner-up and the Petit Motorsports team elected not to race at Spud, instead running in Saturday evening’s weekly feature at Oxford Plains Speedway to tune up for the Oxford 250. After a rough start to the season, Benjamin was well back in the standings after the ninth race of the season, leaving him as a long shot for his third series title. Benjamin was in good company, with PASS semi-regulars Reid Lanpher and Johnny Clark focusing on Oxford as well.

Nick Sweet, DJ Shaw and Bobby Therrien clinched heat wins to set the grid for the 150-lap feature, with former Thunder Road rivals Sweet and Therrien securing the front row ahead of Shawn Martin and Brandon Barker.

At the drop of the green, Sweet wasted no time in building a lead on the field. The 2012 Thunder Road “King of the Road” and 2016 ACT Tour champion sought a new challenge after his Tour success, building a Super Late Model for the PASS North circuit. A crash at Thunder Road sidelined Sweet six races into 2017, but he came back a year later, running 12 of 18 events. Hard luck was the order of the day for the longtime pairing, but Sweet and Mad Dog Motorsports had stuck it out. Their perseverance paid off in the closing weeks of 2018, with Sweet clinching his first career PASS win at Thunder Road and finishing third in the season finale at Seekonk Speedway.

Sweet had yet to win in 2019, but with seven top-ten finishes and four top-five runs in nine races, he seemed to be knocking at the door for his second career win. As Sweet stretched his advantage to nearly half a track at times, Spud Speedway looked more and more like the place where that win might fall.

Kirk Thibeau’s spin on lap 69 erased that lead, though, bringing Oxford regular and former ACT racer Shawn Martin back to Sweet’s door. Sweet continued to lead, but DJ Shaw moved into the runner-up slot after the restart. The three-time PASS champion stalked Sweet, looking to cap off the reversal of some mid-season misfortune. After starting 2019 with two wins and two second-place finishes, Shaw had not seen the top five again until two weeks earlier at White Mountain Motorsports Park.

Shaw made his first move on lap 100, taking the lead briefly only for Sweet to snatch it back on a restart. Sweet and Shaw traded the lead back and forth, but in the long run, it was Shaw who would prevail. The second-generation racer never backed down as he fought his way to a third 2019 win and his first at Spud Speedway.

Nick Sweet finished second, while Ben Rowe finished third for his fourth-straight top-five result after a merely-average start to the year. Garrett Hall had a quiet day with a fourth-place finish. Derek Griffith’s fifth-place was not so hushed, as the young driver fought back from a mid-race incident with Brandon Barker and Mike Hopkins.

Austin Theriault was sixth in his PASS visit, with Andy Saunders finishing a solid seventh. Gabe Brown, Wyatt Alexander and Mike Rowe rounded out the top ten.

Oxford regular Scott McDaniel was 11th, with New Brunswick racer Chris Duncan representing Canada with a 12th-place run. Kirk Thibeau was 13th ahead of Bobby Therrien and Shawn Martin. Gary Smith was 16th, hardly a repeat of his winning performance the night before. Barker and Hopkins were out early after the incident with Derek Griffith.

In the point standings, only 73 points separate leader DJ Shaw from sixth-place Gabe Brown, with Garrett Hall and Nick Sweet lurking behind Shaw. Derek Griffith sits fourth in points, his three wins offsetting a couple disappointing runs. Ben Rowe, on the back of his top-five streak, is fifth in points, with the option of gaining ground in the standings. Behind Brown, the top ten is spread out among the semi-regular competitors. Travis Benjamin, now out of the title race after skipping Spud, has a race’s advantage on Reid Lanpher, who also sat out the Spud event. Bobby Therrien, who skipped the first two races of the year but has attempted every event since, is closing on Lanpher. Johnny Clark sits tenth, having skipped three events; however, below tenth place, no driver has more than five starts, leaving Clark with a solid margin over the field.

Shaw’s victory came in his Ford Mustang-bodied Gen-6 car, marking the first win for the new sheetmetal since Garrett Hall’s Oxford victory in June. Of the four wins for the Gen-6 car, Shaw has three of them. Despite the new bodies sweeping the podium, only five were in the field at all, with most of the part-time challengers still running ABC-legal cars.

The PASS North teams are back in action Sunday evening for a race at Oxford Plains Speedway. The event, a replacement for the cancelled race at Speedway 51, will be a more timely final shakedown for the Oxford 250 in a couple weeks. While teams are shaking down their equipment, a further shakeup in the points could be in store. Ben Rowe and Travis Benjamin, among a number of Northeast stars, are competing in Pennsylvania at the $10,000-to-win Motor Mountain Masters at Jennerstown Speedway Complex. Both drivers are on the Oxford entry list as well, but will have a tall order to make it back from western Pennsylvania for Sunday evening. The real race may be on the highway.

WEEKLY RACING: CORLISS RETURNS TO VICTORY AT T-ROAD, PITKAT TAKES TWO STRAIGHT AT THOMPSON

Thunder Road International Speedbowl reached the midpoint of its season last Thursday night, with Kyle Pembroke holding off three-time winner Scott Dragon for his second feature win of the season. Despite finishing second, Dragon moved to the top of the heap in a tight five-way race for the season championship.

Jason Corliss kicked off the weekend with a Thursday-night victory at Vermont’s Thunder Road International Speedbowl. Corliss took an early lead to secure his second feature win of the year and his first since the weekly season opener. Matt White, ACT Tour sophomore Christopher Pelkey, Phil Scott and last week’s winner Kyle Pembroke rounded out the top five. Corliss’ win helped to close the gap with Scott Dragon for the track’s points lead.

Veteran Scott Moore topped a field of 23 cars Saturday night at Oxford Plains Speedway, winning his first Super Late Model race since 2002 and the second of his career. Reid Lanpher was second after starting deep in the field, with Scott Robbins third and six-time PASS North champion Johnny Clark fourth.

Curtis Gerry was fifth in the feature, and with only a couple races remaining, it appears the Oxford title is all but sealed up. Gerry, the two-time and reigning Beech Ridge Motor Speedway Pro Series champion, made the switch to Oxford’s SLM program in the offseason, seeking a new challenge for 2019. With four weekly wins and a couple wins in PASS trim this year, the Gerry team may have to take to the road for a new challenge in 2020.

Joining Lanpher and Clark at Oxford were fellow touring stars Travis Benjamin (sixth), Brandon Barker (eighth), Craig Weinstein (10th), Dennis Spencer, Jr. (15th), Dan Winter (18th) and Mike Scorzelli (22nd). Jeff Taylor finished eleventh in the field, with two cars not making the grid in time for the start of the feature.

Gary Smith scored his first feature win of 2019 at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway before heading north for Sunday’s PASS race. Trevor Sanborn and Nick Cusack rounded out the podium. Sanborn now leads the Pro Series standings by five markers over fourth-place Dave Farrington, Jr. and David Oliver, who finished eighth.

Modified star Woody Pitkat won his second straight feature at Thompson Speedway in Connecticut on Sunday, with two straight weekends of weekly racing on tap at the high-banked oval. Rick Gentes finished second with William Wall, Nicholas Johnson and Ryan Morgan rounding out the top five. Mark Jenison took advantage of a week off at Seekonk Speedway to race at Thompson, but finished last in the 18-car field.

Tuesday evening, Eddie MacDonald took a trip west to Wisconsin International Raceway for the ARCA Midwest Tour’s Dixieland 250. In an arrangement similar to his appearance at the Milwaukee Mile, Eddie Mac was entered in a Pathfinder Chassis car fielded by Pathfinder owner Joe Wood, with support from his team back home. Eddie was en route to a top-five finish before cutting a tire late in the going, relegating the big-track ace to a tenth-place run.

NEXT ON THE SCHEDULE

The Pro All Stars Series North teams have their last race before the Oxford 250 this weekend, with a 150-lap Sunday-evening bout at Oxford Plains Speedway serving as the final race-trim practice for the season’s biggest race.

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Jeff Brown is a contributor to Short Track Scene. A native of New Hampshire and a long-time fan of New England racing, Brown provides a fan's perspective as he follows New England's regional Late Model touring series.

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