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New England Notebook: Helliwell, Sweet split ACT-PASS doubleheader at Oxford

Helliwell-Pole GSPSS 2019
Wayne Helliwell, Jr. (#27NH) battles Joey Polewarczyk in Granite State Pro Stock Series action last year. The two longtime rivals went head-to-head at Oxford Plains Speedway in this weekend's ACT Tour feature, but a slip for Pole gave the win to Helliwell with seven laps remaining. (Jeff Brown archive 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: THANKS TO LATE SPIN, HELLIWELL STEALS OXFORD WIN

When fans tuned in for last Sunday’s streaming coverage of the American-Canadian Tour Oxford 150, they could be forgiven for thinking they were getting rain-delayed footage from a few years back.

But in a rematch of the early 2010s, longtime Tour rivals Joey Polewarczyk, Jr. and Wayne Helliwell, Jr. were at the top of the lineup for much of the feature, with three-time champion Helliwell coming home victorious after a late-race incident.

RECAP: Helliwell dodges carnage for first ACT win at Oxford

“Joey Pole” took the early lead from polesitter Stephen Donahue, carving expertly through lapped traffic while leaving Helliwell, Bryan Kruczek and others to swap paint for second on back. But when Kruczek dropped off the pace with a broken axle, the two drivers who dominated the Tour for four years were left to settle the race for themselves.

With Helliwell closing in on the lead with seven laps remaining, Polewarczyk went high around Rich Dubeau while Helliwell looked low. But Polewarczyk and Dubeau made contact, and Pole’s bid for the win went up in a cloud of tire smoke as he spun to the turn-four apron. Helliwell slipped past Dubeau and Pole on the inside to take the lead, a lead he would not relinquish en route to the victory.

Helliwell and Polewarczyk, who combined to win almost half the Tour races contested from 2012 through 2015, followed similar paths as they began to focus on Super Late Model competition in 2016. The two racers even managed a rare dead-heat in a summer PASS race at Oxford that year, with officials unable to give either Helliwell or Pole the certain victory. Helliwell won August’s Oxford 250, with 2012 winner Pole finishing fifth.

While Pole continued to make spot starts in ACT competition, Helliwell’s focus was solely on Super Late Models until last year, when he returned to part-time Tour competition. Feature wins at Star Speedway and White Mountain Motorsports Park preceded a big Tour victory, his first since 2015, in August’s Midsummer 250.

DJ Shaw finished second in a car he and Bobby Therrien made spot starts in last year, with last year’s title runner-up Jimmy Hebert finishing third. Joey Pole recovered from his spin to finish fourth, with sophomore Ryan Kuhn and defending champion Dubeau the last cars on the lead lap.

Helliwell’s car sported the new ARBodies Revolution body package, marking the first Northeast touring win for the new body kit.

Twenty-seven cars made the trip to Oxford, with Mainer Garrett Leiter dropping out before the feature. Marcel J. Gravel, after missing the field at White Mountain Motorsports Park in Joey Laquerre’s car, was in his own Thunder Road entry with the ageless Laquerre at the wheel of his #15VT. Dillon Moltz made his first Tour appearance since finishing second in the points in 2017. Reilly Lanphear was the only of the sisters to tow to Oxford, with sister Peyton sitting out the race.

Two races in, the points battle is still hard to sort out. Jimmy Hebert sits atop the points standings, three markers ahead of Helliwell. But the next driver who seems likely to run the full schedule, Ryan Kuhn, is fifth in points, with Rich Dubeau another 20 points behind in sixth. Helliwell has yet to commit to a full schedule, while Polewarczyk and DJ Shaw seem unlikely to run for Tour points. Bryan Kruczek, who entered this season counting on a championship, sits 14th in points after bad luck in both races so far. Ahead of Kruczek are plenty of drivers who may not run for the title, but their status remains to be seen, likely after their weekly haunts reopen for the summer.

The ACT Tour gets an off-week before heading to Riverside Speedway in Groveton, N.H. for the Gardiner & June Leavitt Memorial 150, remembering the legendary car owners who fielded equipment for drivers including NASCAR Busch North star Brad Leighton.

PASS NORTH: SWEET BOUNCES BACK FROM WMMP DISAPPOINTMENT WITH SECOND WIN OF 2020

Last August, Nick Sweet raced to his second career Pro All Stars Series North win at Oxford Plains Speedway, giving the 2016 ACT Tour champion wins at the tracks the respective tours call home. Sweet’s win translated into a strong start later that month in the Oxford 250 en route to an eleventh-place finish.

On Sunday, Sweet added to his Oxford success, coming on strong in the last third of the race to post his second win of the year, his second at Oxford, and the fifth of his PASS career.

RECAP: Sweet flexes SLM muscle in second 2020 PASS win

Before Sweet took control, the race had a decidedly local flavor, with reigning Oxford Plains Speedway champion Curtis Gerry leading from the pole and Beech Ridge Motor Speedway regular Corey Bubar taking over. Bubar, winless in his PASS efforts thus far, drove a clean race to keep Eddie MacDonald behind him, but Sweet powered past on the outside with 37 laps remaining.

DJ Shaw, switching from the Steve Blood tribute scheme to his usual #60, got past Travis Benjamin for second, but the defending PASS champion could not run down Sweet’s fast Camaro. Benjamin finished third, with Jake Johnson and Eddie MacDonald rounding out the top five.

Thirty-four Super Late Models were in the pits for the third race of the season, though there were some surprising absences. Chief among them was Derek Griffith; the winner a week before at White Mountain Motorsports Park was focused on his ARCA Menards Series opportunity with Chad Bryant Racing, removing his name from the list of championship hopefuls. Oxford regular Austin Teras and Maine’s Kelly Moore were not at the track either after making the first two races at WMMP. Cassius Clark was in the pits, but never made it to the track for the heats or consis; while not listed as a DNS for the event, he was credited with a start in the points update. TJ Brackett, on the other hand, was scored as a did-not-start for the race.

Meanwhile, the race marked Dave Farrington, Jr.’s first non-Oxford-250 PASS start since early 2018, as the one-time PASS North regular returned to weekly competition the last few years. Derek Ramstrom, who started the first two races of the season in his own #35, hopped into NASCAR Cup Series owner Archie St. Hilaire’s #32 entry for the Oxford weekend. Brandon Barker, who started the year in a new car out of his own shop, took the wheel of Steve Murphy’s #M32, renumbered #M3 for the weekend. Mike Rowe was in the #24 Caruso-Fowler Racing entry he races at Beech Ridge, rather than the red Camaro he ran in touring events in 2019. And Joey Doiron was entered in a new white #21, matching the entry filed in his name for August’s Oxford 250.

Griffith’s withdrawal from the title race eliminates a top rival from DJ Shaw’s path to a third-straight championship. However, the defending PASS North champion has plenty of early competition. Nick Sweet’s two wins make him an early favorite to challenge, and he has plenty of background in racing for a title. Travis Benjamin and Johnny Clark are showing early speed, even if Clark’s early results betray his potential. Alan Tardiff and Ben Rowe are turning in consistent performances.

But in the time of a pandemic, nothing seems certain, with races likely to change due to forces beyond the control of the Mayberrys or their racers. And whether drivers like Derek Ramstrom or Trevor Sanborn, neither of whom have run for points in years, choose to stay the course will determine who is left to challenge Shaw up front.

The fourth event of the PASS schedule was contested at White Mountain Motorsports Park Friday evening; a recap will be featured as part of next week’s Notebook.

WEEKLY RACING: TAYLOR, HELLIWELL BRING VETERAN PRESENCE TO TRACK REOPENINGS

A night before the ACT-PASS doubleheader, Oxford Plains Speedway’s weekly classes roared to life in front of empty grandstands as the 2020 Oxford Championship Series season finally got underway. A twenty-eight-car field drew entries from the presently-shuttered Beech Ridge Motor Speedway and the visiting PASS performers, but Oxford veteran Jeff Taylor held off the field to earn his first Super Late Model win of 2020 and his first since last May. Reigning Beech Ridge track champion Dave Farrington, Jr. and defending Oxford champ Curtis Gerry rounded out the podium in a race that featured appearances by DJ Shaw, Derek Ramstrom, and Eddie MacDonald, among others.

Beech Ridge, meanwhile, will not remain shuttered for long; the track announced this week that it will run a shortened series of open-competition weekly features through the summer, in lieu of a traditional points championship. Championship-minded drivers may opt to focus on Oxford’s weekly program this year, but the open-competition arrangement could prove exciting for Beech Ridge’s fans. The track still hopes to host the Granite State Pro Stock Series in August, though that date likely hinges upon the state’s reopening guidelines.

Wiscasset Speedway remains closed at present; the Jordan family has asserted that they will not reopen the track without fan attendance, and Maine is still not allowing fans at sporting events.

White Mountain Motorsports Park’s Saturday-night ACT Late Model program rolled on with second-year driver Joel Hodgdon winning his first Late Model feature at the quarter-mile. Defending track champion Quinny Welch was second with Oren Remick third. Sixteen cars were on hand, with some drivers opting to head to Maine for Sunday’s ACT Tour event.

Further south, Star Speedway opened its Late Model season with a 75-lap feature to replace the cancelled ACT-PASS doubleheader originally scheduled for the weekend. Even with the touring cars due to race in Maine on Sunday, an eighteen-car field turned out for the race, with Wayne Helliwell, Jr. avoiding an early pileup to win the first Late Model feature of the year. Ryan Lineham, Connecticut’s Ryan Morgan and Woody Pitkat were among the invaders stopping by for the weekly feature.

Thunder Road International Speedbowl welcomed fans back in a limited capacity Thursday night, with former track champion Scott Dragon holding off Jason Corliss and Bobby Therrien to win the third Late Model feature of the season. Dragon rebounded from last week’s misfortune, when a blown engine kept him from taking the green flag. Marcel Gravel sits atop the track standings with Trampas Demers and Therrien behind him.

UPCOMING EVENTS

The American-Canadian Tour treks north to Riverside Speedway in Groveton, N.H. Saturday for the Gardiner & June Leavitt Memorial 150, the first Tour event at the track under the ownership of the Humphrey family.

The Granite State Pro Stock Series returns to Hudson (N.H.) Speedway Sunday afternoon for the annual Gate City 100.

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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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