–by T.J. Ingerson (@TJIngerson)
WEST HAVEN – If Wayne Helliwell Jr. needed to visit any track to re-kick start his 2016 season, Devil’s Bowl Speedway may have been the place.
The Dover, N.H. driver led the majority of the People’s United Bank 100 and settled for a second place finish after Nick Sweet got by the three-time champion late in the event.
“I don’t know what it is about this place,” Helliwell said. “It’s long straightaways and flat, swooping turns which is not my driving style whatsoever.
“But there is just something about this place. I like it. I like the way it races.”
Helliwell started the third spot and wrestled the lead away from Sweet on lap 30. He would then stretch his lead over Sweet to more than half of a straightaway prior to navigating lapped traffic before the races’ first caution on lap 79.
“The car was really, really good as soon as we unloaded,” Helliwell explained. “The setup was unlike the setups we’ve used here in the past. We kind of felt like we got too stagnant and just relying on the setups we’ve had. We kind of ventured out of the box. I think we stumbled upon something and it brought the car to life.
Helliwell’s strategy entering the 100-lap race at Devil’s Bowl was to go quickly, something that may have hurt him after the race’s four caution flags that came within 12 laps of each other.
“We seem to excel at the 150 (lap) races,” Helliwell said. “Today was a little bit different mindset for the race and kind of taking off right away and really not saving too much stuff. It might have bit us, but I think some of those long cautions toward the end got us.
“It got just free enough to rotate the center and carry it down the (straightaway), but those two long cautions, but it felt like the right front tire started to lose pressure. It just didn’t cut like it did. Who would have known that would happen. Maybe if it was a 150 it would have been a different story.”
Helliwell joked that he hoped the new black-car jinx was over after the Bruce Bernhardt-owned team went away from their famed orange scheme after new sponsor, Rydemore Heavy Duty Truck Parts, signed on for the entire ACT Late Model Tour season.
“Ever since we changed this thing to black nothing has gone our way,” Helliwell laughed. “But this is definitely good momentum.”
Helliwell pointed to a race that happened a week earlier – the Pro All Stars Series Super Late Model race at Thunder Road – as a point that might have turned their season around for both cars.
“I know the team is definitely up after last weekend with the Super Late Model at Thunder Road,” Helliwell said. “I think it brought a little bit of life back to the team. It’s definitely a good thing.”
PHOTO: Wayne Helliwell Jr. finished in the second spot on Saturday night at Devil’s Bowl Speedway. Here, Helliwell is accepting his runner-up trophy from People’s United Bank’s Sharon Kendall and Devil’s Bowl Speedway Chip Bruno Alexander. (T.J. Ingerson/VMM photo)