–by T.J. Ingerson (@TJIngerson)
THOMPSON, Conn. — Scott Payea is no longer the bridesmaid.
After finishing runner-up four times for the ACT Late Model Tour championship, the Milton, Vt. driver captured his first series championship on Saturday night at Thompson Speedway.
“I felt like I was always going to be the bridesmaid and never the bride,” Payea said. “This season was just awesome with five wins. Every week we felt like we had a car to win. It was great.
“Other than a little bad luck at White Mountain, where we got tore up early, every week this team gave me a great race car and things finally came together.”
Payea set a new ACT Late Model Tour record with four straight wins. That four race run of wins allowed him to stretch his championship lead to an insurmountable advantage over championship runner-up Dillon Moltz. Payea picked up his fifth and final win of the season at Thunder Road in September.
In three races this season, Payea’s RPM Motorsports team faced adversity. Twice, they came out on top with race wins.
“It’s a testament to (car owner) Rick (Paya) as a crew chief,” Payea said. “He just coaches us so well and we don’t panic. We just keep working at it and battle back and take what the race will give us.
“We put ourselves in positions to capitalize and that’s what we did all year.”
Payea jumped to the ACT Late Model Tour in the 2005 season and earned runner-up championship finishes in 2007, 2008, and 2009. He lost the championship by one point in 2008.
He left the ACT Late Model Tour in 2010 due to funding and began to focus on weekly Late Model racing at Thunder Road Speedbowl. He stepped away from racing entirely following the 2013 season to focus more time on family. Payea returned following Brian Hoar’s retirement after the 2015 season and finish second in the championship last year.
“It’s really unbelievable. I never thought it would happen,” Payea said. “I stepped away and you think you’re never going to drive a top caliber car again. And then to have this opportunity.
“To be close last year and just put it all together this year. It’s a phenomenal feeling. It’s unreal.”
Payea’s name was first on Paya’s list when he had a driver vacancy following the 2015 season. The two now have eight race wins in 23 Tour starts together.
“Rick’s an amazing crew chief,” Payea said. “He’s always thinking and he’s great on the radio as my spotter as well. It’s easy to say myself and Rick, but there’s a whole crew of guys that show up every week and are in the shop.
“It’s easy to think the team has had success and they’ll continue, but we just work hard every week. I can’t thank them enough.”
For Paya, it was his ninth ACT Late Model Tour championship as a crew chief.
Payea began his racing career in the beginner Street Stock division at Airborne Park Speedway when it was run by the late American-Canadian Tour President Tom Curley. He continued up Curley’s ladder system into the Flying Tigers at Thunder Road and then to the Late Models in 2005.
“I miss Tom tremendously,” Payea said. “I’m a product of his system with the Street Stocks and the Tigers and then Late Models. If it wasn’t for his vision and making an affordable Late Model series I would have never gotten my start. I wouldn’t be here today.
“That man was phenomenal. He did so much for racing and my career. It wouldn’t have had the trajectory it has had without him.”
But for Payea, after many times trying, he can finally call himself a champion.
“It finally happened,” Payea said. “We got it done.
“We’re going to cherish this one.”
1 – Scott Payea celebrates his 2017 ACT Late Model Tour championship on Saturday night at Thompson Speedway. (T.J. Ingerson/VMM photo)
2 – Scott Payea and his Rick Paya-led RPM Motorsports team celebrate their 2017 ACT Late Model Tour championship on Saturday night at Thompson Speedway. (T.J. Ingerson/VMM photo)