PHOTO: Lee USA Speedway tends to throw off some good racing and tight action, like this ACT bodyslam from last year. (Leif Tillotson photo)
-by Justin St. Louis
The American-Canadian Tour gets its season under way with the New Hampshire Governor’s Cup 150 at Lee USA Speedway this weekend– finally! — and we can all go back about our business.
Many would argue that the ACT season started in February at New Smyrna Speedway. Those people are right, kinda, but this weekend’s race actually counts toward the championship, and everyone who wants to be anyone on the Tour this year will be there.
Plus, being that it’s about 1,200 miles closer to home, you can go, too.
Lee USA is a fun little bullring. Opened in 1987 to replace the old Lee Speedway tri-oval, the 3/8-mile has two good racing grooves that both sort of wash up the track in the middle of the corners. It’s one of the few places ACT visits with a concrete wall all the way around it, and that wall comes up in a hurry coming out of Turn 2 to head down the backstretch. Side-by-side action, lots of tire donuts, and the occasional twisted front clip are all staples of racing at Lee USA.
We highly recommend a trip down to see the place. It’s pretty easy to get to, the food is tasty and fairly priced, and the racing is good.
In anticipation of the season opener, here’s a look at five of the biggest stories revolving around the ACT Late Model Tour universe and why they’ll make a difference as the year goes on.
1. Brian Hoar vs. Joey Polewarczyk, Jr. — Hoar dominated the early part of the 2010 season and ended up with his seventh ACT championship. After a slow start, Polewarczyk dominated the second half of the season and ended up second overall. The pair split the 100-lap events at New Smyrna, and Hoar finished one point behind Polewarczyk for the championship. This weekend they go to Lee, the track where Polewarczyk got his start, a place Hoar yet to master. Next up will be Thunder Road, where Hoar leads Polewarczyk in the career victory count, 10-2. The rest of the schedule is interesting, too: Polewarczyk has won at Oxford, Beech Ridge, and New Hampshire — Hoar hasn’t — and Hoar has won at White Mountain, Ste-Croix, and Airborne — places Polewarczyk has yet to break through at. Neither has been stellar at Twin State, and neither has seen Devil’s Bowl yet. Expect the 37-97 battle to be back and forth all year, hopefully with the occasional verbal joust, too.
2. The return of Jean-Paul Cyr. — In case you missed it, Jean-Paul Cyr is back running ACT. For real this time, too. Cyr has his own team, a list of new sponsors, and a more-than-capable crew. Oh, and as if he needed the extra push, he’s more driven to win than he’s ever been, calling his 2010 season “a travesty.” He’s won on six of the ten tracks the ACT Late Model Tour will visit this year — seven if you count his 1990 championship at Devil’s Bowl when it was still a dirt track.
3. The ACT Late Model Tour’s 20th season. — From the very first race, a 25-lap show at the Sanair Super Speedway tri-oval won by “Stormin’” Norman Andrews, to the “Magic Mile” at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, the series has certainly grown from the days of stock bodies, treaded tires, and the old “Thunder Road and Airborne on tour” mentality. The New Hampshire Governor’s Cup 150 will be the ACT Late Model Tour’s 212th feature event and is due to feature a collection of talent from every state in New England, plus New York and Canada. It’s been a fun ride, and it will be interesting to see in which direction the series heads over the next year or two, given Tom Curley’s self-imposed retirement deadline at the close of the 2012 season.
4. Brent Dragon’s two-team effort. — Milton veteran Brent Dragon is going a different route this year in order to complete his Tour schedule: Dragon will split his time between his own car and one owned by White Mountain Motorsports Park promoter Donnie Avery. Both cars are Taylor-built Distance Racing chassis with the same basic functionality, but will be kept in different states, run at different tracks, and be serviced by different crews. It will be very interesting to see if one side outperforms the other… especially if the Avery car ends up being the better ride. We’ll get our first look at what the pairing has got this weekend, as Dragon hops into the Avery car for the first time at Lee.
5. The new guys. — The ACT Late Model Tour is enjoying an influx of outside talent in 2011, and it should be fun to watch a new crop of racers come into the system. Former NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and Busch North Series driver Tom Carey, Jr., is on board, as are Seekonk Speedway’s Ray Parent, former Oxford Plains Speedway champions Dennis Spencer and Shane Green, Pete Yetman from Thompson Int’l Speedway, and, of course, Lee USA Speedway king Wayne Helliwell, Jr., who has already begun to make his mark with ACT. And don’t forget Middlebury rookie Hunter Bates, who — still three months shy of his 16th birthday — comes to ACT having won the overall Sportsman Modified championship for the Champlain Valley Racing Association at Devil’s Bowl and Albany-Saratoga last season.
Stuff to mull over as we head to Lee USA Speedway:
–The New Hampshire Governor’s Cup 150 will pay $2,500 to the winner, plus contingency bonuses. The total purse is $26,940, and 30 starting positions are available.
–With seven starts, Jean-Paul Cyr leads all ACT drivers with $14,477 in career earnings at Lee USA Speedway, or, an average of $2,068.14 per race.
–Miles Chipman of Epping, N.H., earned his first career ACT Late Model Tour victory in last year’s Governor’s Cup event. Chipman held off Jeff Labrecque, Jr., and Brian Hoar for the win. Chipman and Labrecque were weekly competitors at Lee USA in 2010, but the track has discontinued its Late Model program this year.
–In eight ACT Late Model Tour events held at Lee USA Speedway, no driver has been able to win more than one race. Chipman and D.J. Kennington earned their first — and to date, only — ACT wins at Lee. Other winners were Patrick Laperle, Cris Michaud, Cyr, Ben Rowe, Joey Polewarczyk, Jr., and Brad Leighton.
–The largest field of cars to ever attempt qualifying for an ACT Late Model Tour championship event was 76, at the New England Dodge Dealers Late Model Nationals 150 at Lee USA Speedway on September 26, 2004. Kennington, of St. Thomas, Ont., earned $11,530 for his win that day.
–The only ACT Late Model Tour victory registered to a car running a Toyota Camry body was Chipman’s win in the 2010 New Hampshire Governor’s Cup 150 win at Lee USA. Other makes to win at Lee are Chevrolet Monte Carlo, Chevrolet Impala, Ford Taurus, Ford Fusion, and Dodge Charger.
–Brent Dragon and Jamie Fisher are the only two drivers who have qualified for every ACT Late Model Tour event at Lee USA, but neither has ever earned a top-five finish there. Dragon has six career top-tens with three sixth-place results as his best efforts; Fisher has a best finish of ninth.
–Only two drivers in ACT Late Model Tour history have been able to win three consecutive events: Gary Caron and Ben Rowe. Rowe’s final victory during his streak came at Lee USA in July 2006, while driving for the Avery Motorsports team.
–Eddie MacDonald, whose family owns Lee USA Speedway, will be flying in from a NASCAR K&N Pro Series race at South Boston, Va., on Saturday night to compete in the ACT event on Sunday. MacDonald has raced with ACT six times at his home track with a best finish of second in 2008.
–Lee USA Speedway began hosting ACT Late Model Tour events in 2003. One event was run each year in 2003-04, 2006, and 2008-10. There were two events in 2005 and none in 2007. A total of 1,000 laps have been run in feature event competition; Polewarczyk has led 166 of them, tops all-time.
THIS WEEKEND: The Champlain Valley Motorsports Show will be held at the Crete Civic Center in Plattsburgh, N.Y., on Saturday. Doors open at 10am … Racing season opens at Lebanon Valley (N.Y.) Speedway on Saturday at 6pm … Fonda (N.Y.) Speedway opens its 2011 championship schedule at 7pm on Saturday … Albany-Saratoga (N.Y.) Speedway and Twin State (N.H.) Speedway will each hold an open practice on Saturday … Canaan Fair (N.H.) Speedway is holding Tire Day for both its asphalt and dirt tracks on Saturday from 9am to 2pm … The NASCAR K&N Pro Series East is at South Boston (Va.) Speedway on Saturday. The race will be shown on SPEED on Thursday, May 19 … The ACT Late Model Tour begins its 2011 championship season at Lee USA (N.H.) Speedway on Sunday at 1pm.