–by T.J. Ingerson (@TJIngerson)
VMM Editor

LEE, N.H. – The ACT Late Model Tour will kick off its 2016 racing season this weekend at Lee USA Speedway in the New Hampshire Governor’s Cup 150 and will begin a 13-race journey to crown its champion.

And the list of challengers may be the largest it has been in recent years.

Leading the list will be the driver that fills the biggest seat left vacated at the end of the season, Scott Payea. The Milton, Vt. driver will take over the driver’s seat for Brian Hoar in the RPM Motorsports No. 37vt. Even though Payea will pilot the car that won the final two ACT Late Model Tour races of the 2015 season, Payea is no slouch himself as he has earned himself five ACT Late Model Tour victories in his career and finished runner-up in the standings – twice – including once to Hoar in 2009.

A driver who will look to ride the momentum of a career year in 2015 will be Brad Babb. The Windham, Maine driver netted the first two ACT Late Model Tour wins of his young career and earned himself a third place finish in the season standings. His strong finish to the season – which included a runner-up showing at Thompson Speedway – nets him on the shortlist of ACT title contenders.

Jimmy Hebert will be looking for a bounce back season after a dismal 2015 season, but had the speed at nearly every race to be considered a favorite. The Williamstown, Vt. driver owns two wins on the ACT Late Model Tour – including one at Lee USA Speedway – and a quick start to the season could erase the memories of 2015 and put him on the fast track to championship contender.

Dillon Moltz stormed onto the ACT Late Model Tour scene last year with two top-ten place finishes – including a near-victory at Oxford in July – in his first two starts and also challenged for the win at the season finale at Thompson before an incident ended his night. The 2014 Granite State Pro Stock Series champion is likely to be a top contender for wins during the 2016 ACT Late Model Tour season and, with wins, comes championship aspirations.

Ultimately, though, the toughest challenger might be Eddie MacDonald, who’s Freddie Peterson-owned team filed a full season entry. The only thing that might keep the Rowley, Mass. driver from championship aspirations is trying to race at two places at practically the same time. MacDonald is scheduled to pilot his NASCAR K&N Pro Series East car at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on the same day at the ACT Late Model Tour event at Seekonk Speedway. But, MacDonald may be good enough – and have the speed – to overcome any downfall of a missed race like three-time champion Wayne Helliwell Jr. did two years ago.

Realistically, any championship contender will have to go through just that same guy – Helliwell. The Dover, N.H. put forth an impressive season last year and earned top 10 place finishes in every race – and only finished out of the top-five just three times in a back-and-forth championship battle with Joey Polewarczyk Jr. In his five full seasons with the ACT Late Model Tour, Helliwell has only finished outside of the top-ten six times in 57 starts. It’s ultimately Helliwell’s championship to lose and, based on past results, it doesn’t appear that the Bruce Bernhardt-owned team will let that happen quietly as they have won three championships in five seasons.

The 2016 ACT Late Model Tour season will begin on Sunday, April 10 at Lee USA Speedway. Post time is set for 1:15pm.

(VMM file photo)