Tom Herzig's Trackside: Great finish for Dover's Helliwell
Helliwell and his Ekeys4Cars/Unique Ford No. 27 team began the day eight points up on defending and 8-time ACT champion Brian Hoar. He gained two more points during the heats and started sixth in the 36-car Fall Foliage 200 field. Hoar was lined up right behind him.
ACT awards five points to each driver who leads a lap and it gives a five-point bonus to whoever leads the most laps. There's a seven-point spread between finishing first and second. In the early going, Canadian Jean-Francois Dery stepped out to a comfortable lead. Helliwell spent the first 25 laps negotiating his way around polesitter Nick Sweet and Serie ACT Castrol champion Patrick Laperle. He took the lead from Dery on lap 52.
When the yellow came out on lap 60, Hoar pitted out of third place for right side tires (it was a six-tire race with a mandatory fuel stop). Helliwell gave up the lead to go in under yellow on lap 89. By the halfway mark, Hoar had the lead. The way the numbers added up, it became apparent that if Hoar could keep the lead the rest of the way, he'd win his ninth title. Helliwell was sixth with a few lapped cars in between.
What unfolded was some the best short track racing one could ever hope to see.
Helliwell had to dig deep to get by Randy Potter for fourth. He got underneath Canadian Donald Theetge for third on lap 145 and rookie Jimmy Hebert for second on lap 158. He got to Hoar's rear quarter-panel on lap 164 and the leader looked vulnerable. But not so fast. Hoar had the higher groove and lapped traffic to protect him on the bottom.
On lap 172, Helliwell got a nose in front for the lead for all the good it did him. Jean-Paul Cyr, himself a seven-time ACT champion, got sent into a light pole in the infield, which then fell onto his roof. The restart left 'leader' Helliwell on the inside with Hoar beside him. Hoar had the lead back by the exit of turn two. The lead went back and forth inches at a time, sometimes twice or more on the same lap, until Hoar's downfall - a final caution with 10 laps left. Hoar's tires were gone and Helliwell dusted him off as soon as the green was thrown.
A fast-closing Austin Theriault got up for second with Laperle in tow for third, but no matter, New Hampshire had its first ACT champion in the Late Model era. Brad Leighton of Center Harbor won the 1995 crown in a Pro-Stock.
'He really earned it,' Wayne Helliwell Sr., said standing to the side in victory lane composed, but misty-eyed. 'That was no gimme. He's a good kid.'
'It's awesome,' Helliwell's wife Jill said. 'It makes all the time we spend apart worth it.'
Hoar and Helliwell finished 1-2 in the tour opener at Lee USA and the second race at Thunder Road. Helliwell won at Devil's Bowl and White Mountain sandwiched around a clunker at Oxford Plains (30th). Sunday's win gave him five wins to Hoar's four.
Todd Warren of Rutland, Mass., picked up his first Outlaw win at Hudson. Other winners included Roadrunner Niko Maniaitis of Hooksett, Allan Reiser of North Brookfield, Mass., in a V-6 Modified and Chad Wendell/Rookie Stocks. It's double-points championship day at Hudson Sunday.
Thunder Road's 50th Milk Bowl, rained out two weeks ago, goes Sunday. A $50,000 bonus has been posted for any driver that can sweep all three legs of the event (50, 75 and 75 laps).
Monadnock got - you guessed it - rained out in its fourth attempt to run the Granite State Pro Stock Series John Hoyt Memorial. It has been rescheduled for Monadnock's finale Saturday, Oct. 27.
The World Series of Speedway racing goes this weekend at Thompson Speedway. The headline event is the Whelen Modified Tour finale. Doug Coby leads Ryan Preece by 16 points. Ronnie Silk is one point further back.
Rowan Pennink won a rain-shortened Valenti Modified Series event at Seekonk Saturday. It was his second win of the season and it brought him within eyesight (37 points) of series leader Jon McKennedy. The VMS Modifieds are back in action Saturday night at Thompson. Their final event is at Lee USA's Oktoberfest Oct. 19-21.
Over 300 cars from all over the Northeast are expected to compete in the 12 divisions of race cars that will be featured at Lee's Oktoberfest. Last year, seven states and several Canadian provinces were represented, the farthest coming from Nova Scotia.
This year, three series championships will be decided, and for the rest, bragging rights throughout the winter will be on the line.
Tom Herzig writes a weekly motor sports column for the New Hampshire Union Leader.
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On Track This Week
Thompson Speedway: Saturday, 2 p.m.
Star Speedway: Saturday, 6 p.m.
Hudson Speedway: Sunday, 1 p.m.
Thunder Road (Vt.): Sunday, 1 p.m.
Thompson Speedway: Sunday, noon