Tom Herzig's Trackside: ACT revs up with Governor's Cup 150 at Lee
The region’s short track schedule starts picking up the pace this weekend with Opening Day events at Lee USA, Monadnock Speedway and Oxford (Maine) Plains.
Joe Bassett has assumed duties as Lee’s general manager from sort-of-retired Bill Callen. His first task is to welcome in the American Canadian Tour (ACT) Late Models for Sunday’s 31st Annual Governor’s Cup 150.
The NE Classic Lites and the North East Mini Stock Tour will also be at Lee. Heywood Herriott of Gorham is the defending North East Mini Stock Tour champion.
ACT usually puts on an entertaining race at Lee. Last year’s winner, Scott Payea of Milton, Vt. — who once came within one point of winning the Tour championship — will return to drive the RPM Motorsports No. 37. He is the only repeat winner of the Governor’s Cup in the last 14 years.
Quebec ACT Séries 2014 champion Alex Labbe, who recently had a NASCAR Xfinity Series start at Texas Motor Speedway, is one of several Canadian entries.
In 2015, Dover’s Wayne Helliwell Jr. won the Governor’s Cup. Eddie MacDonald of Rowley, Mass., the 2014 winner, plans to fly in from a NASCAR K&N Pro Series race at Bristol Saturday in time for ACT qualifying Sunday. MacDonald recently won the PASS Super Late Model race at Thompson’s Icebreaker event.
Helliwell Jr.’s ACT car has been sold. He intends to run selected Super Late Model races this season, including, to be sure, the Oxford 250. He will likely first turn up around Memorial Day weekend or thereabouts.
Dave Helliwell, Wayne’s younger brother, won the 2016 Lee Supermodified championship as a rookie driving for car owner Rich Silva. He will open defense of his title when Lee’s weekly Friday night schedule gets underway May 19.
Silva’s car has been purchased by Star Speedway promoter Bobby Webber Jr. It will be driven at the Epping quarter-mile by New Jersey youngster Anthony Payne.
“This year I’m going to be driving the Witkum Brothers No. 21 small-block Super,” and a Dwarf car at White Mountain,” Dave Helliwell said.
The Witkum Brothers No. 21 is sponsored by Scherbon Consolidated of Amesbury, Mass., Witkum Flooring, Custom Iron Craft of Tewksbury, Mass., and Harrington Paving.
“The car has the same crate motor it started out with seven years ago,” said Ed Witkum Sr. (who’s been in the racing game for over a half-century). “It’s won two championships and missed a couple others by 10 points or less.”
The EXIT Realty Modified Touring Series 125 is the main event at Monadnock’s O’Reilly’s Auto Parts Spring Dash. Ryan Preece of Berlin, Conn., who drove the Ed Partridge No. 6 Modified to a $15,000 payday in a 200-lap Modified Open at Monadnock last year, will compete in a Partridge team car Saturday.
Preece stepped away from his 2016 NASCAR Xfinity Series national ride after deciding that his career was not going to be furthered by finishing mid-pack repeatedly for an underfunded team.
“I don’t regret racing with Johnny Davis Motorsports at all,” Preece said. “But I felt I just needed to be someplace where I can win.” To that end, he and Partridge are teaming up to rejoin the Whelen Modified Tour and enter other selected Modified races.
Monadnock reports that 2016 Sportsman Modified champion Bill Kimball of Bennington, is turning his ride over to son Matt, who will be one of several rookies in the class. The Sportsman Modifieds are the track’s top weekly division. They delivered decent car counts and competitive racing last year.
The next NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour event is the NAPA Auto Parts Spring Sizzler 200 at Stafford (Conn.) Motor Speedway on Sunday, April 30. That same day, Thunder Road in Barre, Vt., will open for ACT’s second event — the Merchants Bank 150.
This week it was announced that Thunder Road owners Ken Squier, 82 and Tom Curley, 72, have sold the historic 56-year-old high-banked quarter-mile track to local business partners Cris Michaud and Pat Malone.
Michaud is a three-time track champion and Milk Bowl winner. He has served in various roles, including Thunder Road and ACT race director, since retiring as a driver in 2014. Malone, a commercial real estate developer, emphasized his intention to keep the race track going with lighting and pavement upgrades a possibility.
“I think it’s going to be challenging, but I think it’s going to be rewarding and it’s going to be fun,” Michaud said. “We’ve got good people with us and we’re not really changing anything. Tom and Ken have done a great job for more than 50 years in terms of the divisions, the events, and the fans, and our philosophy is going to be the same as theirs.”
Other season openers coming up include Claremont (April 28), Legion Speedway (May 5), Bear Ridge (May 6), Speedway 51 (May 6) and White Mountain (May 13).
Star Speedway hosts the PASS Super Late Model Support 50 Legs 150 on Saturday, May 6. PASS is the headliner this Saturday at Oxford Plains.
From historian Phil Smith: Twenty years ago, Rick Fuller went pole to pole to win the Featherlite Modified Icebreaker at Thompson. Ten years ago, Randy Potter of Groveton won the ACT opener at Oxford Plains. Jean-Paul Cyr and Joey Polewarczyk Jr. finished 2-3. Chris Perley won the ISMA Supermodified opener at Waterford, besting Nokie Fornoro.
Tom Herzig’s column appears weekly in the New Hampshire Union Leader. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.