43 American-Canadian Tour Late Model teams from the Northeastern United States and Canada will make their way to New Hampshire Motor Speedway this weekend for the 6th annual Bond Auto ACT Invitational. The race, which takes place on NASCAR Sprint Cup Series weekend at “The Magic Mile,” presents one of the biggest stages of the year for the regions short track stars.
In recent years it has been Rowley, Massachusetts’ Eddie MacDonald stealing the spotlight in front of thousands of NASCAR fans on “Short Track Saturday.” MacDonald has won three of the first five ACT Invitational’s and has only finished outside of the top-five on one occasion.
Heading into Saturday afternoon’s event, 42 other teams know that it will be a tough task to beat the No. 17MA team and the man known best as “The Outlaw.”
Unfortunately for those other competitors, this year MacDonald will have 100-percent of his focus on ACT car unlike in years past where he has pulled double or even triple-duty competing in NASCAR K&N Pro Series East or NASCAR Camping World Truck Series events.
“It’s going to be weird,” MacDonald said about only having one race to focus on this weekend. “It’s been awhile since we’ve only raced just the Invitational race. I think this may actually be just the first time we’ve only run the ACT car during this weekend. It’s going to be a fun weekend to go there and run that race. It’s one of my favorite races of the year. It’s exciting to be able to start towards the back and have to race up through the field.”
Brian Hoar of Williston, Vermont considers the race to be somewhat of a “crapshoot” but knows that there will be one driver that will be extremely tough to beat come race day.
“I still say that (it is a crapshoot) and every time I say that I wince a little bit because Eddie seems so consistent with it that it pisses me off,” Hoar said in a phone interview with Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “It’s all good. Those guys have their shit together. We just have to get ours together and lead the last lap instead of other laps. It’s not going to be easy, let’s face it. Eddie and his guys are really good at setting up at this place.”
Why is MacDonald so good at New Hampshire? He really doesn’t know.
“It’s just been one of my favorite tracks over the years especially working alongside of my crew chief Rollie LaChance,” MacDonald told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “Since we’ve teamed up we’ve been fairly good at New Hampshire with the K&N car and the ACT cars. It’s something we both adapt to together and we know what we need to run towards the front. It’s just a matter of everything going right to be able to pull off a win.”
Hoar, an eight-time American-Canadian Tour champion, enters the weekend searching for his first career ACT Invitational victory. He has recorded big wins in events such as The Milk Bowl at Thunder Road (VT) and ACT All-Star Challenge at NHMS, and is hoping to add “ACT Invitational winner” to his resume after 50 laps on Saturday.
“It seems to have slipped away a few times,” said Hoar of his previous attempts at winning the Invitational. “We’ve been in contention not every year, but most years we’ve been in contention at some time in the race and had a car good enough to contend with the leaders. We’re still trying to figure out what we need to have in the car at that track to be really good at the end.
“It’s one of those deals where we’re just trying to find that happy medium. Part of it is, once you get that in the notebook you’re good year in and year out or at least a lot closer.”
MacDonald echoed Hoar’s thoughts on the setup being relatively close each year, but says that his team has thrown a curveball at themselves this time around as they will be bringing a new Late Model to the race.
“For the most part it has been the same thing,” said MacDonald. “This year we’re really throwing a huge curveball at ourselves. We’re bringing a totally different car so it’s going to be a whole different setup and the first time we’ve been on the American Racers, too.
“Hopefully we’ll be able to get it sorted out Saturday morning. We struggled with the test day up there and I think we got it a little better towards the end of the day, but there were still a few guys that were pretty quick. We need to work hard and try to be there at the end with this car.”
Despite the track being the only track larger than one-mile that ACT visits each year, Hoar said that he doesn’t approach the race any differently. Like any track, he says that drivers learn the places on the track where you can pass and where you can’t pass.
“It has its own characteristics and you just need to be aware of that going into the race,” said Hoar. “It’s one of those deals as a driver you go in knowing these are momentum cars and there’s no bigger momentum track that we race at than Loudon.”
Ray Parent, one of only two winners of the race not named Eddie MacDonald, believes he is more prepared than ever to compete for the win at Loudon.
“We’ve had a couple weeks to work on the car, clean it up, and get the motor ready so we’re as prepared as we’ve ever been. This year, time wise, it’s been a lot more relaxing getting the car ready than in the past. I truly believe we’re in the best position this year to go there and win the race.”
Parent looks back on his 2012 win as the biggest of his career and couldn’t imagine a bigger stage to celebrate his first American-Canadian Tour win on.
“That was probably by far the biggest win I’ve ever had. Even winning it again would be nothing like winning it the first time. What bigger stage could I possibly have been on without more money or bigger opportunities?
“I wish every short track racer could experience it. I hope that my kids someday have the chance to experience that.”
MacDonald looks back on his three ACT Invitational wins as three of the biggest wins of his career and considers any win at New Hampshire Motor Speedway to be a dream come true.
“Anyone that is from the New England area wants to be able to race at New Hampshire and win there. It’s the biggest thing we have around our area, so anything you win in is huge especially on NASCAR Sprint Cup weekend.”
The ACT Invitational will take the green flag at approximately 5pm ET on Saturday afternoon. Speed51.com will have live Trackside Now coverage presented by JOES Racing Products.
-By Brandon Paul, Speed51.com Northeast Editor – Twitter: @Brandon_Paul51
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com