With nearly all of the snow melted and temperatures in the 70s, American-Canadian Tour teams are gearing up for the season opener at Lee USA Speedway (NH) on Sunday, April 10.
We at Speed51.com powered by JEGS have broken down the potential 2016 roster for the popular Late Model touring series. The lists below are based on information from the American-Canadian Tour as well as information obtained by Speed51.com. All statistical information has been provided by 51’s The Third Turn.
Drivers Expected to Run Full-Time:
1VT – Devin O’Connell
O’Connell, a graduate of the Legends Car ranks, will make his Late Model debut during the season-opening New Hampshire Governor’s Cup on Sunday, April 10. He will drive the No. 1VT for the Hallstrom Racing Development Team. O’Connell has been one of the most successful drivers in Legends Car competition in recent years and will be hoping to transfer that success over to the American-Canadian Tour while chasing Rookie of the Year honors.
Atkins returns to the American-Canadian Tour for another full season in 2016. After finishing fifth in the overall standings one year ago, a breakout season could be in store for the Au Sable Forks, New York driver. Atkins turned heads while leading laps at White Mountain Motorsports Park (NH) in 2015 and ended the season with two top-five finishes at Airborne Park Speedway (NY) and Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park (CT). He’ll look to carry that momentum into the new season. Don’t be surprised if the red No. 4NY makes a stop in victory lane before the year is over.
5CT – Dillon Moltz
After flexing his muscles in four ACT events last year, Moltz will chase the tour championship this upcoming season. The 2014 Granite State Pro Stock Series championship team led by car owner Mark Brackett put much of their focus on the ACT Late Model last year and it paid off. Moltz finished sixth in his ACT debut at Devil’s Bowl Speedway (VT) and followed that up with a runner-up at Oxford Plains Speedway (ME). With veteran racer Ricky Rolfe turning the wrenches, the team is coming out guns blazing searching for their first win and a lot more in 2016.
9NH – Kyle Welch
Fresh off of his first full season on the American-Canadian Tour, Welch has filed a full season entry for 2016. The Newport, New Hampshire driver finished eighth in the overall standings one year ago while recording a best finish of fifth at Speedway 51 (NH), the home of his first ACT victory in 2014. Welch will look to get off to a better start to the season this year after experiencing mechanical woes at New Smyrna Speedway (FL) in 2015. If he can find a little bit of luck along the way, he could be in contention for a win before the year is over, especially at a track like Speedway 51.
15NH – Brad Babb
Babb returns for his second year behind the wheel of the Joey Laquerre-owned No. 15NH in 2016. Thus far, the duo has experienced success with wins at both Thunder Road (VT) and Babb’s home track of Beech Ridge Motor Speedway (ME) in 2015. Babb finished third in the point standings last year and could emerge as a title contender this year. Take away three finishes of 24th or worse in 2015 and he could have been right there battling with Wayne Helliwell, Jr. and Joey Polewarczyk, Jr. for the title. Consistency will be the key for “Bad Brad” this upcoming season. If he’s consistent, he’ll be a threat for the ACT championship.
17MA – Eddie MacDonald
MacDonald has filed a full-season entry with the American-Canadian Tour, but whether or not he’ll actually compete for the championship is another thing. “The Outlaw” has said that he would like to chase the full ACT schedule, but a conflicting date with the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East on July 16 might prevent him from doing that. It’s hard to tell what MacDonald will do if he’s in the championship battle heading into that day’s ACT race at Seekonk. Either way, he will certainly be a top contender battling for wins throughout the 13-race schedule.
22RI – Mark Jenison
After competing in two ACT events in 2015, Jenison has filed a full-season entry for the upcoming season. Jenison, a native of Warwick, Rhode Island, recorded his first career top-10 finish during the season finale at his home track of Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park.
27NH – Wayne Helliwell, Jr.
Helliwell became one of just three drivers to ever win three or more American-Canadian Tour championships in October when he clinched his third title in four years. He’ll be back for a run at his fourth title in 2016 with the Bruce Bernhardt-led crew. Helliwell currently sits fifth on the ACT Late Model all-time wins list with 11, four of which came one year ago. He will certainly have a target on his back as the defending champion, but many believe he’ll once again be the driver to beat in ACT competition.
28ME – Rowland Robinson, Jr.
Robinson has yet to file a full-season entry with the American-Canadian Tour office, but he told Speed51.com powered by JEGS that he’s hoping to chase the tour once again in 2016. Hailing from Steuben, Maine, Robinson has tackled the full ACT schedule the previous three seasons. He finished seventh in the overall point standings one year ago and will be looking to improve on that after an offseason of hard work and preparation.
30NH – Rich Dubeau
Dubeau, the defending ACT Rookie of the Year, returns for his sophomore year in 2016. The Plainfield, New Hampshire driver recorded a career-best finish of ninth in the season opener at Oxford Plains Speedway one year ago and ended the year 10th in the overall standings. He’ll look to improve on that mark with a year of full-time touring experience on his side.
37VT – Scott Payea
For the first time since September 1, 2013, Scott Payea will strap in behind the wheel of a race car during the ACT season opener at Lee on Sunday, April 10. Payea will take over the driving duties in the RPM Engines No. 37VT following Brian Hoar’s retirement during last season’s finale at Thompson. From 2007 to 2009, Payea finished runner-up in the ACT standings and will be looking to break through for his first championship this season. He’s a five-time winner on the tour.
58VT – Jimmy Hebert
If there was bad luck to find, Hebert found it in 2015. One year after a breakout year that included his first ACT win at Lee USA Speedway (NH) and a runner-up finish in the point standings, Hebert and his team struggled to find the winning combination last year. His first and only podium finish of the year came during the season finale at Thompson. The Williamstown, Vermont driver will look to carry that momentum into 2016 and once again be a contender up front.
61NH – Ryan Olsen
Olsen will embark on his first full season on the American-Canadian Tour behind the wheel of a Joey Pole Racing Late Model. The North Haverhill, New Hampshire driver dabbled in ACT competition last season and was one of 43 drivers to start the ACT Invitational at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. As the full-time driver for Joey Pole Racing, Olsen will have a lot of knowledge on his side as he begins his rookie season.
Drivers Expected to Run Part-Time:
9ME – Emily Packard
Packard has filed a full-season entry with the American-Canadian Tour but will only be running a part-time schedule in the No. 9ME. The East Montpelier, Vermont driver has teamed up with Joey Pole Racing for a minimum of nine ACT races in 2016. With the assistance of 2014 tour champion Joey Polewarczyk, Jr. and his crew, Packard could certainly become a factor in the races she enters. She is coming off a season in which she finished fourth in the overall point standings with a best finish of fourth at Oxford Plains.
17RI – Ray Parent
Parent took a step back in 2015, only racing four of the 13 ACT points-counting events, but is a familiar figure on the tour. The 2012 ACT Invitational winner is expected to chase the Southern New England Triple Header, which features races at his home track of Seekonk Speedway (MA), New-London Waterford Speedbowl (CT) and Thompson (CT).
40VT – Nick Sweet
In addition to chasing the Thunder Road “King of the Road” title in 2016, Sweet will also be taking it “race by race” driving the Eric Chase-owned No. 40VT on the American-Canadian Tour. The Barre, Vermont native has four career ACT wins but has never raced a full slate of events on the tour. He’ll be a tough driver to beat at any race he shows up to this upcoming season.
49NH – Matt Anderson
Anderson will kick off the 2016 racing season at Lee USA Speedway in his home state of New Hampshire. He has competed in 14 ACT events with a career-best finish of 17th in 2015 at Lee.
54VT – Mike Ziter
Ziter, a graduate of the Thunder Road Late Model ranks, has competed in a total of 18 ACT events over the last two seasons. The Williamstown, Vermont driver led 96 laps during last season’s race at White Mountain Motorsports Park (NH) before recording a career-best finish of fourth. He’s one of those drivers that has the potential to turn some heads if things are clicking.
68CT – Jeff Rocco
While the Rocco name may be most well-known in Modified racing circles, Jeff Rocco will look to expand the name into the Late Model ranks this season. Rocco will run the full season in Thompson’s Late Model division while tackling select ACT races including the Southern New England Tripleheader at Seekonk, Thompson and New-London Waterford Speedbowl.
97NH – Joey Polewarczyk, Jr.
One of the biggest surprises of the offseason occurred when “Joey Pole” announced that he was scaling back his racing schedule to create “Joey Pole Racing.” The 2014 series and 18-time ACT winner plans to still race a handful of ACT events, but will be focusing on helping the team’s full-time driver Ryan Olsen. It’d still be surprising if you don’t see the No. 97NH in victory lane before the season over.
-By Brandon Paul, Speed51.com Editor – Twitter: @Brandon_Paul51
-Photo credit: Rick Ibsen/Speed51.com