With two points races completed on the 2019 American-Canadian Tour (ACT) schedule, two-time defending tour champion Scott Payea is in unfamiliar territory. After failing to qualify for last Sunday’s race at Thunder Road, the Vermont native sits seventh in the point standings and will be looking to fight back when the tour returns to action Saturday at White Mountain Motorsports Park (NH).
Thus far, car counts for the ACT Late Models has been superb with 36 cars attempting the season opener at Oxford Plains Speedway (ME) and 35 cars during this past weekend’s visit to Thunder Road. As a result, qualifying for ACT events has not and will not be an easy task for competitors. Payea found that out first hand Sunday afternoon.
After being buried in the back for his heat race, consi and B-Main races, Payea loaded his car into the Rick Paya Motorsports trailer before the 150-lap feature had even rolled off.
According to Payea, there were no problems with the No. 37VT Dodge; it simply boiled down to a poor draw for heat racing, coupled with a setup not suited to running multiple racing lines. That put him in a position to encounter bad luck, including a spin near the end of his heat race. Ultimately, Payea was not able to finish well enough in the B-Main to beat out two other drivers for two ACT provisionals.
“We just had a tough draw. We started in the back every race, we were in the wrong lane every time we had a restart, and it just wasn’t our day. There’s a first time for everything I guess,” Payea told Speed51.
Since current ACT owners Chris Michaud and Pat Malone took over the Tour in early 2018, the tour and the tracks that run ACT-spec Late Models on a regular basis for track points have found stability. This has drawn a number of teams back to running this particular Late Model class in the Northeast. In turn, the guarantee of competing in a feature has vanished.
“You show up to a track, especially Thunder Road, in where they have a local division with very good racers. That bumps up the car count for the Tour and with limited starting spots, it’s been bound to happen. We were the unfortunate ones this time,” Payea stated.
“It could happen to anyone, at any time. You keep getting car counts in the 35 to 40 range, anything’s possible; it doesn’t matter who you are or how good you are. Look at White Mountain coming up, you got good local racers like Quinny Welch, Oren Remick, Stacy Cahoon and all those guys will be tough.”
With the fast quarter-mile White Mountain Motorsports Park in northern New Hampshire on schedule for this Saturday, May 11, Payea and the RPM team have little time to look back. In fact, the quick turnaround may be a blessing in disguise, as they will be able to quickly put last weekend’s setback behind him.
After determining that their car is 100%, the preparation process for White Mountain has been completely standard this week.
“It’s been normal. We approach every race the same,” he explained. “We’re going into the shop to bring out the best car possible to compete, hopefully for the win. We’re a great team, we’re usually running up front every race, and so we’ll go out there the rest of the year looking for the best finish we can. At the end of the year, the points are what they are. We’ll approach each race individually like we always do.”
As for when the green flag falls for heat racing, Payea admits that he may be a tad more aggressive compared to a week ago at Thunder Road, especially if his bad luck in the qualifying draw repeats itself.
“You got to be cautiously aggressive when you’re trying to bounce back,” he said. “But, Thunder Road was a little different race track, we didn’t have much for the outside. Hopefully White Mountain proves to be better for us running well in two lanes.”
With two ACT points victories at White Mountain on his resume, Payea knows what it takes to have winning car there. Since the track resurfaced what was a bumpy inside line a few years back, two-wide racing has increased, a trait that has brightened the opinion of the already jovial Payea.
“It really has improved; the outside has come in nicely,” he commented. “That means you tend to see guys leave the bottom lane open, but it’s hard to make your car work there. So, if you can get the setup right, you can run both lanes.”
Despite approaching the weekend as “just another race,” Payea admits that winning this one would be huge. The obvious reasons being part of it, along with the weekend taking on ACT’s long running ‘Spring Green’ event, a tradition that stretches back even prior to the creation of the Tour in the 1980’s.
“Winning on Saturday would be a real shot in the arm for the whole RPM team. My guys work so hard. We worked hard at Thunder Road, and to not come up with a starting spot was tough. To bounce back with a win right away would be amazing.”
Speed51 will be on site in North Woodstock, New Hampshire this Saturday for the Spring Green 119 at White Mountain Motorsports Park. Post time for ACT Late Model racing is 6 p.m., with heat races being first on the docket. You can follow along on 51’s Race Day Now coverage, with full video highlights airing on the Speed51 Network the following Monday.
-Story by: Connor Sullivan, Speed51 Northeast Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo credit: Big Al’s Photos / Alan Ward