Wayne Helliwell, Jr. was on top of the world last August when he scored the biggest win of his racing career in the prestigious Oxford 250. Since that race, Helliwell has yet to compete competitively. But that hasn’t been by choice.
In the weeks following his big win, life took a serious turn for the Pelham, New Hampshire driver when health issues soon cropped up, suspending his racing schedule indefinitely.
“Shortly after the 250 I became sick with MS (multiple sclerosis) and that had set me back,” Helliwell told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “We had a whole bunch of plans for finishing the rest of the ACT schedule and some more PASS races and unfortunately everything just got put on hold until I could get all the proper medications and get things underway. Since then we’ve been moving in the right direction and I feel a lot better and I can’t wait to get back out there.”
“You can’t come off the biggest win of your career and all of a sudden just vanish,” he said. “It definitely didn’t look good, but like I said I can’t wait to be back and hopefully this new car we have is just as good.”
As Helliwell’s health began to improve, he joined the effort with his Bruce Bernhardt-led team to prepare a new ride for 2017 with the focus turning towards more Super Late Model raees. The car they have come out with is specifically bred for this kind of racing.
“It’s one of our own (chassis). It’s a new style and design for us,” Helliwell said of the car. “We finally decided to go with a straight-rail chassis, everything we have done in the past has been perimeter for ACT. It will be a bit of a learning curve but hopefully we crossed all our T’s and dotted all our I’s and come out of the box pretty good.”
The team tested just down the road from the team shop at Star Speedway (NH) on Wednesday to shakedown the machine. While Star was the intended first race back, the car was not ready in time. Instead, the team has shifted their sight northwest to another racetrack near to their hearts, Thunder Road International Speedbowl (VT).
While this will be the third occasion PASS has visited the “Nation’s Site of Excitement,” this Sunday’s race comes with the challenge of new asphalt. The new surface is something that Helliwell believes will shake things up.
“It should make it really interesting, I can’t wait for it, the speeds are going to be unbelievably fast,” he said. “For as small a track it is and how slick it was on the old surface, you get around pretty good, and that new pavement is going to intensify that. It’ll be interesting for sure.”
Helliwell has won at Thunder Road in ACT competition, but would love to add a PASS trophy to the collection. While it is a favorite of his, the legacy he and Bernhardt Motorsports follow in is another big factor.
“It would be extremely cool to win, that’s a big track for us. Following kind of in Dave Dion’s footsteps, to see that orange No. 27 up there is a big boost for the crowd and they really pull for us there. We’ve come really close with the last two PASS races up there. We’ve led laps, almost pulled it off last year. Hopefully with the new car we can sneak one in.”
Right now the plan for Helliwell and the No. 27NH team following Thunder Road is to run all remaining PASS races at Oxford and in the State of New Hampshire, as they look to defend their Oxford 250 title. Ever the racer, Helliwell isn’t ruling anything else out, especially on the PASS schedule.
“It’s going to be kind of hit and miss, we’ll see how everything unfolds after Thunder Road. As long as everything is going in the right direction we would like to stick with the PASS schedule and run the rest of the season.”
-By Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com CT, MA & Long Island Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT