With the month of October already upon us, the time for racing is beginning to draw to a close in the Northeast, especially for the many Pro Stock and Super Late Model teams who have just a handful of events left to choose from. Out of these, there is only one “big money” race left, an event that has been around for many years in southern New England at Seekonk Speedway (MA), but has gained notoriety in recent seasons, the DAV Fall Classic which is set to roll this Saturday, October 7.
This race named in honor of Seekonk Speedway founder D. Anthony Venditti, serves as the season finale for the track’s Pro Stock division. Now in an “open format,” it boasts a 150-lap distance with $5,000 going to the winner. Each year it has drawn more and more touring stars to the eastern Massachusetts bullring, just 10 minutes from Providence, RI.
One of the most recognized touring drivers in New England, Wayne Helliwell, Jr. has had a number of starts in ACT Late Models there, but is making just his second appearance with a Super Late Model, and he’s hoping things go better than the first time.
“I’ve only been down one other time, years ago for the DAV, and we had a mechanical problem in the heat race. So I’m really looking forward to getting back there. We’re just starting to figure out the new car we built. I’m not going to count our chickens before they hatch, but it’ll be interesting getting down there Friday, get some test laps in and see how we shape up compared to everybody else,” Helliwell told Speed51.com powered by JEGS.
The three-time ACT champion and 2016 Oxford 250 winner has run a limited schedule since coming back mid-summer following health issues which popped up late in 2016. While Helliwell is excited to make the trip down from New Hampshire to challenge the wide 1/3-mile bullring, he is also anticipating the challenge of taking on Seekonk’s elite class of Pro Stock drivers.
“Those guys down there, I always think the local guys have the upper hand any time one of the touring series is there or the touring guys come to run with them. I would say that their regulars are the guys to beat. Not someone like myself or any of the guys that run all over. But, you never know what can happen,” Helliwell said excitedly.
Helliwell’s fellow New Hampshire statesman Derek Griffith on the other hand is still trying to build up his experience at the “Cement Palace,” but despite just three starts there, he has already collected two big wins, this year’s U.S. Pro Stock/Super Late Model National Championship Race back in July, as well as the 2016 edition of the DAV.
“I don’t know what it is about that place I just seem to get. I’ve only been there three times, my first time there was the National race in 2016 and from there we have done really well there. I don’t know what it is. It’s funny before I started racing as much as I do, I watched Louie (Mechalides) win a Modified race there. I wasn’t even allowed in the pits yet and he made me drive the Modified off the race track and I couldn’t see up over the steering wheel. Some history there I guess,” chuckled Griffith.
While Griffith too believes the Seekonk regulars should be considered dangerous, he knows that this 150-lap affair will present a different challenge that they are not accustomed to over a season.
“It’s tough for guys who set their cars up for those 40-lap shootouts, then they go to a race with 100 or 150 laps. It does change a lot, not just for the car, but especially for the driver. You get working hard there at the end of the race and you get hot real quick. But I know guys like David Darling and Tom Scully, Jr. are no slouches, they will have a chance to win that race. There’s a lot of guys that have chance.”
Indeed, one of Griffith’s locals to watch, David Darling has had far from a slouchy season, winning his fifth Seekonk Pro Stock championship along with eight points races, including the final four of the season, and also collecting the 100-lap Granite State Pro Stock Series event at Seekonk in June. While Darling feels the momentum is there, he is going in with a dose of caution.
“Excited, nervous… you don’t know what’s going to happen with these DAV’s, sometimes a lot of wrecks. We have the speed, it’s just, we have two cars the Granite State car was a different car than we run weekly, so we’re trying to figure out which one we want to run. That’s the toss up, which one we think will give us the best shot. I’ve won a 150-lap race there before in PASS, so we’re familiar with what we need to do. Big thing is being there near the end and being around to race for the win. I think we have a great shot at it, sometimes you need luck, the right car, and everything to fall your way,” Darling explained.
Despite the praise of the touring drivers, Darling believes that the DAV runs in their favor, but that it makes the local field stronger for it.
“It steps up everybody’s game, and that’s where we’re at, making sure we bring the best possible car we can to the race. There’s quite a few guys coming in from all over the Northeast. These touring series guys, the competition level is up because these guys realistically have the hand up on some of us guys locally. They didn’t years ago. With the technology and the way the cars are designed now, a lot of these guys that don’t run here often can come down here and be quick right off the truck.”
Darling also admires how the DAV has brought the spotlight onto Seekonk at the end of the season, while giving the opportunity for its teams to race the best, without leaving home.
“It’s great from a fan standpoint. It’s good from a competition standpoint. If you’re a racecar driver, you want to beat the best, whomever that may be. You want to make sure that you won the race against some of the best competition you can. That’s always a good thing knowing that you did. This 150 laps is kind of a new twist starting last year, it used to be just a 100-lap race. Last year you could change four tires, this year it’s just one. That factors into the whole equation, and the qualifying format factors in, you draw for heat race starting position, then 12 laps to figure out who starts where. It’s a different type of race than what we’re used to.”
Saturday will most likely be Darling’s last race behind the wheel in 2017. For Griffith, there is still plenty left, but the DAV now stands out among the New England races, especially purse wise, and is a big enough event to get he and the LCM Motorpsorts team ready for two big races way down south.
“You always want to chase the money a little bit, coming home with the paycheck is always a good feeling. It’s been around for years and it’s starting to become a well-known event. It’s one of those last hurrahs for the end of the season up here. It would be a good morale boost and a pump of confidence for the team. We’re getting ready for the MegaMeltdown at Hickory then we’re going to try the Snowball Derby this year. To have some confidence this year would be great.”
The DAV might just have even more meaning than being a part of the “big race season” as Helliwell and his car owner Bruce Bernhardt have come to realize.
“It’s races like these that people like myself and some of the touring series guys need to support, because without these races, our seasons become shorter. Plus, it’s nice to run for that big of a purse,” Helliwell added.
Be sure to follow Speed51.com’s coverage of the DAV Fall Classic from Seekonk Speedway this Saturday with Speed Central coverage and live photos and updates on the Speed51 Late Model Twitter page. Stay tuned for full race highlights from Seekonk this Monday on the Speed51 Network.
-By: Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com CT, MA, RI & Long Island Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com