It was a race of two halves for the Pro Stocks at Seekonk Speedway (MA) on Saturday night, with Wayne Helliwell, Jr. surviving the chaotic closing stages of the DAV Fall Classic to take home the win in the 150-lap race.
Despite winning the race, Helliwell was not the dominant for much of the afternoon; that honor was given to David Darling. Darling led from the drop of the green flag until Lap 120 in a race that saw the first half run almost entirely green.
Polesitter Kevin Casper began closing the gap on Darling before eventually taking over the lead on Lap 121. Casper then began to pull away, searching for both his first win of 2018 and his first DAV Fall Classic victory since 1992.
A series of quick cautions near the end of the race would prove costly, however. Casper and Darling crashed while battling for the lead with six laps remaining, handing the lead over to Ryan Vanasse and Helliwell.
Helliwell, who had been saving his equipment, immediately went after Vanasse and took the lead on a restart with three laps to go. From there, the 41-year-old racer never looked back, scoring his first victory since the 2016 Oxford 250.
“On the first long run we had, I was [saving my tires] and I just let those guys pull away,” Helliwell said in Victory Lane. “I got into a spot where there was really no pressure, and we just rode and rode and saved our stuff there. I think ultimately that’s what helped us at the end.
“Then, obviously, running with Ryan [Vanasse], we’ve raced together quite a bit through the ACT stuff and regular Late Model stuff, and he raced me flawlessly. I couldn’t have asked for a better race there at the end.”
At the beginning of the week, Helliwell and his Bruce Bernhardt-led team wasn’t even sure if he was going to run at Seekonk this weekend. Ultimately, the decision to load the orange No. 27 turned out to be the right one for “The Punisher.”
“It’s been really hectic,” Helliwell explained. “We raced at Thunder Road last weekend and got wrecked, so we put the car in the garage on Friday night and we weren’t going to race. Then Monday I was sick, so we didn’t work on it, and then on Tuesday we decided we’d put everything in. It needed three-quarters of the body, so we put a new body on it. We were going to change motors because it still has the ACT motor in it. We ran out of time, and we said ‘to hell with it’ and came down anyway.”
Following the biggest win of his career in August 2016, Helliwell fell ill with what was later diagnosed as Multiple Sclerois and was sidelined until July 2017. Since his return to the driver’s seat, he and his team had struggled to find the speed they were accustomed to in previous seasons.
Sunday’s emotional victory for the Pelham, New Hampshire native will provide a morale boost for the entire team moving forward.
“It’s huge,” Helliwell said. “We’ve really struggled three-quarters of this season, and it hasn’t been until the last two or three races here where we’ve started to creep back in on it. It’s been a long road. As a racer and just anybody in general, you’re impatient. You can’t get enough medicine, or you just can’t see the doctors fast enough. It’s been a long haul, and like I tell everybody, it’s a new normal I have to deal with.
“I’m never going to be one hundred percent, but as long as I eat healthy and do the right things that I’m supposed to do, I still get to do what I love to do. This makes everything worth it.”
Race fans will be able to watch full video highlights from the DAV Fall Classic 150 next week on the Speed51 Network.
-Story by Ian Pettigrew, Speed51.com Northeast Correspondent
-Photo credit: Speed51.com