Waterbury, VT – A trio of 21-and-under drivers are aiming to step up to the plate in 2015 and make their mark on the American-Canadian Tour (ACT). Emily Packard, Kyle Welch, and Brandon Atkins all experienced success during their first full seasons on the ACT Tour in 2014, and are looking to emerge as title contenders this season.
Of the three, Packard enjoyed the strongest overall 2014 season. After competing part-time on the ACT Tour in 2013, the then 17-year-old moved up to a full schedule last year and turned heads early. The East Montpelier, VT resident scored her first Tour podium finish in the second race of the year with a third-place effort in the Merchant’s Bank 150 at Thunder Road Speedbowl in Barre, VT in late April.
Packard recorded two more top-fives and three more top-10s over the course of the season, including a fifth-place effort at Riverside Speedway (now Speedway 51) in Groveton, NH after leading a race-high 115 laps. At the end of the season, Packard found herself sitting an impressive fourth in the final point standing. Packard accomplished this while also participating in full weekly schedules at Thunder Road and Devil’s Bowl Speedway, where she finished 15th and 3rd in the standings, respectively.
Packard, who is in her senior year at U32 High School, said recently that she will be focusing exclusively on the ACT Tour for the 2015 season.
“I want to grow more as a driver and we want to grow more as a team, and obviously I want to start winning some races,” Packard said of her goals for the year. Last year we learned a lot not only about me as a driver but the team about the car. It was the first year we’d run on a Distance chassis. Hopefully we’ll learn more this year and add that to what we gained last year.
“There’s not really any changes (to the team),” she added. “There’s a new paint scheme and that’s about it. We’ve had that same (scheme) for seven years, so it was time for something different.”
Packard also recently participated in the American Racer Challenge at New Smyrna Speedway in New Smyrna Beach, FL, finishing 12th and 16th in the two 100-lap events on February 16 and 18, and 16th in the overall result.
“It was a really good experience,” she said. “The thing we learned is don’t get behind the 8-ball. We started on Thursday and that put us behind for the 8-ball for the whole weekend.”
The June 7 race at Riverside also served as the coming-out party for both Welch and Atkins. Welch, of Newport, NH, had struggled in occasional Tour appearances prior to 2014, but made his first career top-10 finish count, scoring the victory in the 150-lap event. Meanwhile, Atkins finished a season-best fourth.
Welch added a sixth-place result at White Mountain Motorsports Park two weeks later and finished 11th in final points.
“Our goals (for 2015) are the same we have every week, to win races and contend,” Welch said. “We definitely want to be in the top-five in points, that’s a big one. We just want to finish up front and win races, and hopefully the rest will come…we lost a few guys (from the team), and we’ve picked up a few guys, we’ve made a few improvements to the car – everyone does that in winter – we’ve got a good group of guys as it is.”
Welch struggled with mechanical problems throughout the American Racer Challenge at New Smyrna, but says that the team is working to get the car ready for the season-opening New Hampshire Governor’s Cup at Lee USA Speedway in Lee, NH.
“We had a really good car (at New Smyrna),” Welch said. “It was fast, but it didn’t show ’cause we didn’t get to race. I can’t say enough about my team and all the other teams that helped us out all and gave us parts, and (we) would work on the car all night, get a few hours of sleep, and work on it again. It’s just frustrating that we couldn’t get it fixed. We’re still working on it right now…hopefully by Lee we should be good to go.”
The 18-year-old Atkins earned the 2014 ACT Rookie of the Year award and was named Doc Nielsen Outstanding Rookie Winner. The Au Sable Forks, NY driver added two other top-10 finishes to go with his Riverside effort to place 12th in the point standings. Atkins also finished 9th in the non-point ACT International at his home track of Airborne Park Speedway. He recently finished 15th overall in the American Racer Challenge at New Smyrna Speedway, and is already eyeing bigger things to come in 2015.
“We’re looking for a top-five in points,” he said recently. “We want to get our first win as well. We had a lot of races (last year) where we were competitive, but couldn’t quite finish the deal. A lot of places we‘ve been like Airborne, Devil’s Bowl, Riverside, we were fast, but just missed a little bit…a lot of (last year) was getting experiences at the flat tracks like Beech Ridge and (Circuit Riverside) where we hadn’t been before, and also learning about who we race with and how to stay out of trouble.
“The team is pretty much the same, but we’ve got a new car to run the Tour with,” Atkins added. Rick Payea built us a new car Port RV performance kit car; that’s going to be our car for the tour, and we’ll run the old car for the special events.”
All three drivers, along with the rest of an expected 40-car field, will get their first chance to make their mark on the season on Sunday, April 12, in the New Hampshire Governor’s Cup 150 at Lee USA Speedway. Post time is 1:00pm. Practice will take place from noon until 5pm on Saturday, April 11.
-ACT Press Release. Photo credit: Speed51.com