Two Canadians, Karl Allard...
Two Canadians, Karl Allard (48) and Patrick Laperle (91), race for position.
Every year thousands of race fans converge on Daytona Beach, Florida, for the annual Speedweeks festivities. Many of those fans not only are there for the big boys at Daytona, but the short track action at the area's local bullrings as well.
Celebrating its 45th year of the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing, New Smyrna (FL) Speedway had some special guests that came from as about as far north as you can get. The American-Canadian Tour (ACT) took to the 1/2-mile paved oval for two outstanding shows that brought racers from throughout the New England States of Vermont, New York, Maine, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts, along with the two Canadian provinces of Quebec and Ontario. In all, 28 race teams made the 20-30 hour tow to the Sunshine State to compete in the first-ever Goodyear Speedweeks Cup. With more than $33,000 in purse money up for grabs it was easy to understand why the racers showed so much interest in this event.
"I threw out the idea at the final drivers meetings this past fall," noted Tom Curley, President of the ACT. "I told teams that I would really like to take some of them to Florida during Speedweeks and let fans see our kind of racing. I also told them I needed to get at least 24 commitments. I never expected to receive more than 8 or 10 interested in the project. We received 31 initial commitments and took 28 teams to NSS. Robert Hart, promoter at NSS was very gracious to allow us to be part of what was a very successful and very full 10 days of World Series racing."
What Exactly is the ACT?
The No. 48 team of Karl Allard...
The No. 48 team of Karl Allard was the 2010 ACT Castrol Champion and made the 26-plus-hour, 2,000-plus-mile tow to Florida for the two-day show.
The American-Canadian Tour has been in existence since 1986. But its origins can be traced back to 1979 when famed television and radio journalist Ken Squire and business partner Tom Curley formed the NASCAR North Tour for Late Model Sportsman-type cars. Southern race stars like Butch Lindley, Harry Gant, and Tommy Ellis were frequent visitors to the series as were national icons like Bobby Allison, Buddy Baker, and Dale Earnhardt. When NASCAR shuttered the North tour in 1985, ACT was started the following year. While NASCAR brought the series back in 1987 in the form of the Busch East (now K&N Pro Series East), Curley's 1986 move from Sportsman cars to the Super Late/Pro Stock cars benefited his new series.
The current ACT Late Model Tour utilizes modern, cost-effective race cars that create thrilling side-by-side action, and has quietly grown to become one of the leading short track series in North America. The cars feature either a GM or Ford crate motor along with a spec shock from Koni. All cars run a GM factory standard three-speed transmission and factory stock brakes underneath a fiberglass template body. The series also runs a spec tire.
ACT Series front man Tom Curley...
ACT Series front man Tom Curley shows the special Piggy Pink flag in the drivers meeting. You get too aggressive on track, this is your warning to cut it out. Next stop is a black flag.
The success of this formula can be seen in the series' first-ever ACT Invitational at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2009. More than 300 Late Model teams from all around the area battled throughout the 2009 season to claim one of the 36 starting spots for the historic event. That's right—300 Late Models. In the end, with just two caution periods on the day and relentless side-by-side racing, the ACT Late Models put on one of the best shows of the weekend.
The success of that event led organizers to expand the field to 43 cars for 2010. The Invitational will return for 2011, but ACT has scheduled a second date at New Hampshire where it expects more than 100 Late Model drivers to attend the first-ever "Short Track All Star" event to be held during the IndyCar weekend. The event will include heat race qualifiers and two 50-lap feature events, putting the event in touch with its true short track-style heritage.
The business model for the Waterbury, Vermont-based sanction is to provide a premier division for local weekly tracks using a set of universal rules. In 1988 Curley joined forces with Rex Robbins' ASA and Bob Harmon's All Pro Series with all three organizations unifying their rules. "We tried to promote an ambitious series of $100,000 events," said Curley. "We took teams from all three areas of the country to Nashville Fairgrounds (TN) Speedway, Milwaukee (WI) Mile, Cincinnati (OH) Queen City Speedway, Sanair (Quebec Canada) Speedway outside of Montreal, and Nazareth, Pennsylvania. It was a great concept, but we didn't meet with much financial success other than Nashville, so it was short lived."
Curley stays up with all aspects...
Curley stays up with all aspects of the ACT series. Here he looks over the Goodyear tire situation, staying hands on is very vital to the survival of his series.
ACT comes prepared for the...
ACT comes prepared for the duties of a two-day Florida show.
Tires must stay stacked and...
Tires must stay stacked and visible to all other competitors and ACT officials on race day, after practice they go back to impound. ACT utilizes some very stiff tire rules, with no exceptions.
RPM teammates of Aaron Theriault...
RPM teammates of Aaron Theriault (57) and Brian Hoar (37) sit pit side. Theriault runs the Ford crate while Hoar utilizes the GM crate.
Though short lived, the concept of unified rules and the enforcement of those rules is a hallmark for the series says Curley. "The ACT concept was that if you have a large region of weekly short tracks running similar rules, you then have a more exciting concept for 'specials.' We bring in a couple dozen 'touring teams' and they compete with another dozen or so weekly teams. The success is if the equipment is equal and with our program it's a 'drivers series,' not just who can outspend the other person, thus it's appealing to the weekly teams."
It's all based on the need to control the cost of racing in order to have maximum fields of cars. ACT has averaged around 40 teams per event for the past couple seasons in some very difficult economic times, a testament to the series' formula.
"We have tracks from 1/4-mile high banks to the New Hampshire Motor Speedway mile, where our weekly teams compete at speeds of 164 mph on 8-inch Goodyear slicks and a crate motor that costs around $7,000," says Curley. "We have a great blend of veteran teams and some outstanding young teams, all able to compete with each other. There is no 'pecking order' in ACT; if you can drive well, we make it affordable so that you immediately compete at the highest level."
Ford Racing’s S347JR or “Junior”...
Ford Racing’s S347JR or “Junior” as racers have taken to calling it is a 350hp version of the Blue Oval D347SR crate motor that specifically competes in ACT.
Seven-time ACT Series Champion Brian Hoar had a lot to say about the series and its procedures. "It's a great series. Having been around for 25 years now, we are very similar to most Late Model classes as far as chassis and weight. There are a couple of things they (ACT) do to try and cut the expenses such as running an inexpensive motor, brakes, and shocks, really help to keep the cost down, and tires too. Since we don't have these big-horsepower race cars, you have to keep your momentum up, and that means a lot of side-by-side racing. It's good, hard racing, not dirty; no bump and run stuff. We have a great group of racers."
ACT averages 12 races each year along with four special big-money events such as the Oxford 250 with its $125,000 purse; the $75,000 Milk Bowl; the new $80,000 New Hampshire Motor Speedway Invitational, and the $40,000 All Star Showdown at Chaudiere.
"I think what defines us is cost and competition," explains Curley. "Because of the very restrictive rules package we have over 400 ACT Late Models throughout the region. That provides a great 'pool' of cars for our special events and makes for some great competition. Generally, there are a dozen teams capable of winning any of our races on a regular basis."
The ACT Race
The GM crate engine and Koni...
The GM crate engine and Koni shocks.
ACT uses the old-fashioned "northern-style" heat racing to qualify, usually three heats and a plus/minus system to make sure there is plenty of competition on every lap. The more cars you pass in the heats, the better you're starting spot for the feature is the short answer, but it's a little more complex than that in reality. The Tour also runs consolation events and a "B" Feature if needed. ACT has provisionals in the "B" but you have to race each other to earn the starting spots in the feature—there are no "freebies." ACT rules don't allow "bump and run" for passing, and employs a pink "piggy flag" if someone is hogging the track and blocking another competitor.
ACT will average around 10-12 officials to conduct a regular race. This varies depending on the event, but at each race one thing is paramount: "Safety is singularly the most important part of a race day," noted Curley. "We hire the most competent people and organizations and have lengthy instruction to competitors on what we expect."
Hoar follows teammate Theriault...
Hoar follows teammate Theriault around New Smyrna’s 1⁄2-mile during practice.
Curley concocted the Goodyear Speedweeks Cup late in 2010 with the eye of taking his tour to sunny Florida to showcase ACT in a two-day event at New Smyrna Speedway, just a stone's throw from Daytona. Two nights of racing would crown a champion. Racers drew for heats on night one for the first 100-lap feature race. They ran the three heats using the previously described plus/minus system. The first 100-lap feature was lined up according to the results of that system.
The second 100-lap feature race the next night was a full inversion of the finish from the first night. Fans got to see the best of the first night have to race from the rear to gain points for the overall win. ACT didn't allow anyone who started in the Top 15 from the first night to start better than 10th the second night, thus no sandbagging. The winner was determined by the team with the lowest score, 1 point for a win, 2 points for Second, 3 for Third, and so on, for each 100-lap segment. The lowest combined two-day score was the winner of the Goodyear Speedweeks Cup, a very similar format to that of the famous Milk Bowl Late Model race held annually at Thunder Road (VT) Speedway.
Eventual winner Brian Hoar...
Eventual winner Brian Hoar (#37) is in a gaggle of cars.
Going into the two-day Florida show Curley said, "I think this is a great opportunity to show what we have been doing for the past 25 years to a whole lot of people who will be at NSS. I know the teams are excited and all the officials are as well. I, most of all, hope all the teams have some fun as it's a very expensive project and in short track racing, having fun following your passion should be the first goal!"
The NSS ACT Goodyear Speedweeks Cup purse was broken down to $15,000 paid out in the two individual 100-lap feature races, while $18,000 paid to the overall points finish.
"We wanted to show the fans something a little different at NSS for our first-ever appearance," said Curley. "This format should be very entertaining for the fans and it should spread the money around a little, giving all our teams a chance to have some fun, hopefully helping each with some expenses."
Rules on the Fly
Three-wide racing is typical...
Three-wide racing is typical of the ACT Series.
Sometimes adjustments need to be made to the rules. And Curley doesn't shy away from doing it right in the drivers meetings, which are probably the most entertaining, informative, and to the point of any ever heard. He rules with an iron fist. It makes no difference who you are, he treats them all the same. Fairness is a big part of the ACT family. "Number one is safety, we want everyone to be safe," started Curley at the opening night driver meeting. "If you tear it up tonight, it's over, you only get half the deal.
Since New Smyrna is a big 1/2-mile, Curley suspected some of his racers might get creative and try to bypass the MSD box. In the drivers meeting Curley laid it on the line, "Find your edge somewhere else! If you're chipping these things all the way down the front stretch and you're running last, we're taking you're motor. You guys think you're going to fool with computers and bypass the MSD box, it's not going to work. You're not going to ruin what we have built in the last 10 years!" The result was each car was fitted with a 6200 chip by the ACT officials and then the MSD box was sealed while going through tech.
Curley also has a strict tire rule. Teams were allotted six tires for both shows and all six had to be bought on the first day. Then, all tires were impounded until one half hour before the first practice session. Those tires that the cars practiced on had to be returned to the impound area within five minutes after practice. They were then released 30 minutes before race time. By the way, the four tires you practice on, you must race on. If you pulled a tire off during practice, you had to stack them by the car or on the trailer tailgate, keeping them visible to all officials and other competitors at all times.
Ray Parent utilized one of...
Ray Parent utilized one of only two big spring cars in the field for the Florida two-day ACT show. This same car finished Third in New Smyrna Speedweeks Late Model points in 2006, with one of the first ever crates to race there.
After the first night's race ACT would impound both left side tires they raced on along with two rights, new or used. All tires could be scuffed in during the early practice sessions. On day two, those four tires were released 30 minutes before practice and returned after practice until 30 minutes to race time. The only way you were ever allowed to change or exchange a tire was if the tire was flat on the rim.
Two Days of ACT Excitement
With the snowy North a distant memory, Hoar put the trek to Florida in perspective. "Well, this is a first time chance for us to come down here and showcase our stuff to a new group of fans. We're known in the Northeast, but no one down here really knows what the American-Canadian Tour is all about, and we are different than most divisions. We have a great series to showcase down here."
Hoar claimed his 29th career...
Hoar claimed his 29th career ACT feature victory at New Smyrna on the second night of ACT action.
Hoar also noted why most teams drove more than 1,500 miles and 20 hours away to compete. "I got to tell you, to trade in our snow tires for some 8-inch Goodyear Eagle racing slicks in the dead of winter when there is 3 feet of snow and 20 degrees back home makes it pretty nice to be down here with the palm trees around.
"Tom threw this out late last year to see if there was any interest. He actually had to put the limit of 28 cars on the event. He didn't want us to come down here with too many cars and get into a situation where some wouldn't make the race. All year long we have averaged 40 cars. He didn't want to be sending people home 1,400 miles, or in some cases 1,800 miles, without getting to race. Just to show you what kind of series we are, we are going to go out here and run three heat races to set the field and show the fans how we qualify. No sleepy, snoring time trials. We drew for heat race starting positions and have to race our way to a starting spot."
Joey Polewarczyk Jr. captured...
Joey Polewarczyk Jr. captured the first night 100-lap ACT feature and finished Fifth on night two after starting 18th, securing the two-day point championship over Hoar by just one point.
For one to say the two-day ACT Goodyear Speedweeks Cup event was good is an understatement at the very least. It wasn't just good, it was fantastic, from the personalities that make up ACT, to the race procedures, and the events, it was very impressive. Night one of the ACT Goodyear Speedweeks Cup was completed in just over 50 minutes with just three cautions and Hudson, New Hampshire's Joey Polewarczyk Jr. taking the win.
After the excitement of night one, night two promised to be a thriller. It didn't disappoint. Starting 13th in the field of 26 cars, Hoar, a seven-time ACT series champion from Williston, Vermont, muscled his way to the point in the late stages and hung on to grab the win, bringing his career victories to an impressive 29.
Was it competitive? Seven of the Top 10 finishers started outside the Top 10 thanks to the field inversion. Night one winner Polewarczyk Jr. worked his way through heavy traffic from his 18th starting position to finish Fifth on day two. That Fifth-Place effort along with his win the first night earned him the low score of six points, just edging out Hoar, who earned seven points in the Goodyear Speedweeks Cup standings.
In all 200 laps of racing in two days in less than two hours: a total of 10 caution flags, many different leaders, finishing positions well ahead of starting positions, and a championship decided by just one point. In pavement racing this is something to be proud of. The end product is the proof that the ACT Series is the leader in pavement competition and can produce races that rank right up there with the best of them. A great governing body with a good set of equal, policed rules can, and will, have great results. The racers like it, and the fans love them for it.