Payea Scores One for the ACT Undedogs at Thunder Road by Matt Kentfield
First-Time Winner and Veteran With Best-Ever Finish Outduel the ACT Standouts
In sports, the underdogs are always the ones to cheer for. Sure, even the dynasties like the 1980’s San Francisco 49ers, the New England Patriots of recent seasons and the New York Yankees of, well, a long time, have their fanbases, but there’s always something special about those teams that seemingly overcome gigantic odds to earn glory.
“Lapped traffic really helped us at the end. The 05 (Henry) was coming up through pretty quick, but the lapped cars helped me keep a gap. This is just an unbelievable feeling to win this race.”
Not many people would’ve expected Henry to be coming on as quick as he was at the end of the race. Henry is the epitome of a low-buck racer doing it all with a crew full of family and hometown friends. The New Gloucester, ME native had been a competitor on the ACT tour since 2004, which was the season in which he scored his previous career-best finish, a fourth at Groveton, NH.
“We had an awesome car right off the bat,” said Bellerose. “We started off 25th and we were in the top 15 and the left front valve stem came out and the tire ended up going down. We could’ve easily parked the car because I’m not running for points and I could’ve saved the equipment, but I came back out and we ended up coming back through. We had a good car. No doubt in my mind we had a top-three car. It worked on the inside and on the outside.”
Because she took three years away from the Late Model ranks, there were some obstacles to overcome even before race day, but those hurdles were cleared perfectly.
“The funny thing is, my Mom came up to me after the race and said, ‘Dear, you’ve still got it. You’re even better than you used to be.’ It feels good. Yesterday was a struggle because we had a little trouble. I was uncomfortable in the seat. I couldn’t get the seat belts tight enough. Once we fixed that, I started to feel comfortable in the last practice.
Henry drove a car that is, well, old. He doesn’t even know how old it is, but he knows it was good enough to get close to Payea for the Thunder Road win, but not close enough.
“It’s roughly 25 or 26 years old,” said Henry. “It had spent some time down South for quite a while. It’s really our best guess where the car comes from. Jeff Taylor refurbished the car and he did a good job with this thing. The car’s very successful now.
“This is incredible. I wasn’t really pushing the issue at the end, either. I probably had a little bit more, but I was happy with what I had. I had never even been able to get a top-three finish in a 100-lap race, let alone a 150-lap race. I’m very happy with what we had.”
Cyr came home a distant third, followed by Demers and Hoar.
Payea’s path to the win was certainly a bumpy one. Those bumps came in the form of the top-groove “marbles” in turns one and two on lap 73, when he used the outside groove to get along side Cyr for the lead. Cyr started fifth and battled to the top spot and took the lead on lap 51 from the early leader Demers, but seventh-place starter Payea used that high groove to challenge for the lead.
On lap 73, Payea pulled along side Cyr, but drove into the corner a little too deep, causing his #89 machine to push up the track and almost out of the park completely due to the lack of retaining wall in the corners at Thunder Road. Payea was able to hang on, but he fell back to fourth.
Using that high side, Payea battled back and once again worked up along side Cyr again on lap 91. This time, he did it right. He cleared Cyr and never looked back.
“We had a car that was just awesome on the high side. We got just a little too high one time in one and two and just about lost it. I pulled it back in and went back to the front. I got by some really good cars and put some distance between me and the other guys.
Welcome Back, Tracie
The capacity crowd at Thunder Road had plenty of feel-good stories to cheer for at the front of the field in Payea and Henry, but the loudest ovation during pre-race introductions went for Tracie Bellerose. Perhaps the most successful female racer in New England racing history, Bellerose developed a fan following in her years in the ACT ranks that had been waiting for Sunday’s race for three years.
Bellerose took three years away from the seat to take care of other priorities, but she was back with a vengeance on Sunday, her first race back on the ACT Tour. She had to transfer through the consolation race, but had a strong car at the start of the 150-lap feature before suffering a flat tire, relegating her to a 26th-place finish.
Scott Payea celebrates his victory. (51 Photos)
The ACT Late Model series of New England has had it’s dynasty over the last decade – Jean-Paul Cyr. Cyr is a six-time ACT champion and is in contention for victory in just about every race he shows up to with his #32 machine.
But on Sunday at Thunder Road International Speedbowl, even the Cyr Goliath wasn’t enough to keep a couple of Davids from having the best day of their careers. Scott Payea scored his first-ever ACT victory in the 150-lap event after three years of trying. The 25-year-old former series Rookie of the Year had the most consistently fast car throughout the day and averted near disaster while battling Cyr for the lead to score the win over the other feel-good story of the day, 37-year-old Ron Henry.
Henry drove a car older than Payea to a career-best second-place finish. The two underdogs swept to the checkered flag ahead of Cyr and multiple-time Thunder Road Late Model winner Trampas Demers and former NASCAR Busch East Series standout Brian Hoar to complete one of the biggest one-two upsets in ACT history.
“We’ve known what it takes to win and we’ve been close, but we’ve just never been able to put that last little bit together to get that first win,” said Payea. “We finished second here last year and we’ve been right there a lot, but up until today we were never able to finish it off.
“Even though we’re Tour racing now, I still consider this my home track. To get that first win here means a lot to me. It really hasn’t even sunk in yet.”
Payea is interviewed Ken Squier after winning at Thunder Road.
“Today it was like a treasure hunt. I wasn’t sure what the car was going to be like. We got faster and faster as the day went on. We had a lousy draw, started way in the back and we were able to make the show. The car was a rocket all day. Just a little valve stem.”
Aube Plays Racer, Not Coach, at Thunder Road
Three-time NASCAR Busch North Series champion Jamie Aube refocused his career back to the ACT Late Model ranks in 2007, after spending most of the last 20-plus years in the Busch North/East ranks. Aube has also been busy acting as a coach and consultant to NASCAR West Series standout Andrew Myers.
Aube is home on the ACT Tour, however, and there’s no place he’d rather be even if his 31st-place finish doesn’t show it.
“We’re going to try to run all the ACT races,” said Aube. “We’ve committed to it and Tom [Curley] runs a great show here.
“We had a very, very good car today. I was just riding, biding my time and we just happened to be shuffled out to the outside and I just got into the back of somebody. We had a little too much rear brake in the car. I saw it and I just stabbed the brakes and got sideways and up on the outside against the wall it was pretty tough. I had to lift off the brake and had to get into a guy. That kind of knocked the grille work off and took us out of contention. We had a better car than it showed. We’ll fix it and come back.”
Hoar Another Former BES Star Back Having Fun
Another former Busch North/East Series star back in the ACT ranks for 2007 is Brian Hoar. Hoar had a strong #45 throughout the race Sunday, but after falling out of the season-opener at Oxford last weekend early in the race, just finishing Sunday’s feature was a positive result. The fifth-place finish was just gravy.
“We’re happy,” said Hoar. “The reality is, this is the first time we’ve completed 150 laps with the new Late Model, so we’ll learn from it. Going into the race, we were playing a guessing game because we weren’t sure what the car was going to do at the end of 150 laps. We’ve tested at four different tracks and we ran good at Oxford last week before something broke early in the race.
“The car was handling good in all of the short runs. We made some adjustments and probably went a little overboard. The car wasn’t where we wanted it to be at the end. We fought a tight car all night, but all in all it was a pretty good night. The car’s in one piece and we got a top-five out of it.”
Hoar had a very consistent car, never falling outside of the 10th to fifth range, which is partially due to the equality of the ACT field.
“The way the rules package is set up here, you’ve got 10 to 15 cars that are very, very, very close on the short runs. It’s really tough for me at this point to tell what the car needs. I know I can make the car run like a rocket for 10 laps, but once we took the green flag came out, 10 laps later I had a handful. My style is fairly conservative, so I was saving for the end, but we’re going to have to have a better car.”
Trampas Leads Early
Trampas Demers seemed to be running away and hiding from the ACT field at Thunder Road early on. He started on the pole and checked out from the field, developing nearly a full straightaway lead, but cautions allowed racers like Cyr and Payea to close in and eventually overtake him. Demers wound up fourth.
“The first 50 laps, the car was dead on, especially when I could drift high in the corner and drive straight off the corner,” said Demers. “On a restart as Jean got by me, I thought I was going to get back by him because he was pushing in more than I was. Both of our cars between laps 50 to 100 were about equal. The 89 (Payea) and the 05 (Henry) were just so good on the outside, I wasn’t going to hold them off. Jean and I were pretty much racing for third.”
A Thunder Road veteran, Demers wasn’t shocked that Payea was able to use the outside groove to his advantage en route to victory.
“There’s always an outside groove. The guy that wins the race is the guy that can run on the outside groove the best. And it’s not going in that he does it, it’s on the gas coming off. That’s where he was so stout. He was able to get outside of you to keep you from getting to the outside groove to get the line you want off the corner.”
Cyr Has Good Start For Number-Seven
Jean-Paul Cyr is a racer that expects nothing less than victory. When you’re a six-time series champion, you can have those kinds of goals. So anytime victory is not in the cards, Cyr is not as happy as he could be, but after a second-place finish at Oxford last week and a third at Thunder Road, Cyr has established himself as the odds-on favorite for title number seven.
“It’s a good, consistent start,” said Cyr. “Obviously I’m a racer and I want to win, but points wise, it’s a great day. It doesn’t take away the sting of getting passed by a few cars, but overall it was a good day.
“At the beginning, the car was loose. I knew I had to get by as many cars as I could as early as I could while I still had fresh tires. I did that and got to the lead. I was just biding my time. The car kept going away, getting looser and looser. I was hoping to end up top-five, so I’m happier than hell with a top-three.”
Field Grows By Two
The official entry blank for Sunday’s race at Thunder Road indicated that there were to be 30 starters. Thirty-two cars actually took the green flag Sunday. ACT officials added two drivers to the end of the starting lineup as a result of an error on their part and helping their Canadian competitors.
The #80 machine of Donald Theetge got into the show based on his participation in the Castrol ACT Late Model Series in Quebec, which won’t start its season until later this month at Montmagny. Fellow Canadian Claude Leclerc started scratch on the field. Leclerc was supposed to start up front in his heat race, but due to a handicapping error
by ACT officials, he started deeper in his heat than he was supposed to. He did not transfer through the heat, so ACT officials allowed him into the starting lineup.
Theetge made the most of his starting spot, finishing 18th, but Leclerc struggled, spinning several times on the way to a 25th-place final result.