VETERAN GUNSLINGER AND YOUNG GUN FACE OFF TO DECIDE VICTORY
The battle between Brad Leighton and Joey Pole for the lead in closing stages of the ACT Late Model feature at Lee USA Speedway was a spirited one. Pole had the lead first and worked hard to keep the charging #55 of Leighton at bay. They battled side-by-side and they battled in lap traffic. Eventually, Leighton did get by and went on to win the race, but Pole made him work for it.
“We were bouncing around a little bit,” said Leighton. “I bounced him and he bounced me. The difference was that I let him back in the lead and he didn't let me back into the lead. I said 'come on buddy!',” said Leighton. “At that point, I was going to go by him.”
“It was tough,” said Pole. “He doesn't make it easy. I was trying to hold him off for as long as I could. I knew that he had a better car. I was just hoping that we would catch lapped traffic right enough to keep him behind me.
“I knew that he had a better car and it was just a matter of time. I held him off for as long as I could.”
Fans who watched the race might have though that Leighton was be frustrated with lapped traffic after the event. Several times while battling Pole for the lead, the duo came upon two-wide traffic that was about to go a lap down. But Leighton didn't mind.
“They were all racing for position,” said Leighton of the lapped car. “That whole race, I don't know where my patience came from. I think that I must be a year older and maybe a year wiser. I really was patient for the whole race. I didn't really pass anybody or use the car until halfway. With 75 laps to go, I was like “What?...We're already up to ninth?”
RPM TEAM GETS OFF TO A GREAT EARLY START…BUT MAYBE TOO GREAT TOO EARLY
The RPM Motorsports team owned by Rick and Michelle Paya had all the makings of a true superteam before even rolling through the pit gates at Lee. Jean Paul Cyr drove for the team prior to this year and was always a threat to win. His “replacements” for the year were none other than former NASCAR Busch North/Busch East/Camping World East refugees Mike Olsen and Brian Hoar. Both drivers has won races in that series before. Olsen also had the added advantage of winning two NASCAR titles. Hoar also knows a thing or two about championships, having won a total of five ACT titles himself.
Once at Lee, the RPM team didn't disappoint. After the dust settled from the heat races, Hoar and Olsen shared the front row for the 150-lap feature.
In the race, the duo got the year started off right. Olsen led the first three laps, Hoar the next nine and then Olsen retook the lead again and held it until lap 50.
“That was a good start to the season and an awesome start to the race,” said Hoar. “It doesn't get any better than that - to sweep the front row.”
Once the race started, the team didn't have any kind of master plan. It was just going to be a race between two talented drivers.
“There were no team orders other than 'Just don't wreck them',” said Olsen.
Not wrecking wasn't a hard thing to do though for these two veterans. The amount of mutual respect between Olsen and Hoar is very high.
“I've raced with Mike a long time and I have a lot of respect for him…and vice versa,” said Hoar.
“Brian is a really good racer,” said Olsen. “I trust him completely and I think that he trusts me. I don't tend to run into the back of people.”
That trust translated into a great battle.
“The inside was a little tight in the very beginning and the outside took right off, so I said 'go for it',” said Hoar. “It worked the other way around when I was on the outside. It was fun. We had a good time. We came here to race and we got to race. Both cars are in one piece and we have plenty to work with for the next show.”
“We had talked before the race as much as you can plan anything,” said Olsen. “We decided to just take the start the way that it came and then I was just looking to cruise. If he wanted to go harder, I'd let him go. He got in front of me and my car just rolled through the center so good that to be able to be smooth with the throttle, I needed to get back by him. So I went by him and I could use the whole track to be easy on the tires.”
Being easy on the tires didn't help Olsen out too much though in the long run, as he spun down the frontstretch while battling hard with Scott Payea for the lead.
“It was a lot of fun. I had a really good car, but I'm just mad at myself,” said Olsen. “I think that I slid up into the #89 and spun myself out. I was just cruising early. I was just trying to be smooth with the throttle and not abuse the tires. The after I spun, I had to use a lot of the car to get on back. By the time, I got to where I was, the right rear was just too hot.
“When I was out front, I could just drive at my own pace. I could save the tires. When I came back through, I used the right rear too much getting up underneath guys. So in the end, I had to just ride.”
Meanwhile, the handling was fading on Hoar's racecar.
“It's typical, I have to learn some of these habits to start a race and finish a race well,” said Hoar. “Working with Rick, he's obviously going to help me do that. Definitely, we had a good short run car. I could tell pretty quickly though that I was going to be in trouble late. So I started really early to baby it as much as I could. We started getting really loose, really early and that's never good - especially with these cars.
“We know now that the track loosened up some and we didn't compensate enough for that. But you live and learn and the car is still in one piece. We have a real hot rod to work with, so I'm very confident that we'll be in victory lane for one of these races. I'm pretty excited about that.”
Eventually, Hoar finished ninth and Olsen tenth - something for the team to build on.
“All in all, it could have been a whole lot worse,” said Olsen. “We could have had two wrecked racecars.”
LESS WORK TO START IN THE BACK?
Brad Leighton started 19th in the race at Lee. Joey Pole started eighth. Both drivers made their way up to led the race. Which driver had more work to do to get there?
The obvious answer would be Leighton, but that is something that the eventual race winner disagreed with.
“The #97 [Pole] had to pass good cars, but from where I started back in 19th, I got to seventh or eighth by just waiting until they pushed up and I passed them,” said Leighton. “He had to pass good racers, so he wore his car out - even though he started up front and I started closer to the rear.”
EDDIE MAC FINISHES AN UNSATISIFYING FOURTH AT LEE
Eddie MacDonald finished fourth in the ACT Opener at his home track, but it wasn't a result that he was particularly happy with. MacDonald doesn't run for points on the Tour and he's come close to winning at Lee in an ACT event before, so he was gunning for the win in this year's Governor's Cup 150.
“We wanted to have a good run today and we really wanted to win it,” said MacDonald. “We seem to keep coming here and aren't able to win it.”
MacDonald and his team struggled with the handling of their car all weekend long.
“The last couple of years, we've had a better car. We just struggled today. We thought that we were a lot better off than we really were. But the car is still in one piece.”
In 2009, MacDonald will run a limited schedule of ACT events. He's not sure when exactly his next one will be though.
“I don't know what the next one that we are going to run is, but we're going to run as many as we can.”
PAYEA ENJOYS HIS RACE WITH JOEY POLE
In the mid stages of the Governor's Cup 150, Scott Payea and Joey Pole fought a close and spirited battled for the top spot. It was a race that Payea especially enjoyed.
“During the middle part of the race, we ran side-by-side and clean for the lead for several laps,” said Payea. “It doesn't get any better than that. It was a lot of fun.”
Payea ended up finishing third, but he doesn't blame the hard battle for using his car up too early.
“You know, I wasn't using my car nearly as much as he was using his. I felt that I could hold him on the outside and see what happened. But my car really needed to be up half a groove to get it to the corner right. Being pinched down, I just couldn't get by him.”
After coming within one point of the ACT Late Model title last season, Payea is gunning for this year's championship. To start off the season with a podium finish is a nice step towards that goal.
“This feels great. It's always tough to dig yourself out of a hole, so if you can start out with a good solid run like we did, it really builds momentum that you can carry on through the year.”
HARD RACING LEAVES POLE FINISHING SECOND
By the time that Brad Leighton got to Joey Pole to battle for the lead…and the eventual victory…Pole had already seen plenty of closed-quarter racing. The battles were great for the fans, but not so good for the tires on Pole's racecar.
“I raced Brian Hoar for the longest time on the inside,” Said Pole. “That actually wore my tires out more. Then I raced Scott on the outside for a while. It was just too much racing at the wrong time.”
Pole ended up finishing second, which wasn't exactly a disappointment.
“This isn't a bad way to start out the year,” said Pole.
HELLIWELL DRIVES HIS OWN CREATION TO A TOP 10 FINISH
Wayne Helliwell knows his way around Lee USA Speedway. He also knew plenty of frustrations after struggling through the heat races and finally getting into the feature by winning the B-Main. Helliwell continued that momentum by battling up to an eighth place finish in the main event.
“Overall, it was good,” said Helliwell. “We battled some caliper issues during the issues races, but we were able to figure that out and change it for the consi. That made a huge difference. In the end there if we had a little more bite, we would have had something. But we'll take it.”
In the race, Helliwell was driving a car that was built in his own Helliwell Motorsports shop.
“It's brand new car that we built over the winter. It's our house car. We do everything with it.”
Right now, Helliwell is only building cars for himself, but down the road he might start building customer cars as well.
“If they come, we will. But right now, we are just trying to focus on getting everything looking good, so we can go out and get other people to want one.”
Finishing strong in his own creation was something that was very special for Helliwell.
“It is a lot different. I take a lot of pride in what we do and what we accomplished here on opening day. I'm really, really proud of it.”
LEIGHTON ON LEE AND RACES BEYOND
Winning the ACT late Model race at Lee USA Speedway had special significance to Brad Leighton. Early in his career, he raced every Friday night at the track. As a touring star, he tasted much success there in what is now known as the NASCAR Camping World East Series. The track holds many great memories for him.
“I've won four races in a row here in the Busch [North] car,” said Leighton. “I've had good times here and it has really treated me well. I'm really fortunate.”
A perk of the Lee victory is that Leighton becomes the first invited driver for the big ACT Invitational at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in September. That race will come at another special venue for him.
“I'm happy that we are into the Loudon race now. That place is my baby and I really want to race there.”
And finally, when he looks ahead to his next race Leighton is also headed to a track that he is excited about visiting.
“I'm looking forward to Plattsburgh. I've heard that place is really awesome.”