51 Leftovers: ACT Late Models at Oxford
Catching Up With the Latest Winner and A New Champion
By Mike Twist
Williams Conquers Oxford

Eric Williams doesn't run all of the races on the ACT Late Model Tour schedule.  The low-buck Vermont racer doesn't have the time or money to do that right now.  But he does make the most of what he does have to work with - as proven by his seventh place finish in the ACT standings despite missing three events this season [ACT allows teams to drop their three worst finishes, but since Williams missed three races, he could not drop anything].

Williams hasn't run very well at Oxford Plains Speedway (ME) previously in his career, so nobody would have blamed him for skipping this week's season finale there.  But Williams didn't take the easy route out of the race.  Buoyed by a runner-up finish this summer in his first start at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway, a Maine track similar in layout to Oxford, Williams entered the Oxford race on Sunday - and came away as its winner.

After the event, he was more than happy to talk to Speed51.com.

“It like is when I get to talk to you, that means good things have happened,” started Williams.  “Right, now, I'm tickled right to death.  I know everyone says that, but I really am.  This has been a tough place for me to figure out.  It's a lot like Beech Ridge so we brought that same setup that we had there.  Now it's nice to know that I have a flat track set-up in my book.  It's just been such a challenge for me here.  Other tracks I have good to, I have done good and fell into it.  But I've just never been able to really feel good here.  I felt good in the race here today.”

As far as skipping Oxford…. Williams didn't even consider that option.

“I'll stand up to it and give it all that I've got.  I'm stubborn.  I learn the hard way, but that is part of the fun for me.  I like figuring stuff out.  I like to drive, but I also like the mechanical work on this thing.  Driving it is only a part of this thing - especially for us old school guys.  Some of the younger ones come along and they do more driving than thinking about it, but I came from when you had to work on everything.  So it's really fulfilling to me to get the chassis right.”

An interesting similarity between the Beech Ridge and Oxford races was that Williams started deep in the pack for both races.  Then he used patience to get to the front.  That isn't something that we are used to see from someone with a reputation for being one of the more aggressive drivers out there.

“I was pretty good, wasn't I?” said Williams.  “I just kept thinking about Beech Ridge and how it worked out there.  Those two races were almost a mirror image of each other, but this time I passed the last guy.”  

Hoar Finally Gets To Wear His Crown

Heading into the Oxford race, it was almost certain that Brian Hoar would win the 2009 ACT Late Model championship thanks to a rather safe point lead going into the season finale.  By finishing fourth, Hoar locked up the title.

“It's a done deal, so now we really can enjoy it,” said Hoar.  “It was a little anticlimactic because we knew that things would have to go really well for one guy and really bad for us to not clinch it.  I kept telling myself not to be overconfident.”

The championship is Hoar's sixth in ACT, but first since 2000.  After that season, Hoar raced in what is now the NASCAR Camping World East Series for several years before returning to ACT.  But even though Hoar had been through the championship celebrations before, it wasn't routine for him this time.

“It felt damn good to take the checkered flag and say 'that's it, we did it.'  I was hooting and hollering on the radio like I won the race and it was awesome.”

Hoar had an up and down race at Oxford.  He started on the pole, dropped back early and charged back late.

“It was something that we needed to do with our pitting.  It really is not fun to start on the pole and run fourth, fifth, sixth or seventh as you work your way back.  But we had no shot of winning the race the way that the car was.  When I started the race, I really was just babying it.  I felt like I was going really slow. 

Tim Brackett started coming on the outside, so I stepped it up a little and then Joey started coming, so I step up the pace and then all of a sudden I was loose and I was going to be bad loose.  So we had a chance to pit and we decided to come in and fix it because it was just going to get worse and worse and we would have no shot.  I'd be lucky to finish in the top 10.

“To pit, come back up and finish fourth was pretty cool.  We took a good swing at it.  The car was loose early and it was tight at the end.  We went a little bit too far, but that was alright.  It showed a really balanced racecar.”

After winning the championship, Hoar was asked about the differences between the Camping World East Series and how the ACT Late Model Tour currently is.  Despite having a lower profile, he rated the ACT Tour as having a higher level of competition.

“Probably at this point on the American-Canadian Tour, we've got the experience level that this is on par [with what the Busch North Series was when Hoar raced in it].  Frankly, and not to offend anyone who is running in Camping World East, but we actually have a hell of a lot more experience than the guys who are running in Camping World East today.  We have a ton more experience. 

“It's more competitive and there are great racecar drivers here.  They respect each other.  That is something that Camping World East doesn't have.  They have these kids who don't know each other coming from different parts of the country.  They are driving a car for some car owner, money manager and manger who promises to make them the next Jeff Gordon arranged.  They will tell them to go and take the guy out ahead of them to get the next position.  It doesn't matter if it is for fifth place, sixth place or back.  They are just told to go and take them out.  Do whatever is needed to win the race.  NASCAR seems to look the other way.  ACT is really a great series.”

ACT is also a relatively low cost series to run, as proven by car owner Rick Paya's approach to the tour.

“These cars don't cost a ton to run if you are smart about it,” said Hoar.  “Rick is smart about it.  I know that he has the big fancy hauler and the cars are beautiful, but he does a lot of the work himself.  He does a ton himself and it's more than anybody knows.  He lives in that shop and he is so dedicated that it is unbelievable.  I asked him late in the year if he ever got burnt out and he said, 'haven't yet.'  So that's good. 
It's just the way that he is.  I'll tell you what, I used to waste a lot more money than he would ever think about with my team.  He really does a good job of managing the money and the funds.  We don't go through a million tires every week.  We use the minimum needed.” 

Donahue Ends Season On The Oxford Podium

John Donahue led during the Oxford race, but had to settle for third place at the finish.  He wasn't the least bit disappointed about that though.  In fact, he couldn't have been much more positive.

“I'm ecstatic about finishing in the top three,” said Donahue.  “I've had a good second half of the year.  I'm really excited.  It was a really fun day.  It was a fun race.  We started 10th or so and started off easy.  I let the top five take off and I saved my car.  The I went.  I led it for awhile.  The car just got really tight near the end.  If I could run my own line, I could stay in front, but once they got near me they could get by.”

Donahue did have one eye-opening moment late in the race though when he bounced off the inside curbing in turn four and nearly spun his car.  Donahue just pointed it straight and kept plugging along though.

“I couldn't really turn and give it any throttle off, so I really hugged it.  I just hooked it too hard [that time].  The tires caught it and it just snapped around. It was so bad in the center of three and I was just watching the curbs.  If I moved up, it got tight.  Oh well.  I was complaining it was too loose in the heat race..”

Outside Lane Isn't the Way to Win This Time

Joey Pole has won at Oxford before by using the outside groove.  In fact, the young racer is somewhat famous by making that line work when very few other drivers can.  However, that was not the way to go on Sunday for him - as driving up there “only” resulted in a second place finish.

Pole isn't going to change his line though.

“I haven't given up on the outside yet,” said Pole  “I think it still works.  We just missed it a little bit.  The car was just a little bit free in.  I just couldn't get on the throttle.  I was trying to keep up with the car.  It took about 20 laps for the outside to come in where you could really go there. 

“If the race had gone green all of the way through, I think that we would have had a good shot with the lapped cars between us.  But on the restarts, it just didn't work.  I probably could have gone to the bottom and been all right, but I was really comfortable up top.  Still, I think that Eric had the car to beat.  Even if I was perfect up top, his car was just hooked up on the bottom.  He would just take off down there and that just killed me.  It just wasn't quite enough today.”

MacDonald Misses It This Time

In July's TD Banknorth 250 at Oxford, Eddie MacDonald won the race.

In Sunday's ACT event, he had a very different outcome.

MacDonald struggled in practice, barely even qualified for the ACT feature and got lapped early on.  He trucked ahead to a finish of 20th, but it wasn't the type of day that MacDonald is used to at Oxford.

“We sucked,” admitted MacDonald.  “We just missed it today.  I don't know if it was tires or what, but we were trying a few different things.  They didn't work.  We kind of thought that we would use this as a test for next year's 250 and it definitely didn't work out.  So we'll go back to what we had.”

MacDonald isn't done racing for the season.  He is making plans to compete in the upcoming NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Memphis Motorsports Park and is on a mission to raise sponsorship dollars to make the trip.

“Hopefully, we'll be able to find something because it should be a good time out there.  We're getting a little bit of support here and there.  Hopefully, the closer we get, the more things will come together.  We don't need much and it will be a good deal.  It will be really inexpensive way for someone to get their name on a car and on TV.”


 

Eric Williams takes the checkered flag at Oxford.  (Leif Tillotson Photos)
Brian Hoar hoists his championship trophy.
Eddie MacDonald races to the inside of Nick Brown's #12 during their heat race.
Eric Williams (#7VT) works through traffic.
Brian Hoar (Left) celebrates with car owner Rick Paya.
Eric Williams (#7VT) races with runner-up Joey Pole (#97).
Joey Pole's black #97 runs to the outside of the field.
John Donahue's #26.