BARRE, Vt. – They may have changed Thunder Road International Speedbowl this season, but they didn't do much to change the outcome of ACT Late Model Tour racing there.
Eight-time ACT champion Brian Hoar won his second career Bond Auto Labor Day Classic 200 on Sunday afternoon, closing to within single digits of the point lead with his second straight victory on the finicky quarter-mile. Hoar led the final 93 laps and beat Wayne Helliwell and former track champion Cris Michaud for the win.
ACT officials confirmed that heading into the season finale at Airborne Speedway on October 6, Hoar trails Helliwell by just eight points as he chases a record ninth career championship. Two weeks ago that deficit was 44 points, but Hoar has rattled off two straight wins – four in nine races overall this season – to axe away most of Helliwell's previous advantage.
“It's a lot of fun racing a guy like Wayne,” said Hoar in Victory Lane, where he also visited in the second race of the season after winning the Merchants Bank 150 at Thunder Road.
But his visit to the track then was much different that that one back in May.
This summer, in an effort to promote more side-by-side racing, Thunder Road officials added a narrow strip of traction compound along the tops of the banked corners. And that thin strip of compound is where Hoar concentrated his efforts on Sunday after pit strategy put him in position to grab the lead for good on Lap 108.
“The car was good. It wasn't perfect, but it was good enough,” Hoar said. “I really like the new Thunder Road – running the outside with the (traction compound) goop out there. That's a lot of fun.”
The win was the second of Hoar's career in the Labor Day Classic 200 – the last coming in 2003. Last season, Nick Sweet won the event in a team car supplied by RPM Motorsports.
“The car was just way too loose,” said Helliwell of any hopes of running Hoar down, though he did try valiantly over the middle stages of the race.
Unlike Hoar, however, Helliwell used a very unconventional groove at Thunder Road and kept his car pinned to the track's apron under heavy braking entering the turns.
In the end, though, it was Hoar's day to shine. Even he couldn't believe it in the aftermath.
“Holy cow. Did we really just win another race?” Hoar asked with a deep sigh and a wide grin.
Hoar qualified fifth for the event and had trouble running with the Top-5 cars for the first third of the race. But once a caution came out on Lap 71, he dove quickly onto pit road.
“We got lucky there when the caution came out,” Hoar said. “(Car owner and crew chief Rick Paya) came on the radio and said, 'Pit, pit, pit!' and we were the first ones down pit road. The guys had a great pit stop, and everything just worked out really well.”
The No. 37 was the first car on pit road and the first car to head back on the track – just behind the leaders who opted to stay out a little longer. When those cars' own right side tires either started to give out or they elected to hit pit road outright on their own, Hoar capitalized in more ways than one.
He beat Helliwell to the checkered flag and nearly beat him to the stop of the ACT standings by day's end, too – leading a lap and leading the most laps to take 10 bonus points and inch 14 points closer to the lead than he had been when the weekend started.
Joey Polewarczyk Jr. led early, too, but could only claw to fourth after his pit stop. Austin Theriault, third in the standings, finished fifth after needing a provisional and is 38 points behind Helliwell heading to the season finale.