Lee regular beats Welch, Potter, and heat
GROVETON, N.H. -- There was no question that there were three specific drivers that would be in the hunt at Riverside Speedway.
From practice and qualifying at the start of the sunny, 95-degree day, the class of the field for the Mason Tractor & Equipment 'Clash of the Titans 150' was clearly the trio of former White Mountain Motorsports Park champion Quinny Welch, defending Lee USA Speedway king Wayne Helliwell, Jr., and Riverside's favorite son, Randy Potter.
Potter, a multi-time Riverside champion who lives quite literally at the edge of the speedway's property line in Groveton, N.H., is an established ACT Late Model Tour championship contender. Welch, from nearby Lancaster, N.H., currently leads the championship standings at White Mountain and races successfully on a part-time basis with ACT, but has a checkered past at Riverside. Helliwell, from Dracut, Mass. and a veteran of many disciplines of short track racing, made a lasting first impression at Riverside last week, and is poised to win another title at Lee USA this fall.
Each driver has top-notch equipment and a stout team behind him. Each driver is regarded highly enough to have been invited to participate in the upcoming ACT test session at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Each driver won his qualifying heat on Sunday, and each started the 'Clash' from one of the top-three positions on the 26-car grid.
There was no question they would be at the top of the finishing order. Instead, the question was how that order would be decided.
Potter led the first 28 laps from the pole, then Welch took over but was not more than two car lengths ahead of Potter until around lap 60. With a restart 20 circuits later, Potter was again within striking distance. Helliwell, who had been conserving his tires for later in the race, suddenly became a player, as did ACT and Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl regular John Donahue. A restart on lap 96 allowed Helliwell to sweep under Potter and take control of second place. Donahue, meanwhile, had pitted for fresh right side tires during the caution period and, while back in tenth place, was expected to quickly return to the front.
Helliwell sniffed his first move under Welch on lap 106, but backed out, opting to run behind the leader. Potter ran a close third. Donahue, by lap 111, was up to fifth place. A lap later, however, he retired with a broken right-rear hub. After the restart for Donahue's spun car bunched the leaders again, giving Potter the opportunity to briefly take second back from Helliwell. Potter's tires began to give up, though, and Helliwell moved back ahead on lap 115, then set to work on Welch.
At lap 126, Helliwell tried the outside to no avail. Due to the intense heat, a recently-applied strip of asphalt in the low groove of Turn 3 began coming apart early in the day. During the PASS Modified event prior to the 'Clash', the combination of heat and bad asphalt badly blistered the right-rear tire of winner Dan Somes' car. Using an old home remedy, track crews laid down dry concrete powder mix over the broken-up surface following the Modified race and during many of the caution periods in the subsequent PASS Sportsman and 'Clash' races to slow the decay of the track. While the intense heat of the day made passing a bit tougher on the outside, the inside lane in Turn 3 also suffered somewhat as a result of the bad asphalt.
Helliwell made two inside-lane bids on laps 129 and 136, then made another try on the top at lap 140. That time, with a thrilling, all-guts move, Helliwell made his car stick, taking the lead on lap 142. Backmarker Cody LeBlanc spun one lap later, setting up one final seven-lap dash to the win.
But during that lap 143 caution period, something was going on inside Helliwell's car. Dehydrated and exhausted, he was suffering badly.
"At lap 80, I was getting dizzy," he said. "I kept pulling my gloves down and hanging my hands out the window trying to cool my wrists. I was good on that last [long green flag] run, and then that caution came out with seven to go.
"And it just hit, everything started spinning."
Helliwell lined up for the final sprint with Welch on his outside and Potter on his rear bumper. Potter immediately jumped in front of Welch and into second place, but washed up the track three laps later. Welch returned to second place, but by then was too far behind Helliwell to make a charge before the checkered flag on lap 150.
Luckily for Helliwell, the race was not 151 laps long. With his left hand out the window looking for air, a dazed Helliwell came out of Turn 4 at half-speed as the checkers waved. He slowly made his way around the track before stopping in victory lane, not taking the traditional victory lap.
Helliwell was in trouble.
As Welch and Potter, who had been drinking fluids throughout the race, climbed out of their cars hot and sweaty but relatively spry, Helliwell sat in pain and heat-induced confusion. It was not until rescue workers, equipped with frozen cold-compacts and bottles of cold water, arrived on the scene and helped pull the winner out of his car before Helliwell was able to realize his victory. Even then, a full five minutes of recuperation time passed before Helliwell was able to make his way -- half-carried -- to the podium for the interview and trophy presentation.
"When we took the [lap 143] restart I looked up and I thought I'd seen, like, five or six car lenghts," said Helliwell. "[My spotter] said 'You're by yourself, just run.' I just backed off. I just idled around the speedway on the last lap. If there was another lap I would have drove right off the [track]."
All three drivers were complimentary of each other and of the race, and Welch and Potter -- who have plenty of laps racing each other, but very limited experience against Helliwell -- appreciated the winner's effort.
"I had a feeling it would come down to us three," said Potter. "We raced pretty good together and had a lot of fun. Wayne is a class act. I'll tell you, he could have uprooted me after a couple of them restarts when I couldn't go, and he let me go and his car would come in, and it paid off in the end. I want to congratulate him. This is a great race to have at my home track, and even though I haven't been here in a while it's still home."
"Lapped traffic played a big factor today, and Wayne ran a helluva race," said runner-up Welch. "He's a good driver with an awesome car and a good bunch of guys, and Randy, we battled with him all day and it was fun. It just came down to the end and I ran out of tires. It was a heck of a job, anyway, and it was probably the best race I've been in, I don't know, probably my whole career. I had a great time."
"Honest to God, if I could run with those guys every week, I'd come up here and run every single week," said Helliwell, who earned a track record $5,000 purse for his victory. "Down where we run, we don't have guys that you can run like that. I pride myself on being able to run bumper-to-bumper with people and not hitting, and it was really awesome to be able to come up here and run like that for 150 laps."
Howard Switser of West Burke was the top Vermonter in fourth place, and also the top finisher on American Racer tires; the top-three drivers all used Goodyear tires. Switser pitted twice during early caution periods to make adjustements on his car, and also survived an early chain-reaction incident that ultimately left his car without a hood for most of the race. Switser passed Bryan Mason of Stark, N.H. on lap 147 for fourth. Mason beat his brother, Corey, for fifth place. The balance of the unofficial top ten was completed by Steve Patnaude, Sammy Gooden, Mike Kenison, and Mike Paquette.
Ten caution periods slowed the event, including the first on lap 21 for a wild, multi-time flip by Pat Corbett of Williamstown. He was uninjured. Twenty-seven cars attempted to qualify, with only Dean Weber, who demolished his car in his heat race, failing to start the race.
Mike Landry of Oakland, Me. won the PASS Sportsman race, which was shortened from 75 laps to 50 due to the heat and track conditions. Landry beat point leader Dan McKeage of Gorham, Me. and Clyde Hennessey of Windham, Me. for the win. Somes, of Belgrade, Me., was followed in the PASS Modified race -- which was shortened from 40 laps to 30 -- by point leader Andy Shaw of Center Conway, N.H. and Sumner Sessions of Norway, Me. Jeff Ainsworth of Bethlehem, N.H. won the 50-lap Cyclone Enduro race.
UNOFFICIAL RESULTS -- Mason Tractor & Equipment 'Clash of the Titans 150'
Riverside Speedway, Groveton, N.H.
Sunday, August 16, 2009
1. Wayne Helliwell, Jr., Dracut, Mass.
2. Quinny Welch, Lancaster, N.H.
3. Randy Potter, Groveton, N.H.
4. Howard Switser, West Burke
5. Bryan Mason, Stark, N.H.
6. Corey Mason, Stark, N.H.
7. Steve Patnaude, Pittsburg, N.H.
8. Sammy Gooden, Whitefield, N.H.
9. Mike Kenison, Groveton, N.H.
10. Mike Paquette, Pittsburg, N.H.
11. Cody LeBlanc, Gorham, N.H.
12. Kenny Marier, Littleton, N.H.
13. Paul Schartner, III, Lyndonville
14. Bob Ailes, Sr., St. Johnsbury
15. John Donahue, Graniteville
16. Matt Pepin, Concord, N.H.
17. Jamie Swallow, Jr., Stark, N.H.
18. Matt Sanborn, West Baldwin, Me.
19. Zig Geno, Gilmanton Iron Works, N.H.
20. Haywood Herriott, Gorham, N.H.
21. Stephen Hodgdon, Danville
22. Marc Palmisano, Hadley, Mass.
23. Jeff Marshall, Groveton, N.H.
24. Jeremy Davis, Tamworth, N.H.
25. Pat Corbett, Williamstown
26. Bill McCarthy, Medford, Mass.
DNS - Dean Weber, Weare, N.H.
(PHOTOS: 1. Wayne Helliwell is assisted in victory lane by his crew members and Groveton Rescue after winning the Clash of the Titans 150 in 90+ degree heat; 2. Helliwell's #27 Unique Ford entry at speed; 3. Third-place finisher Randy Potter (left) and runner-up Quinny Welch (2nd from right) hold an exhausted Wayne Helliwell up on the podium at Riverside Speedway. Photos by Justin St. Louis/VMM)