Test days determine invites for ACT Invitational

Several Late Model division drivers from Oxford Plains Speedway had the opportunity to turn laps on New England’s only one-mile oval this week, as New Hampshire Motor Speedway hosted a two-day  “Test and Tune” session for the American-Canadian Tour (ACT).  

The test sessions were in preparation for the second annual ACT Invitational on Saturday, Sept. 18, part of the speedway’s NASCAR Sylvania 300 weekend.

This year’s race will feature an expanded field of 43 starters, up from 36 in 2009. Invited drivers will also run a longer distance, as the race has been increased from 50 to 60 laps.

The two-day test session gave 71 teams from around the northeast and eastern Canada a chance to prove they have the skills to take the green flag on Sept. 18. Led by six-time and defending champion Brian Hoar, 10 drivers have already earned guaranteed starting spots by winning either an ACT tour points race or a special event like Oxford’s famed TD Bank 250.

Maine had strong representation both days, with 16 teams participating either Tuesday or Wednesday and more than a handful of Oxford regulars in the mix.  

Among the local drivers who tested this week were Tim Brackett of Buckfield and Ricky Rolfe of Albany Township. Turner residents Shawn Martin and Glen Luce also participated.   

Brackett was Oxford’s track champion in 2005 when Pro Stocks were king. Just like his point rival Martin, the easy-going veteran got off to a slow start in 2010 but has risen to lead the standings through steady, consistent finishes.

“I was pretty cautious given what I have at stake with the car at Oxford,” Brackett said. “That doesn’t get you at the top of the speed charts at NHMS, but I really didn’t want to risk the car to go fast. I figure if I can clinch the title at Oxford, I’ll be guaranteed a spot in the race.”  

Rolfe is synonymous with success at Oxford, with multiple feature wins to his credit and the 2003 track championship. In 2010, he’s dealt with health issues while still managing to win a feature (June 26) and run competitively week-in and week-out.

“After running the test and race itself last year, we figured out what not to do at NHMS,” Rolfe said. “My car felt much better this time around. It handled well and the power was good down those long straightaways. We needed to show our skills Tuesday to get an invite, and I think we looked pretty racy. Racing on that track is an honor; I hope to be there on Sept. 18.”

Martin has bounced back from adversity in recent weeks, climbing all the way to second in points behind Brackett. After destroying his primary car on June 24 at Beech Ridge, his team dug out their old chassis and converted it over to race. The results were back-to-back podium appearances, putting the Aroostook County native within grasp of his second championship.

“We had a much better test now that I have a little experience down there,” Martin said referring to his participation in last year’s invitational. “The car felt great and handled very well. Racing on a superspeedway is so much different than on a short track. Yet, I think we’re ready to run strong at NHMS next month if we get invited. It’s a very exciting opportunity for me.”

Luce is a second-generation pilot with thousands of laps at Oxford. He’s also tried his hand against the ACT regulars at a variety of tracks. On Tuesday, he found the “Magic Mile” to his liking, running among the top ACT regulars throughout most of Day 1.  

“We got the car running pretty good,” Luce said, reflecting on his test. “We’re using the new Ford crate engine this year in a Distance chassis, and the combination works well on the big track. I won our 12-lap simulated race. The car was fast and felt very stable. I feel much more comfortable and competitive down there this time around. I sure hope we get invited to race.”

Race fans planning to be at NHMS on Sept. 18 will enjoy an exciting triple-header, led by a 150-lap battle for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. The F.W. Webb 100 for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour joins the truck race and second annual ACT Invitational for a full day of on-track activity that also includes practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

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