WATERBURY, Vt. — The American-Canadian Tour is closing in on its first visit to North Carolina’s Hickory Motor Speedway on Friday and Saturday.
Although the Hickory 125 and Easter Bunny 125 do not count for points, many drivers planning an ACT championship run have decided to start their season early at the .363-mile oval.
After a cold, snowy New England winter, a trip to North Carolina is exactly what the racing doctor ordered. Racers such as Ben Rowe, Tom Carey III, Stephen Donahue and Reilly Lanphear are jumping at the chance to compete at Hickory. They’ll then have two weeks to prepare for the Northeast Classic at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Saturday, April 17, which opens the 12-event ACT Late Model Tour schedule.
“It’s a bucket list track, for sure,” Tom Carey III said of the trip to Hickory. “I lived down in North Carolina all through high school, and as soon as I got my driver’s license, we used to go watch races there back in the Hooter’s Pro Cup days. It was always a pretty cool place to go into when you walk up to get into the grandstands and they’ve got all the past champions written on the walls. It’s a pretty humbling experience to see names like Ned Jarrett, Dale Earnhardt, and Ralph Earnhardt. As a driver, it’s something that I never thought I would get a chance to do, and I’m just very humbled and grateful for the opportunity.”
Rowe, a multi-time Pro All Stars Series champion who is also gunning for the ACT title this year, might be one the favorites based on history. He has the most experience at Hickory of any driver on the ACT entry lists thanks to the track’s place on the PASS National Championship schedule. Rowe won the 2009 and 2016 editions of the Easter Bunny 150.
Rowe and recent Snowflake 100 winner Jake Johnson are planning doubleheader double-duty. On each night, they’ll compete in both the PASS Easter Bunny 150 and the ACT event. PASS winner Mike Hopkins will do double-duty on Saturday as well.
Reilly Lanphear is the only other ACT entrant with significant experience at Hickory Motor Speedway. Lanphear, who’s entering her fourth season with ACT, ran a super late model at the historic track in 2018 and finished seventh in her first start. She and her sister Peyton are both making the trip for Easter weekend, with Reilly running a special No. 45NC Rich Bickle throwback paint scheme.
For everyone else, the practice sessions will be the first time they tackle Hickory. With the talented list of drivers making the haul to North Carolina, though, they figure to quickly get up to speed.
Carey is looking to build on a strong finish to his rookie ACT season. The third-generation racer grabbed his first ACT podium finish at Maine’s Oxford Plains Speedway in the season finale — a track that bears similarities to its Southern counterpart. He also had a runner-up in a 50-lap event at Connecticut’s Thompson Speedway, giving him confidence heading into 2021.
“We’ll have the same goal as always: go out there and do the best we can, and let the cards fall where they fall,” Carey said. “Obviously, the goal is always to go out there and win. Hopefully we can keep some of our momentum rolling from last year. We’ve got a couple of good race cars here, nice pieces, and I’m just really looking forward to getting the season going — especially starting it off down in Hickory.”
The 2020 ACT Rookie of the Year, Derek Gluchacki, is also starting his year down South. He’s gearing up to chase both the 2021 ACT title and the inaugural New England Late Model Challenge Cup. Stephen Donahue is doing the same, making the Hickory doubleheader an important tune-up session for both.
Shawn Swallow, the 2020 Riverside Speedway champion, is going to Hickory in preparation for his first full ACT campaign. Jesse Switser is tuning up for year two with the series. Joey Laquerre, the 77-year-old ageless veteran, is running the second Hickory event and will chase the 12-race Tour schedule beginning at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
ACT fans can also watch 2020 runner-up D.J. Shaw on the PASS side of the program. Although Shaw is sticking to single-duty at Hickory, he’ll be pulling double-duty many times this year as he returns to the CS Motorsports No. 04VT team for another ACT title run.