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Racers in the ACT Late Model division battle for position during a 2018 event.

Big money is on the line for American-Canadian Tour competitors in June, and it begins with a trip north that’s expected to be one of the year’s biggest events.

The ACT Late Model Tour opens the 2019 Summer Kickoff Series with the Claude Leclerc 150 on June 1 at Autodrome Chaudiere in Quebec. The event is the first point-counting venture into Canada for the U.S.-based series since September 2015. U.S. stars such as Scott Payea, Jimmy Hebert, Rich Dubeau and Stephen Donahue will join the stars of Late Model racing in Quebec, such as Patrick Laperle and Jonathan Bouvrette.

“I’ve gone to Chaudiere before with my dad (John) back when he was running the Tour — I was really young back then,” Graniteville’s Donahue said. “But they’ve changed and upgraded the track a lot. From everything I’ve seen, it looks like the facility has become really, really nice. So I’m kind of excited to get up there and see how I can do.

“From what my dad told me, the track’s got a lot of banking like Thunder Road, but you drive down into the corner like White Mountain. Those are two of my better tracks, so I’m hoping we can have a good run up there.”

The Claude Leclerc 150 is also the front end of a Quebec doubleheader. ACT is sanctioning the Jean-Paul Cabana 125 at Circuit Riverside Speedway Ste-Croix on June 2. While the event does not count for Tour points, many racers who are traveling north for Chaudiere will stay overnight and tackle the circuit the following day.

The Chaudiere trip is the first of three $5,000-to-win events for the ACT Late Model Tour in June. ACT heads to Connecticut’s Thompson Speedway on June 15 for a 75-lap event. The Thompson 75 is part of a doubleheader with the K&N Pro Series East, marking the first time since 2002 that both series have point-counting events on the same card. The Summer Kickoff Series wraps up June 29 at New Hampshire’s Star Speedway with the Dream Ride 150.

An additional $5,000 bonus has been posted if an ACT Late Model racer sweeps all three events. Add in $5,000 to win the Jean-Paul Cabana 125 and it could be a $25,000 month if someone earns a sweep.

“The first goal is to get there and get qualified,” Donahue said of the series. “I’m pretty comfortable at most tracks, so I feel like I adapt pretty quickly. I’ll be going back to Thompson for the second time, so I’ll be a lot more comfortable with that track. Star and Chaudiere will be new, but they sound like a lot of tracks that I’ve run well at, so I’m hoping we can go out there and get some top-5s or top-10s.”

All of this is the backdrop for what is shaping up to be a classic battle for the 2019 ACT Late Model Tour championship. Rich Dubeau enters the Claude Leclerc 150 atop the ACT point standings for the first time in his career. He is three points ahead of Williamstown’s Jimmy Hebert. Both have finished in the top 6 in all three point-counting events so far this year.

But the two-time defending champion isn’t far behind. Colchester’s Scott Payea showed at White Mountain Motorsports Park that reports of his demise were greatly exaggerated. The veteran bounced back from a did-not-qualify at Thunder Road to win the Caron Fabrication Spring Green. In doing so, he jumped back up to third in the standings, putting him 26 behind Dubeau.

Just back of this trio sits a half-dozen drivers separated by 23 points — all of whom who could easily jump into championship contention with a strong run at Chaudiere. A pair of Graniteville drivers are fourth and fifth, with Donahue just ahead of veteran Chip Grenier. Mathieu Kingsbury is the top Canadian in sixth followed by defending ACT Rookie of the Year Dylan Payea, defending Seekonk champion Ryan Kuhn and rising ACT star Christopher Pelkey.

The racing at Autodrome Chaudiere will begin June 1 at 6 p.m. for the Claude Leclerc 150. The ACT Late Model Tour is joined by the Serie Sportsman Quebec and the track’s NASCAR Sport Compact Amateur division. Pits open at 1 p.m. and the front gates will open at 3:30 p.m.

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