Twelve hour is all the time George Helliwell had to prepare for the 2019 season.
He went to opening night at Lee USA Speedway, a 0.375-mile asphalt oval in Lee, New Hampshire, with intentions to just help his brother, who races late models at the track full time. Helliwell had raced late models at Lee for several seasons, but with the creation of the New Hampshire Short Track Racing Association – a program that puts five New Hampshire speedways under the same rules and governing body – the new rules made it to where Helliwell thought he would have to drastically change his car to continue racing.
He and his team didn’t want to spend the money it would take to make the changes, so they decided to take 2019 off. That was until they went to the first day of practice at Lee and learned from officials they could actually make their old car work after all. That gave him less than a day to get ready to run.
"The car was literally in the corner of the garage under covers, full of dust and dirt, banged up from the championship race the year before," Helliwell said. "We honestly did not touch the car. We had zero plans."
Helliwell, his dad, Wayne, good friend Dan Thorpe, and girlfriend April Begley, worked through the night digging the car out, changing gears and resetting the whole setup. After getting only about two or three hours of sleep, they loaded the car up the next morning and went racing that night.
He didn’t get to practice, didn’t even get to qualify. Helliwell’s car started in the back of the field, but he was able to make it through and come away with a second-place finish.
The good opening night gave Helliwell the idea he could not only run at Lee again, but he could also return to his first track, Hudson Speedway, for the first time in nearly two decades. Helliwell grew up watching his dad race at Hudson, a quarter-mile asphalt oval in Hudson, New Hampshire, that became NASCAR Whelen All-American Series sanctioned for the first time this season. Helliwell also started his career there in 1999.
Up until this season, Hudson didn’t have a late model division that fit his car, so Helliwell hasn’t been back since 2000. New ownership and an agreement to be part of the NHSTRA opened the door for late models to race there. Now, he has two wins this season and leads the points at Hudson, while also running full time at Lee, where he’s fifth in points.
"All of a sudden we went from zero racing to now we’re racing for two different speedway championships," Helliwell said. "Other than having one bad week over at Lee Speedway, the season couldn’t be going any better at all. At Hudson Speedway, my worst finish is third and at Lee Speedway I think I just had my worst finish two weeks ago of seventh."
Helliwell races at Lee on Friday nights and Hudson on Sundays, with sponsorship from CustomIronCraft.com. His focus this year is a championship at Hudson, and hopefully a top five finish in the final points standings at Lee, where he’s also helping his brother race for a title.
The two tracks are vastly different, and require much different setups and driving styles. Getting a car ready to race twice every weekend is no easy task, especially since Helliwell also has a full time job. Typically he’ll work until five during the week, take his sons to football practice, spend time with them, and try to sneak in some time in the garage at night. The crew will fine tune the car’s set up for Lee Speedway early in the week, and have it and the trailer loaded on Thursday nights so they can go straight to the track after work on Friday.
If everything goes well on Friday, on Saturday morning they’re up first thing in the morning in the garage, changing gears and shocks, and going through the whole process all over again to be ready for Sunday.
"We load up first thing in the morning, go to the track and race out hearts out and hope everything goes good," he said.
"Any other racer will tell you it’s a full time job. They say it’s a hobby but it’s really a sickness. It’s just what we do. It’s a lifestyle. But for me it’s a family thing."
Helliwell’s dad isn’t the only one in the family who helps him out on a regular basis. He has three brothers who all also race, and are all also successful on the track. His younger brother, Bill, drives late models at Lee, where he currently leads the points. The oldest, Wayne Jr., is a three-time American Canadian Tour champion, and his other younger brother, Dave, races super modifieds at Star Speedway, where he’s won four track championships.
All four Helliwells are successful on their own, so they’re all able to help each other whenever they can.
"I always have my family. They have my back, I’ve got theirs," Helliwell said. "My brothers, they’re the first ones in the pit area, they’re the first ones to come to the car to tell me I did a good job, and they’re the first ones to tell me when I did something stupid. So it’s great… We’re constantly helping each other, trying to get each other better. Then at the same time we have that little rivalry. I tell him (Bill) I’m going to beat him this week and he tells me he’s going to wreck me. We go back and forth with jokes and my father, he just sits back and laughs. He loves it. He’s got four boys and they all race and fortunately we’re all pretty good and competitive."
It was because of Helliwell’s dad that he wanted to race at Hudson again. He remembers being a kid, climbing up the fence at the racetrack to see driver introductions, yelling his dad’s name, and taking pictures in victory lane with him.
Prior to this season, there was no place Helliwell would have rather run. Now that he’s getting a chance to, there’s no place he would rather win.
"That, honest to God, was the only place I wanted to race. That’s where I started," he said. "We joke that all of us kids were actually born at the racetrack at Hudson Speedway, so all these years later to be back competing, it’s like home to me. So to be able to get a championship there, it would be really emotional I can tell you that."
Hudson Speedway will host its next race on August 11, featuring street stocks, six shooters, and enduros.
NASCAR racing will return to Lee USA Speedway on August 16 for the Lance Davis Memorial Street Stock 50, featuring Late Model Sportsmen, Six Shooters, and Pure Stocks beginning at 7 p.m.