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Mike O’Sullivan Takes GSPSS Title, Hopkins Wins Last Pavement Race At Unity: Northeast Late Model Recap

Oxford 150 Start

Each week, Short Track Scene looks back at results and news from northern New England’s Late Model and Super Late Model competition, from the region’s premier tours — the American-Canadian Tour, the Granite State Pro Stock Series, and the Pro All Stars Series — to the tracks and drivers that support them. Thanks to the local journalists and fans who report in from the track each week to keep their fellow fans informed.

GSPSS: The Granite State Pro Stock Series ventured south to Connecticut’s New London-Waterford Speedbowl Saturday for their season-ending race. The 100-lap GSPSS feature was part of a weekend of racing celebrating the track’s 2017 season, after off-season legal issues surrounding the track’s former owner threatened to shutter the oval in April.

The GSPSS competitors arrived at the ⅜-mile oval with the tightest championship battle among the region’s major touring series. Mike O’Sullivan, in search of his second GSPSS title, held a four-point advantage over rookie Scott MacMichael. Finishing ahead of MacMichael would lock down the championship for O’Sullivan, but three positions on the track could win it for MacMichael.

With most other Pro Stock racing done for the year, a number of challengers threw their hats into the ring for the season finale. Derek Ramstrom, the feature winner a week before at Thompson, was on hand driving Dave Darling’s #52 from the Seekonk Speedway weekly scene. Mainers Corey Bubar, Bobby Timmons and Nick Jenkins came south for the race, as did “Lightning” Larry Gelinas. Modified racer Ronnie Silk found a ride for the race, and New Hampshire teen Jimmy Renfrew, Jr. continued his fast Pro Stock education with another GSPSS attempt.

O’Sullivan and MacMichael started their title battle off by winning two of the qualifying heats for the feature, with Massachusetts’ Angelo Belsito winning the other. The field lined up with MacMichael on the pole alongside Belsito, with O’Sullivan starting third. But drama flared up early with a first-lap incident that sent MacMichael spinning and to the back of the field.

From there, O’Sullivan only had to make sure his rival did not finish ahead of him. O’Sullivan, driving his brother Tommy’s usual ride with his own #08 on the doors, rode in second while Belsito held the early race lead. From the back half of the top ten, Derek Ramstrom and Joe Squeglia worked their way into second and third. Ramstrom dropped off the pace while running second, leaving Belsito to fend off Squeglia and Raymond Christian III.

A long green-flag stretch allowed Belsito to stretch his lead by as much as a straightaway while Squeglia battled Christian and Corey Bubar, who had worked his way from the back of the field to the top five. Squeglia, a two-time winner in three GSPSS appearances in 2017, began cutting Belsito’s lead down, making the pass for the lead with 22 laps to go. The New Hampshire short-track ace survived one more restart and cruised home to an uncontested victory. Squeglia’s win was his third in four GSPSS starts in 2017.

Behind Squeglia, Corey Bubar beat out Belsito for second, with Raymond Christian III finishing fourth and Nick Jenkins (in a Jeremy Davis-prepared #32) finishing fifth. Derek Ramstrom battled back after early trouble to finish sixth in his borrowed #52.

Finishing seventh was Mike O’Sullivan, who spent the evening staying out of trouble. Scott MacMichael was involved in a couple other incidents through the evening, and while he managed to finish ninth, his troubles paved the way for O’Sullivan to secure his second career Granite State Pro Stock Series championship.

Defending GSPSS champion Barry Gray finished twelfth in the feature, with fellow series regulars Cory Casagrande sixteenth and Nick Lascuola eighteenth. Rookie Devin O’Connell was involved in an early incident that left him outside the top twenty. Josh King, who won a feature earlier in the season, was not in attendance for the season finale.

Though final points have not been released, little changed in the top seven after the season-ending race. Barry Gray will remain third in points ahead of Nick Lascuola, with Cory Casagrande fifth despite skipping two races. Josh King will end the season sixth. Part-timer Tommy O’Sullivan, who finished tenth in the finale, will likely leapfrog Devin O’Connell to take over seventh in the standings.

For the second season in a row, the GSPSS champion accomplished the feat despite not winning a single race. This time, though, Mike O’Sullivan had company: not one of the top-five drivers in season points (and none of the drivers who made it to every race) won a feature. Only Squeglia, with three wins, had more than one win on the season.

With the twelve-race schedule complete, the GSPSS teams have a long offseason to look forward to racing in 2018. Few details on the schedule are available, but North East Mini Stock Tour promoter Bob Guptill has promised that the cross-promoted Short Track Showdown will return for a second year at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, featuring the GSPSS once again.

UNITY RACEWAY: Mike Hopkins made history Sunday afternoon with his win in the annual Long John 117 late-model feature. The PASS part-timer, who won his first PASS feature in 2016, took the lead from Nick Hinkley and held it to the end, with Shane Clark, Bobby Seger and Joey Doyon rounding out the top five. Hopkins is the only driver ever to win three straight Long Johns, with wins in 2015 and 2016.

But Hopkins may very well be the last driver ever to win the race, as Sunday’s Long John season finale was the last event on Unity’s aging paved surface. Track owner George Fernald announced earlier this year that he would convert the track to a dirt surface for 2018. Fernald, who purchased the track from Maine racing veteran Ralph Nason in 2016, explained that he did not have the funds to repave the track, and the conversion to clay would be a much lower cost. Lending to the condition of the track, late models did not race weekly at Unity this year, save for the Long John 117.

Unity is not the only track making the change to dirt for 2018, as Vermont’s Devil’s Bowl Speedway cut its season short in September to begin the change to an all-clay surface. Unlike Devil’s Bowl, which already has a following in the dirt community, Unity’s change is a massive leap of faith. When the track opens in 2018, Unity will be the only active dirt track in the state of Maine. Whether Fernald’s gamble pays off will likely take a season or two to tell.

OUTSIDE THE REGION: While the PASS North season is over, Dave Farrington, Jr. is not done for the year just yet. Coming off a sixth-place points finish in his first full PASS North season, Farrington has been working with Woodman Racing in pursuit of the PASS South and National championships.

This weekend, Farrington headed south for the Howler 150 at Orange County Speedway in Rougemont, NC. Farrington qualified fifth in the Woodmans’ #7 entry. The 150-lap feature went caution-free, with Tate Fogleman lapping all but the top five on his way to victory. Five-time 2017 winner Matt Craig finished second, with Kyle Plott third and Farrington fourth. Oxford 250 competitor Kodie Conner rounded out the top five. Finishing last in the sixteen-car field was Ryan Moore, the son of NASCAR Busch North legend and occasional PASS competitor Kelly Moore.

Farrington sits fourth in points, just four points back of second-place Tate Fogleman, in the PASS South standings with two races remaining. The season finale is also the final race in the PASS National championship, where Farrington sits second to fellow Mainer Ben Rowe.

Last Friday, history was made in Kansas as Austin Theriault was crowned the ARCA Racing Series Champion for 2017. A blown tire cut Theriault’s race short, but the Fort Kent, Maine native only had to take the green to clinch the title. Theriault and car owner Kenny Schrader put together a dream season, winning seven times, finishing in the top five in 16 of 20 races, and only finishing outside the top ten once. Theriault’s seven wins spanned superspeedways, intermediate tracks, short tracks, a road course and a dirt oval, the first time a driver won races at all five types of tracks in a single season.

The first ARCA champion from Maine, Theriault cut his teeth in the American-Canadian Tour and PASS before appearing on the sport’s bigger stages. Congratulations to Theriault and his team on a championship well-earned, and best of luck to Theriault as he hopes for opportunities at the national level of motorsports.

COMING UP: With the regional tours and most of our local tracks done for the season, this will likely be the last installment of the Recap for 2017. Over the off-season, the Recap may pop up with any major breaking news such as schedule announcements or achievements away from home. For instance, some New England teams are likely to venture south for the Snowball Derby, and we hope to share stories of their success.

Otherwise, we will anxiously await short track racing’s return to our local tracks in many long months, most likely beginning with Thompson Speedway’s Icebreaker in early April.

Please consider supporting Short Track Scene’s at-the-track team as a STS Patron. Check out our Patreon page and see how you can get involved!

 

Jeff Brown is a contributor to Short Track Scene. A native of New Hampshire and a long-time fan of New England racing, Brown provides a fan's perspective as he follows New England's regional late-model touring series.

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