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Snow Delays, Easter Bunnies, A Southern Invasion: Northeast Late Model Update

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.

LEE POSTPONES ACT SEASON OPENER FOR SNOW

The last several years, it seems there have been two major announcements to kick off the American-Canadian Tour season. There’s the announcement of the season-opening Governor’s Cup at Lee USA Speedway, and there’s the inevitable weather-related postponement.

The second announcement was made just this Wednesday, when Lee and ACT opted to nudge their opening one weekend back. Lee’s annual test-and-tune Saturday will be held on April 21, with the Governor’s Cup on April 22 at 1:15pm.

March was not a kind month in the snow department in New England, with two major storms burying tracks under a fresh blanket of snow just in time for the spring thaw. A Friday storm did not end up as significant as expected, but all the same, perhaps allowing for time to clear the grounds (particularly the fan parking areas, which can get soupy in the spring thaw) will be the better part of valor. (Another practical matter exists, too: towns will often not inspect a track and issue an annual permit until the snow is gone.)

Of course, the move would have proven particularly prescient if Thompson Speedway and Oxford Plains Speedway had nudged their opening weekends a week back as well, similar to how scheduling played out last year. (That said, Thompson’s plans are to go on as scheduled with the aptly-named Icebreaker, unless the forecast makes that impossible.)

PASS SOUTH: NORTH TEAMS INVADE EASTER BUNNY 150, BUT SOUTH PREVAILS

Just out of the reach of the cold weather, the Pro All Stars Series continued the Southern component of their series last Saturday with the annual Easter Bunny 150 at Hickory (NC) Motor Speedway. While the event is technically part of the PASS South points schedule, the out-of-season event drew a lot of North teams looking for a tune-up before their season begins in earnest.

The 150-lap feature ended with Preston Peltier claiming his fifth Easter Bunny 150 trophy since the 2006 inception of the event. Shane Lee and Brandon Setzer rounded out the podium. Former event winner DJ Shaw finished a strong fourth, best in show among the North teams in attendance. Also finishing near the front were Garrett Hall (sixth), Derek Griffith (eighth, after running as high as third early on) and Ben Rowe (tenth). Teenager Gabe Brown finished a lap back in thirteenth, ahead of Bryan Kruczek and Travis Stearns. Brown’s Shaw-prepared #2 entry looked to be the car that the Mathesons, out of New Brunswick, had campaigned the last couple years, rather than Brown’s own #47.

Brown’s fellow teenage competitor Jimmy Renfrew, Jr. was among the unluckier of the New England contingent. The fourteen-year-old rookie was involved in an early wreck and finished 31st in the feature, completing only nineteen laps. The Renfrews are wasting no opportunities in getting track time for the young racer.

DJ Shaw’s fourth-place finish also qualified him for an automatic provisional for either the Oxford 250 or the fall Commonwealth Classic at Richmond Raceway. Shaw opted to take his provisional for the Commonwealth Classic.

SOUTHERN STARS EYEING AN OXFORD 250 RUN?

Another surprising entrant in the Easter Bunny 150 was Southern short-track ace Bubba Pollard. The Georgia native, an automatic favorite on just about any entry list in the Southeast, rarely races in the PASS ranks. Before Saturday, he had last competed in a PASS feature in 2012. But Saturday night, Pollard’s familiar #26 was in the starting lineup for the Easter Bunny 150. Pollard started eighth, but mechanical gremlins dropped him from the feature after only seventeen laps, and he finished dead last.

When asked about his appearance at the 150, Pollard explained that part of his aim was to familiarize himself with the visiting North racers, in anticipation of a visit to Maine in late August for the Oxford 250.

Interestingly, fellow Southeast superstar Stephen Nasse was asked on Twitter over the weekend about a possible 250 entry. Nasse, the 2011 Easter Bunny 150 winner, suggested that “it’s something I really want to do this year so we are working on it.”

Social media commentary is hardly a press release, but it’s safe to say that the matter is out there.

Through its various iterations, the Oxford 250 always welcomed drivers from outside New England to make a play for the glory and the rich purse that awaited the winner. Butch Lindley and Bob Pressley were among the drivers from the South that did so in the 250’s early years. But there has been less recent interest from Southern teams in playing the role of the spoiler, and those who have shown up have often struggled to master the third-mile flat track. Last year’s best-finishing “outsider,” rookie Sarah Cornett-Ching, finished seven laps down, while others ended the evening in the infield.

By comparison, Bubba Pollard and Stephen Nasse are the Lindley and Pressley of today’s generation, two young stars who have opted to make a career on the short tracks rather than chase big-league stardom. In terms of outside visitors, you can’t do much better than Pollard and Nasse. With any luck, the two racers will be able to pull their Oxford 250 plans together this year. And if they make an impression, look for others to follow. 

WEBBER FAMILY SELLS HUDSON SPEEDWAY

A few weeks after the surprise sale of Lee USA Speedway, Star Speedway owner and manager Bobby Webber, Jr. announced that he and his family are selling Hudson (NH) Speedway to fellow racer Ben Bosowski. Bosowski, a racer at the quarter-mile oval, also sponsors events at Hudson through his family businesses.

In a post on Star Speedway’s Facebook page, Webber explained that he and Bosowski had discussed selling Hudson Speedway since last year. The sale of the track raises some needed capital for improvements at Star, and also frees Webber to focus on one track instead of dividing his attention and money between two facilities. Webber was quite clear in his post that Star Speedway is not for sale.

In the short term, Webber will still have a presence at Hudson as he helps Bosowski transition from a fixture on the track to a fixture in the pit area. Webber will also remain the tire and fuel distributor at Hudson through his Little Webb’s Tire & Fuel Sales business.

Hudson Speedway first opened in 1946, part of a post-World-War-II track-building boom. The Northeastern Midget Association was a regular fixture at the speedway for decades. In 1989, Bob Webber, Sr. bought Hudson as a sister track to Star Speedway. Though the two tracks ran similar weekly racing cards (with Hudson racing Sunday afternoons), Hudson never attracted the big-ticket special shows that Star did. NEMA’s appearances tapered off in the mid-1990s, the ACT Late Models ran a one-off feature in 2001, and the Granite State Pro Stock Series have made seven visits to the tiny track since the tour’s inception. The GSPSS returns to Hudson this summer for the first time since 2015.

Overall, this is promising news for Hudson Speedway. Hudson no longer has to play the little sibling; with the full attention of a new owner invested in its future, the track can thrive on its own merits. This is probably just as good news for fans at Star Speedway, too; maintaining one track is a challenge, never mind two, and Bobby Webber can now focus on continued improvements at Star.

DRIVER NEWS AND NOTES

Berwick, Maine’s Joey Doiron announced this week on Facebook that he will have a new racing itinerary in 2018. The Super Late Model star, an eight-time PASS feature winner, will focus primarily on the Granite State Pro Stock Series schedule this season. Doiron will still run some PASS features close to home, and naturally has the Oxford 250 circled on his racing calendar.

In four full-time seasons on the PASS North circuit, Doiron rarely wanted for success, finishing second in points twice and scoring two wins a season from 2013 to 2015. Doiron ran the bulk of the schedule in 2016 and 2017, taking a “wait-and-see” approach to running a full season. Perhaps the GSPSS schedule, with fewer events and shorter-distance features, will be friendlier to Doiron’s self-funded budget. In return, the GSPSS gets an “outside” star to challenge their own home-grown talent.

Another PASS racer adjusting his 2018 schedule is Dave Farrington, Jr. The 2014 Beech Ridge Motor Speedway track champion ran every PASS SLM event last season, running his family equipment in PASS North events while driving for Woodman Racing in PASS South. Farrington was at the Easter Bunny 150 working with fellow Mainer Wyatt Alexander’s team. Per Twitter, he plans to kick off his driving schedule in the PASS feature at Oxford Plains Speedway in two weeks.

In his first full season of PASS competition, despite occasionally flying between South races one night and North races the next, Farrington finished sixth in the North standings, racking up eleven top-tens in sixteen starts. A limited schedule in 2018 will allow Farrington to make the most of his resources as he seeks his first career PASS victory.

NEXT ON THE SCHEDULE

Thompson Speedway’s annual “Icebreaker” looks to live up to its name on Saturday and Sunday to kick off the racing season in the Northeast. PASS North Super Late Models join the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour with a 100-lap feature to open their season this Sunday afternoon, with the second race of the season next Sunday at Oxford Plains Speedway.

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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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