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Gerry Wins At Oxford, ACT Postpones Again, CSCC Emerges: 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.

ACT TOUR: COMMUNITY BANK 150 POSTPONED ONE WEEK

Sometimes the after effects of a long New England winter can be as punishing as the winter weather itself. At least, so it goes in auto racing.

Citing poor conditions on the speedway grounds, the ACT has postponed the season-opening Community Bank N.A. 150 at Thunder Road International Speedbowl. The race, originally the second on the Tour schedule, has been rescheduled for Sunday, May 6, and will remain the first race of the 2018 season.

If the weather this weekend holds, surely it will be frustrating to those who feel like a race could have gone on under sunny skies. However, if the fans have nowhere to park or camp, the raceday experience for them is likely to be one to forget. To be fair, the weather delays this year are not strictly a New England phenomenon; the World of Outlaws sprint car tour has had more than ten events affected by rain this year already.

With temperatures warming up and the sun finally making an appearance in New England over the last week, Thunder Road and Lee USA Speedway should be in much better shape for their early-May opening weekends.

ACT TOUR: CANADIAN CONNECTION FORGED AGAIN THROUGH CHAUDIERE

Amid the rift between the American-Canadian Tour and the developing CSCC, a new event has appeared on this summer’s racing schedule that seems to be a cross between a maple leaf and an olive branch.

The ACT has partnered with Autodrome Chaudière in Vallée-Jonction, Quebec to sanction a 200-lap $10,000-to-win Late Model feature on August 18th. Autodrome Chaudière, a NASCAR-sanctioned track, runs the ACT rules package in its weekly Late Models, and has hosted ACT events for years.

The event at Chaudière is part of a newly-created ACT Triple Crown Series, in which competitors in the event can include their best two Tour results from the season to potentially earn another $2,000 bonus as the Triple Crown Champion.

The race is scheduled for August 18, a date that does not conflict either with the ACT schedule or the schedule for the recently-announced CSCC. ACT co-owner Cris Michaud expressed his intention to use the event as a means to keep a Canadian presence for the ACT without forcing fans on either side of the border to take sides. Ideally, teams from both the ACT and CSCC ranks will be on hand to represent their respective tours.

The “Canadian” part of the American-Canadian Tour was always strongest in the days of the defunct-since-1995 ACT Pro Stock Tour, where both the racers and the schedule reached into Ontario and the Canadian Maritimes. The Late Model Tour was far more local and more budget-oriented. While the Canadian focus of the ACT has been limited to the associated Série ACT and the province of Quebec in recent years, it still remains a part of the Tour’s name and heritage. With luck, this link to the ACT’s heritage can be built upon as wounds heal and as differences are resolved, for the benefit of racers and race fans on both sides of the border.

CSCC: A NEW TOUR TAKES SHAPE IN QUEBEC

After parting ways with the American-Canadian Tour establishment earlier in April, former Série ACT series director Marc Patrick Roy and his Les Promotions Shamrock team have announced the formation of a new Late Model sanctioning body in the Canadian province of Quebec.

The CSCC (Championnat de Stock-Car Canadien) will sanction a nine-race schedule in 2018, formed from the ashes of the originally-planned Série ACT itinerary. Eight of the nine race dates have been confirmed, split among three tracks. Autodrome Montmagny, situated near Quebec City, will host four events, with Autodrome St.-Eustache near Montréal hosting another three. The eighth race will be a street-course event held at the famed Grand Prix de Trois-Rivières (GP3R) circuit in conjunction with the NASCAR Pinty’s Series. A ninth race is still in the works.

Notably absent from the schedule is Autodrome Chaudière. One of the handful of paved ovals in the province, Chaudière has long been friendly with the ACT, until discontinuing its association with the Tour after 2016. Chaudière was missing from the Série ACT schedule in 2017, and was slated to return in 2018, but instead will host an ACT-sanctioned feature in August.

Defending Série ACT champion Jonathan Bouvrette was on hand for Friday’s announcement of the CSCC’s season plans, as he appears to be aligned with the new tour. A few graphic changes were obvious on the show cars featured in the CSCC’s press release, though as one would expect, it appears that the teams will run rules very similar to those established by the ACT. A major rules change immediately before the season would likely leave teams scrambling.

At least one Quebecer will still compete in the ACT; 2017 Série ACT runner-up Patrick Laperle has filed an entry for next week’s ACT opener at Thunder Road. Laperle, who has butted heads with ACT brass in the past, has not announced any other plans, but it will be interesting to see if he (and other drivers) actively choose sides in the battle or simply side with the best opportunity to race.

Given that Roy’s team and the ACT leadership parted ways over differences of opinion, it will be interesting to see how the CSCC LMS Tour diverges from what the Série ACT initially had in mind. The initial press release hints at the possibility of racing beyond Quebec as soon as next season. Whether that means trips within Canada or a possible jaunt across the border remains to be seen.

PASS NORTH: THREE STRAIGHT FOR GERRY AT OXFORD PLAINS

Compared to the unwelcome cold, rain and snow that faced Maine racing fans on its originally-scheduled weekend, the blue skies above Oxford Plains Speedway Sunday afternoon were a welcome sight. And the warm air, tempered by a stiff breeze in the stands, was enough to justify the race’s one-week postponement.

The good weather, an extra week of preparation time, and a Super Late Model feature a day before meant a healthy field of cars in the pits for the second PASS North event of 2018. Some names on the early entry list were no-shows; Canadian Lonnie Sommerville, local veteran Kelly Moore and New Hampshire ace Joe Squeglia, Jr. were not in the pit area Sunday morning. On the other hand, PASS feature winners Joey Polewarczyk, Jr. and Joey Doiron were on hand for the event, as well as Vermont’s Nick Sweet, looking to rebound from engine failure at Thompson.

Three heats set the front of the field for Sunday’s feature, with Travis Benjamin, Nick Sweet and Curtis Gerry each winning one. Ray Christian III outdueled Ben Rowe to win the consi and set the remainder of the 33-car field. And after features for the PASS Modifieds and Oxford’s weekly Street Stocks, the PASS SLMs were rolled to the frontstretch for their first headliner of the year.

Early contact between Reid Lanpher and TJ Brackett brought out a yellow flag a few laps into the race. After a quick yellow to reset the field, Benjamin and Sweet brought the field back to green, swapping the lead under green before handing the lead to Cassius Clark. Clark, who had won the previous night’s weekly SLM feature with a late pass, set sail, building a frontstretch-long advantage over Benjamin while lapping through the field.

With no caution flags to slow Clark’s pace, the 2013 PASS North champion carved through traffic, lapping cars well into the top ten as some of the early standouts battled with worn tires and expired setups. With twenty to go, Clark looked like a shoo-in for the winner’s circle. However, there was one car making a late charge, working through lapped cars as fast as Clark could put them another lap behind.

Curtis Gerry put on similar displays in the last two PASS races at Oxford, making a late charge through the field to take the lead. In similar fashion, once Gerry had cleared Travis Benjamin for second, he began closing in on Cassius Clark’s white #13. With ten to go, Gerry and Clark were battling for the lead, with Clark using lapped traffic to block Gerry’s charge. But with four to go, and no lapped traffic to interfere, Gerry used the inside line to get past Clark, whose handling had gone away. From there, the defending Oxford 250 champion was home free, taking his first win of 2018 and his third straight PASS win at Oxford Plains Speedway.

Cassius Clark, who led 115 laps, held on for second with Travis Benjamin third and DJ Shaw a distant fourth. Tracy Gordon, in a new car to replace the Fury chassis he ran in 2017, was the last car on the lead lap in fifth. Joey Polewarczyk, Jr. finished a lap down in sixth, ahead of Garrett Hall, Scott McDaniel, Derek Griffith and Jeff White. The remainder of the field finished at least two laps behind the leaders, unable to match Clark’s torrid pace.

Reid Lanpher put on perhaps the most exciting drive of the event. After the early incident to bring out the yellow, Lanpher was docked a lap by scoring officials for pitting too soon, an infraction he believed would put him at the tail of the field for the start. Using the outside line to his advantage, Lanpher charged back through the field, in a desperate hope to un-lap himself (or earn the free pass on a caution). The caution never came, with Lanpher losing a second lap in the closing stages of the race. Lanpher was scored fourteenth at the finish, but had he been on the lead lap, his charge would have been good for a sixth-place run.

Glen Luce finished eleventh, looking vastly improved from his Thompson run. Gabe Brown finished thirteenth in his first PASS start after advancing from the consi. Dave Farrington, Jr. finished the second part of his doubleheader weekend in fifteenth. Consi winner Ray Christian III finished eighteenth. Early leader Nick Sweet faded to a 20th-place finish, three laps back. Ben Rowe, with help in the pits from Seth Holbrook, struggled again to a 22nd-place result.

Johnny Clark’s return to the track continued his poor luck from 2017. He ran well early on, but faded from contention and parked the car thirty laps or so from the finish. Wayne Helliwell, Jr. ran mid-pack most of the race, but pulled off the track with just a few laps remaining, complaining of smoke in the cockpit.

Two-time PASS champion DJ Shaw, on the strength of two top-five finishes, holds the points lead over Derek Griffith and Travis Benjamin after two races. Eleven drivers have competed in both races so far; however, a few of those are not likely to run for the championship, so the standings are sure to sort themselves out as teams settle into their season routine.

Shaw, Griffith and Benjamin lead the PASS North teams to their next event, the shortened PASS 200 at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway on Saturday afternoon. Reid Lanpher is the defending event winner, winning a 300-lap battle one year ago, but Garrett Hall won the last race at Beech Ridge in a thrilling battle with Ben Rowe. The event will likely draw heavily from Beech Ridge’s Pro Series lineup, including Rowe’s father Mike, veteran Dan McKeage, and 2016 track champion and recent PASS winner Curtis Gerry.

WEEKLY RACING: OXFORD, WISCASSET THROW THE GREEN FLAG

Oxford Plains Speedway kicked off its weekly Oxford Championship Series program Saturday in conjunction with the visiting PASS North Super Late Models. Since Oxford’s weekly SLMs run PASS rules, the weekly and touring drivers combined for three big practice sessions on Saturday, with nearly forty cars setting times through the afternoon. With the PASS SLMs in attendance, some of the traveling racers opted to run Saturday’s fifty-lap feature as a tune-up for Sunday afternoon’s 150-lapper.

One of the ringers in attendance was Cassius Clark, teamed up once again with Rollie MacDonald’s King Racing team of Nova Scotia. Clark started fourth in the feature and made his pass for the lead with ten laps to go, cruising home to the win. Reid Lanpher held on for second with Derek Griffith finishing third. Gabe Brown finished fourth with defending champion Alan Tardiff fifth. Oxford’s weekly program will take a week off before resuming in early May.

A short drive east of Portland, Maine, Wiscasset Speedway opened its 2018 season as well with a Saturday-afternoon racing card. Dave Farrington, Jr. skipped the practice sessions at Oxford and headed to Wiscasset to play the role of spoiler for the first half of a doubleheader weekend. Farrington took the lead from weekly regular Kevin Douglass fifteen laps in and held on to win the forty-lap feature over Nick Hinkley and Ajay Picard. Farrington’s team packed up afterwards to head to Oxford for Sunday’s PASS feature.

NEXT ON THE SCHEDULE

The PASS North schedule heads to Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in Scarborough, ME this weekend for a Saturday-afternoon 200-lap feature, with the PASS Modifieds and North East Mini Stock Tour on hand as support events. The Granite State Pro Stock Series teams are scheduled at Claremont Speedway this Saturday as well, taking in an open test day before next week’s season opener.

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Jeff Brown is a contributor to Short Track Scene. Brown provides a fan's perspective as he follows New England's regional late-model touring series.

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