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GSPSS Tests, Gerry Wins, PASS Goes To Seekonk: 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.

GSPSS: TEAMS GATHER FOR OPEN TEST AT CLAREMONT

A week before their scheduled season opener at Claremont (NH) Speedway this weekend, the Granite State Pro Stock Series teams shared track time with Claremont’s weekly classes for an open test session. On hand for the test were a mix of series veterans and newcomers with title aspirations for 2018.

Representing some of the established names in the series were Luke Hinkley, Josh King, Mike Scorzelli and Zig Geno. Matt Frahm was on hand to shake down the #14 Super Late Model Travis Benjamin raced in the PASS season opener at Thompson (CT) Speedway. Todd Stone, a feature winner in 2017, was testing a black #1X entry. Local racer Guy Caron, a former ACT competitor, was also at Claremont with his #8 Chevy.

Ray Christian III, who ran both PASS features in 2018 so far, was instead at Claremont with his red #93CT Chevrolet in GSPSS trim. Teenager Jimmy Renfrew, Jr., who ran the PASS event at Thompson, was testing his #00 in advance of a planned full-season campaign. Maine’s Jacob Dore, a Beech Ridge Pro Series regular who previously ran Tour-type Modifieds weekly at Star Speedway, is on the list of full-season GSPSS hopefuls.

A number of series stalwarts were not at the test, but will surely be at Claremont Speedway when the series gets rolling for a busy 2018 schedule.

GSPSS: WEATHER BUG BITES, CLAREMONT OPENER MOVED TO SATURDAY

The Granite State Pro Stock Series teams were scheduled to open their season Friday night at Claremont Speedway, but they will have to wait one more day to start the engines for the season.

With rain forecasted for Friday afternoon, officials opted to take advantage of a planned rain date and shift the season-opening 100-lapper to Saturday, May 5. The season opener will now run head-to-head against the PASS event at Star Speedway, likely forcing some fans (and possibly some ambitious teams) to make tough decisions Saturday afternoon.

PASS NORTH: GERRY SURGES TO HOME TRACK WIN IN PASS 200

The PASS North teams stayed close to home this past week, as they convened upon Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in Scarborough, ME for the PASS 200. With a Friday test day on hand, teams had a rather short week to prepare for one of the longest races on the schedule.

Twenty-four Super Late Models were in the pit area Saturday morning for pre-race practice. Not among the cars present were three teams that had run both PASS races so far. Wayne Helliwell, Jr. announced the morning of the race that he would be on the sidelines with a knee injury. With Helliwell planning a weekly campaign at Beech Ridge, it made more sense to sit out the “home” event. Ray Christian III and Dillon Moltz also opted to sit out the PASS 200. Derek Ramstrom, who was not at Oxford, was in the pits at Beech Ridge, along with Hermon, ME part-timer Mike Hopkins. Representing Beech Ridge’s weekly Pro Series warriors were Brandon Barker, Corey Bubar, 2015 PASS North champion Mike Rowe, Dan McKeage, Reid Lanpher and Curtis Gerry.

Three heats set the field for the race, with officials opting not to run a consi. Glen Luce, Travis Benjamin, and fall Beech Ridge winner Garrett Hall each took a heat win. Reid Lanpher finished second to Hall in the second heat, but was disqualified after technical inspection, relegating the defending race winner to twenty-fourth in the starting lineup.

While previous long-distance races at Beech Ridge were run with live pit stops, as in the Oxford 250, a different format was in play for the PASS 200. A competition caution would be thrown at lap 125, with the teams given an eight-minute break to make adjustments and change two tires. Teams could pit at will during the race, but could not change tires unless they were flat. The new format created two races to ensure excitement in the later stages, at the expense of the game of tire strategy.

And while PASS put on a clean race at Oxford, the first 125 laps at Beech Ridge were not so incident-free. An early wreck eliminated part-timer John Salemi and left Tracy Gordon and Brandon Barker racing from behind all day. Dave Farrington, Jr. got a lap down after contact from Scott McDaniel sent him spinning in turn two. Jeff White required a tow to the infield after hard contact with the backstretch wall.

Through it all, Garrett Hall dominated at the point. Hall, a veteran of Beech Ridge’s weekly Pro Series, was never granted the opportunity to run away and hide, but he was able to keep Travis Benjamin behind him for most of the first segment. Benjamin turned up the intensity with a few laps remaining, and finally slipped past Hall on lap 124, taking the lead just before the competition caution.

After pit stops, Benjamin led the field to green in front of Garrett Hall and Curtis Gerry. Gerry had towed his car home for emergency clutch repairs after Friday’s test-and-tune day. Gerry had not forced the issue in his heat, and started mid-pack for the feature. Gerry was carving through traffic when the competition caution flew.

And when the green flew, Gerry wasted no time dispatching Benjamin for the race lead. The Oxford winner took control with 73 laps remaining and held the point to the checkered flag for his second win of 2018. More impressive, Gerry’s win is his fourth victory in five PASS starts going back to last year’s Oxford 250. If not for an early wreck at last fall’s Beech Ridge event, the 2016 Pro Series champion could be a five-time feature winner.

Two-time Pro Series champion Reid Lanpher finished second after starting shotgun on the field. Mike Hopkins finished third after a laps-long, spirited battle with Travis Benjamin, who settled for fourth. DJ Shaw spent the early stages of the race battling for seventh or eighth, but surged through others’ misfortunes to finish fifth.

Mike Rowe finished sixth ahead of son Ben, who had his best run of the season (and his first lead-lap finish). Derek Griffith crossed the line eighth. Garrett Hall and Corey Bubar, who were in the top five before the competition caution, struggled after the restart and rounded out the top ten. Veteran Johnny Clark fought an ill-handling car to finish eleventh, the final car on the lead lap.

Heat winner Glen Luce lost a lap late and finished twelfth. Derek Ramstrom, winner of the 2014 300-lapper, was never a threat and finished fifteenth. Nick Sweet was three laps back in sixteenth, the last car running. Dave Farrington, Jr., the 2014 Pro Series champion, parked his car a few laps from the end as handling issues capped off a frustrating afternoon. Tracy Gordon got a lap back in the second half of the race, but handling issues of his own forced him to the infield with forty laps to go.

Championship picks are still anyone’s guess three races into the season, but the big picture is beginning to develop. Eight drivers have started all three races thus far, with winless DJ Shaw leading Travis Benjamin and Derek Griffith. Fourth and fifth are Reid Lanpher and Garrett Hall. Glen Luce, Ben Rowe and Nick Sweet round out the top eight. With more than 150 points between Sweet and ninth-place Tracy Gordon, no one outside the top eight is likely to play the role of spoiler. That said, 20 drivers have made at least two starts, so the battle of the part-timers could prove to be interesting.

The short field of twenty-four is worth noting, especially considering the pains taken to make this an inviting race. For the 2017 season, PASS and Beech Ridge moved the traditional 300-lap contest from the track’s season finale to the track’s opening day. Tom Mayberry believed the move would allow more teams to budget for the long-distance feature if it were early in the year, rather than running it at year’s end when team budgets are exhausted.

For 2018, the event was made even more budget-friendly. The race was shortened to 200 laps. The competition caution and PASS’ new tire rules eliminated the need for live pit stop, something small teams have cited as a reason for skipping long-distance events. The race went on as originally scheduled, and the weekend featured little competition outside of an open test for GSPSS teams in New Hampshire. (Oxford SLM teams were off for the week, and Beech Ridge’s weekly racing has not started yet.) On paper, it is the recipe for a deep field.

When it comes to local racing schedules, plenty of variables outweigh desire. Family and work commitments, budgeting, and prepared equipment can all keep a team from the track. Perhaps the end of school vacation week makes team volunteers less available. Perhaps teams opted to save their cars for weekly competition instead of risking them in a 200-lap contest. Perhaps teams would rather add a late-season event, leaving an entire offseason to regroup.

Last year, only 27 cars competed in the 300-lapper, and both years those counts were down significantly from car counts a week before at Oxford. As always, the racing at Beech Ridge did not lack for excitement. But when decisions that should increase the entries at a particular race result in shorter fields instead, it seems appropriate to wonder why.

The PASS North teams head to Epping, New Hampshire next for Saturday night’s Support 50 Legs 150 at Star Speedway. The fourth race of the season is the first to conflict with weekly racing schedules, and the championship chase could become clearer should drivers like Reid Lanpher and Garrett Hall opt to run for weekly points at Beech Ridge instead. One thing is for certain: Curtis Gerry will not win a third-straight feature in 2018.

PASS NORTH: EVENT ADDED AT SEEKONK, BECOMES NEW SEASON FINALE

When a racing series schedule changes mid-season, usually it is the result of a cancellation as race organizers struggle to find a replacement date for a postponement. Late additions to the schedule are much less common.

This week, one of those late additions came to fruition, as PASS officials announced the addition of a nineteenth points race in 2018. For the first time since 2012, the PASS North SLMs will return to Seekonk Speedway in Massachusetts on Saturday, October 27. The new race, two weeks after the scheduled season finale at Oxford Plains Speedway, will crown the PASS North champion for 2018.

The PASS North Super Late Models will run their 150-lap feature in conjunction with the Tri-Track Open Modified Series. The TTOMS, formed through the success of Star Speedway’s annual SBM 125, is a four-race series of open-competition events welcoming stars from the region’s Tour-type Modified series. TTOMS managing partner Wayne Darling has ties to the fendered racing scene as well; his son, David Darling, is one of Seekonk’s top Pro Stock competitors.

While PASS has been absent from the “Cement Palace” for years, Pro Stocks (in local parlance) have been an important part of the track’s weekly racing scene, developing local stars like Rick Martin and Vinnie Annarummo. In 2016, Seekonk introduced the U.S. Pro Stock/Super Late Model Championship, a $10,000-to-win event for regional Pro Stock and SLM teams. Seekonk regular Tom Scully, Jr. won the inaugural event, while Derek Griffith won the big payday in 2017.

Expansion always comes with promise, as well as concern. The established season finale at PASS’ de facto home track is a homecoming of sorts, paired with fertile territory for a strong entry list. Will taking the season finale on the road (as the ACT has done for a few years) be well-received? Will the new race have an effect on North teams competing in the Commonwealth Classic a week before in Virginia? Will some teams bow out of the finale knowing they have little opportunity to gain ground? And a late-October finale raises questions of what options exist for a suitable makeup date if Mother Nature fails to cooperate.

Ultimately, the only way to find out the answers is to run the race. And for the fan, a double-feature of PASS Super Late Models and the region’s brightest Modified stars (bolstered by the track’s weekly Late Model class) is a winning ticket all day long.

WEEKLY RACING: ACT-RULES LATE MODELS DEBUT AT STAR’S OPENING NIGHT

Star Speedway opened for the season with the annual “Bunny Brawl” enduro in mid-April, but Saturday night was the first night of weekly racing at the quarter-mile oval. Saturday night was also the first night for Star’s new weekly Late Model division. Based on the venerable ACT rulebook, the Late Model class provides Star with a top-level fendered division above the established Strictly Stocks.

While some drivers, like Kris Schroeder in the #66K, transitioned from other weekly divisions to join the Late Model field, there were some ringers in the lineup from the ACT Late Model Tour. Among the visitors were Boston-area veteran Jimmy “Scruffy” Linardy and Vermont’s Jason Corliss in a newly-wrapped #66 Ford Mustang. In the end, Charlie Rose prevailed to win the track’s first Late Model feature of the young season. The Late Models will take two weeks off, with Star hosting special events for PASS and the Northeast Classic Lites dwarf-car circuit.

Oxford Plains Speedway scheduled an off week for its weekly teams in light of the PASS 200 at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway, but will return to action on Sunday. A planned “Motor Mayhem” event at Oxford was rained out on Sunday and rescheduled for later in the summer.

Beech Ridge will kick off its weekly racing schedule on Saturday, with Curtis Gerry taking momentum from his two PASS wins this season. Gerry, who has new sponsorship on board from Ripley & Fletcher Ford, will look to return to the championship table in 2018 after falling short to Reid Lanpher last year.

NEXT ON THE SCHEDULE

All three of the major tours in the region are scheduled to race this weekend. The Granite State Pro Stock Series starts its 2018 season in earnest Saturday night with a 100-lap feature at Claremont Speedway. The Pro All Stars Series North schedule continues with the Support 50 Legs 150 at Star Speedway Saturday evening. Sunday, the American-Canadian Tour Late Models will battle for 150 laps at their home base, Thunder Road International Speedbowl, in the rescheduled Community Bank N.A. 150.

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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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