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Corliss And Dore Claim First Wins, Benjamin Wins At Star: 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: CORLISS CLAIMS FIRST TOUR WIN IN HOME BATTLE

After weeks of weather postponements, the ACT Late Model Tour finally got its season off to a running start with a home-track tilt in Barre, Vermont.

Forty ACT Late Models turned out at Thunder Road International Speedbowl for the Community Bank N.A. 150, a race that draws from Thunder Road’s weekly Late Model program to provide stout competition for the touring challengers. The Tour challengers were largely as expected: defending champion Scott Payea, top rookie Jason Corliss and all-star ringer Eddie MacDonald joined rising stars like Rich Dubeau and Jimmy Hebert. They would face recent Kings of the Road like defending track champion Bobby Therrien and Scott Dragon.

Nick Sweet was something of a surprise entrant, having raced the night before in the PASS race at Star Speedway. Brandon Atkins, who focused on dirt racing in 2017, was back in an ACT Late Model for the weekend. Thompson Speedway racer Tom Carey III was one of a number of out-of-towners making an appearance, including four racers from the Canadian province of Quebec: Patrick Laperle, Jonathan Bouvrette, Mathieu Kingsbury and septuagenarian Claude Leclerc.

Just as notable were the drivers missing from the pit area. Dillon Moltz, second in points in 2017, had run the PASS feature at Star and was not in the lineup. Josh Masterson, who ran full-time on the Tour in 2017, and Mike Ziter were missing as well. Rowland Robinson, Jr., who was preparing for a full-time run in 2018, was also a no-show.

Thunder Road regulars Kyle Pembroke and Trampas Demers won the first two qualifying heats, with Scott Payea and Atkins winning the second two. ACT’s plus-minus scoring system put Jason Corliss and Connecticut’s Walt Sutcliffe on the front row for the green flag. Scott Dragon and Brooks Clark won the two consis, with Corey Mason beating Marcel Gravel to win the B-feature to set the field. Veterans Joey Laquerre and Jimmy Linardy, Chip Grenier, and sisters Peyton and Reilly Lanphear were among the drivers left out of the thirty-car starting grid.

With rain in the forecast, officials opted to move the ACT event ahead of the afternoon’s other features. Jason Corliss moved into the lead with Jimmy Hebert second, but second-place starter Walt Sutcliffe lost control on the second lap, stacking up much of the field. During the ensuing caution, rain began to fall, halting the feature racing and prompting officials to run the other division races first to help dry the speedway.

When the feature returned to green, Corliss and Hebert went to work, dominating the first 110 laps of the 150-lap event. Corliss, a three-time Thunder Road feature winner in 2017, was looking for his first Tour win, while Hebert, winless since 2013, was looking for his third. Hebert drew alongside Corliss and was credited with nine laps in the lead, but Corliss locked down the top spot after ninety laps. Hebert’s bid for the win ended twenty laps later, as he went for a ride off the backstretch with a cut tire fighting for the lead.

The restart pitted the dominant Corliss against defending race winner and Tour champion Scott Payea. Payea kept the battle close, but in the closing forty laps he was unable to get past the tour sophomore. Jason Corliss led for 141 laps en route to his first career ACT Tour victory, and the first win for a Ford-branded ACT entry in a year and a half.

Scott Payea began his title defense with a second-place run over Cody Blake, Stephen Donahue, and Trampas Demers, who fought back from a mid-race incident with Evan Hallstrom. Nick Sweet finished sixth in the second leg of his weekend double, with Jimmy Hebert fighting back to finish seventh after his cut tire. T-Road regulars Brooks Clark and Matt White rounded out the top ten ahead of Eddie MacDonald, who was fast in practice but never threatened for the win.

Behind MacDonald, the results for the usual Tour prospects were not encouraging. Scott Dragon, who ran a limited schedule in 2017, finished thirteenth. Miles Chipman in the #0NH was twentieth, with “Bad Boy” Bobby Therrien a DNF in 23rd. Rich Dubeau’s engine expired just past halfway, and New Hampshire pilots Bryan and Corey Mason finished 28th and 29th in the field.

Corliss was the Tour’s first first-time winner since Brad Babb in 2015, a much-needed beacon of hope for the Tour. Much like NASCAR’s Cup Series, the ACT Tour has been anxiously waiting for its next group of stars to break through. Instead, aside from 2014 when eight drivers won in nine races, the bulk of the wins have gone to established series stars. With the retirement of Brian Hoar, and the “commencement” of former stars like Wayne Helliwell, Jr. and Joey Polewarczyk who have moved to new disciplines, the ACT needs new stars who can challenge Scott Payea and Eddie MacDonald.

The ACT Tour heads next to the original site of the season opener, Lee USA Speedway in New Hampshire, for a Saturday-evening running of the Governor’s Cup 150. Interestingly, the ACT release for this weekend suggests Corliss may not make the trip to Lee, so the points may look quite different after the second race of the season.

GSPSS: DORE SCORES IN RAIN-DELAYED CLAREMONT OPENER

The Granite State Pro Stock Series presented by Springfield Buick GMC kicked off its 2018 season a week after an open test session at Claremont (NH) Speedway. This time, teams returned to the track near Lake Sunapee for a 100-lap feature race that, after threatening weather on Friday, was bumped to a Saturday-evening event.

Twenty-three cars were in the Claremont pit area to start the season, including defending series champion Mike O’Sullivan and brother Tommy, 2016 champion Barry Gray, Scott MacMichael, 2017 feature winner Josh King and sophomore entrant Devin O’Connell. Cory Casagrande, Nick Lascuola and Maine’s Jacob Dore were on hand for another year of GSPSS competition. Rookie Jimmy Renfrew, Jr. was preparing for his third GSPSS start after joining the series in late 2017. Matt Frahm and the family-owned #14 were in the pits as usual, with Frahm behind the wheel.

A group of new faces was looking to make an immediate impact. Ray Christian III, after starting the year in PASS North, had opted to give the shorter GSPSS events a shot. Kyle Welch, a regular on the ACT Tour, was in a Pro Stock for the weekend. And former PASS feature winner Joey Doiron, a threat in the Maine-based tour, was in his white-and-black #73 to make a bid for the 2018 GSPSS championship. A late addition to the field due to the weather delay was William Wall; the Thompson Speedway Late Model regular had been pressed into service to replace Ron Silk, who was committed to a Modified event in Connecticut.

Gray, King and Doiron split the three qualifying heats, with Scott MacMichael joining King on the front row for the feature. MacMichael, winless as a rookie in 2017, had still finished second in points to Mike O’Sullivan. The second-year racer was looking to break into the winner’s circle in 2018, and Claremont was as close to a home-track win as MacMichael could hope for.

On the green flag, MacMichael and Dore took off into the lead. Two laps later, Josh King burned a rear end, setting off a wreck that collected Joey Doiron, Kyle Welch, Ryan Greene, Jeff Jolly, Jimmy Renfrew, Jr. and local racer Guy Caron. The red flag was thrown to remove Greene’s car from atop Welch’s #9H.

On the restart, Jacob Dore took control of the race, getting past MacMichael to set off with the race lead. Dore, once a weekly Tour-type Modified regular at Star Speedway, had switched to full-bodied cars when Star discontinued the weekly Modified class, racing instead at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in the Pro Series ranks. He had made appearances in PASS events but had not been a threat to win.

Dore’s strongest challenger all night was Matt Frahm, who worked his way from a seventeenth-place start to second place. Frahm and Dore dueled in the middle stages of the feature, but Dore kept Frahm and his #14 at bay. Frahm backed off, saving a little car for one final charge.

With five to go, Frahm made his charge, but he had not saved enough car. Frahm lost control and looped his car making a bid for the lead with only a few laps to go. With no yellow flag and a half-lap lead on second place, Jacob Dore went unchallenged in the last few laps en route to his first GSPSS feature win, and his first career win in a fendered car.

Finishing second was Joey Doiron, sans most of the right side bodywork of his #73. After the second-lap crash, Doiron had soldiered on despite the damage. Scott MacMichael finished third after battling for the lead early. Barry Gray finished fourth, with his chassis builder Jeremy Davis finishing fifth. Cory Casagrande finished sixth, with former ACT regular Luke Hinkley seventh, Ray Christian III eighth, and Frahm coming home ninth after his late spin. Nick Lascuola, one lap down, closed out the top ten.

Series regular Mike Scorzelli, all the way from New York, finished eleventh. Defending champion Mike O’Sullivan finished sixteenth, parking his car with a few laps to go. Brother Tommy finished one position back, only completing twenty laps.

Fortunately for those swept into the early crash, the GSPSS teams are off until Memorial Day weekend, when the series heads to New London-Waterford (CT) Speedbowl for a special triple feature with time trials setting the grid for three 35-lap points races in one night.

PASS NORTH: BENJAMIN WINS IN THRILLER AT STAR SPEEDWAY

The PASS North teams headed to New Hampshire Saturday for their first of four visits to the Granite State in 2018. The fourth event on the schedule, and the third straight week of racing for the touring teams, was the Support 50 Legs 150 at Star Speedway. For the third year in a row, the Webber family has used their spring PASS date to raise funds and awareness for 50 Legs, a charity supporting amputees who cannot afford prosthetics.

The fourth event on the schedule was also the first to conflict with weekly Super Late Model competition, forcing some teams to choose their season’s path for good. Indeed, among the nineteen PASS teams in attendance Saturday night were Reid Lanpher and Garrett Hall, foregoing a weekly schedule at Beech Ridge to favor their top-five berths in the PASS points standings. Joining Lanpher and Hall was John Peters, another Beech Ridge alum who finished second in last fall’s GSPSS Star Classic 100. Defending race winner Derek Ramstrom and fall 2016 winner Joey Polewarczyk, Jr. were on hand, as was 2017 ACT runner-up Dillon Moltz.

Travis Benjamin, Star veteran Joe Squeglia, Jr. and a surprisingly-fast Johnny Clark won the three heats to set the lineup. Following the weekly features, the PASS teams assembled on the frontstretch for Star’s annual fan meet-and-greet, an opportunity for fans to meet their favorite drivers and marvel at the machines they bring to the track each week.

When the green flag dropped, Johnny Clark wasted no time in getting to the front. For the six-time PASS North champion, the time at the head of the field was a breath of fresh air. Clark and his team struggled through 2017, finishing no better than fourth. The veteran sat out the 2018 season opener at Thompson, finished 29th at Oxford and came home eleventh at Beech Ridge, the last car on the lead lap. But for a third of Saturday’s race, Clark looked at home in the lead, taking the early lead from Travis Benjamin and holding off a charge from Joe Squeglia, Jr.

The touring veteran and the local pro dueled for a spell until Reid Lanpher, using the outside line, dispatched Squeglia and then Clark in a charge to the front. Lanpher, who had not raced at Star in several years, was able to put some distance on new second-place runner Benjamin, but the defending PASS champion reeled Lanpher in as the two-thirds mark approached. After a couple restarts, Lanpher settled into second behind Benjamin, as Ben Rowe worked past Squeglia and into a strong third.

Mike Hopkins’ ride off the turn-one curb and into the woods brought out another caution with 34 laps remaining, tightening the field up for another restart. Rowe worked his way around Lanpher and into second, but contact between the two in turn four left Rowe spinning with a flat left rear tire, ending a strong run for the series stalwart.

From there, it was Benjamin and Lanpher. Benjamin played defense as Lanpher tested the severity of the damage on his right-front fender, looking low and high on Benjamin’s red #7. The two raced side-by-side, never touching, momentarily allowing Joey Polewarczyk to take a look at the lead himself from third. But Pole faded, and Benjamin and Lanpher settled the lead battle cleanly between themselves. In the end, Benjamin had the preferred line, and the defending champion cruised on home to his first PASS win of 2018 and his second-straight Star Speedway victory.

Lanpher finished in the runner-up spot for the second straight week, and Joey Polewarczyk, Jr. finished third after an early-race spin. Derek Ramstrom, the defending race winner, finished fourth on Joey Pole’s bumper. Johnny Clark, who was roughed up mid-race in a tight battle with John Peters, worked his way back to fifth at the checkers. DJ Shaw and Derek Griffith finished sixth and seventh, ahead of Peters in eighth. Ben Rowe could only recover to ninth place after his spin from the top five. Glen Luce, in a jet-black car with a purple roof, made a lap back under caution to score his first top-ten finish of 2018.

Nick Sweet finished twelfth, his best run of 2018. Tracy Gordon, who left his heat early after a brush with the frontstretch wall, scrambled to get his car back together and finished thirteenth. Garrett Hall never contended for the top ten and finished fourteenth. Thanks to mid-race yellows and free-pass cars, all fourteen finishers were on the lead lap at the end. Joe Squeglia, who ran in the top five all night, headed to the pits with a flat tire with 27 laps remaining, and was credited with fifteenth place.

With top ten finishes in all four races, DJ Shaw and Travis Benjamin sit in a tight battle for the points lead ahead of Reid Lanpher and Derek Griffith. Garrett Hall, with top-ten runs in three races so far, rounds out the top five, with eight drivers having made all four races.

After three consecutive weeks of racing, the PASS teams get a weekend off before their next race, a Sunday-afternoon doubleheader with the American-Canadian Tour at Oxford Plains Speedway. The storyline returns to the one that hung in the air at Beech Ridge: will anyone be able to dethrone Curtis Gerry, winner of the last three PASS events at Oxford?

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

Another name familiar in the PASS fraternity found victory lane Saturday night at Star Speedway. Bobby Timmons was not in Scott Mulkern’s #48 Super Late Model for the PASS feature, but took the checkered flag in the evening’s 350 Supermodified feature. Timmons’ win was a reversal of fortune from last year, when he was collected in an incident coming to the green flag that left him upside down at the start-finish line.

TJ Brackett and Gabe Brown put on a clinic at Oxford Plains Speedway in Saturday night’s weekly feature, with Brackett beating Brown by inches at the line to win the fifty-lap feature. Defending track champion Alan Tardiff finished fourth after Scott Robbins was disqualified in post-race tech.

Beech Ridge Motor Speedway opened its weekly racing schedule Saturday night with a field of sixteen Pro Series entrants and the absence of defending champion Reid Lanpher. Curtis Gerry, the 2016 Pro Series champion, looked like an easy favorite with his recent domination in the PASS touring ranks at Oxford and Beech Ridge. Instead, it was Corey Bubar who raced his black-and-red #12 to victory over Gerry in the 40-lap feature. Dan McKeage finished third in his “Naughty 40” followed by veterans Mike Rowe and Gary Smith. The rest of the field was peppered with names familiar to PASS fans, including seventh-place Brandon Barker, eighth-place Dave Farrington, Jr., ninth-place Trevor Sanborn, and Wayne Helliwell, Jr., who made his weekly debut at Beech Ridge in twelfth after “trying something outside the box.”

NEXT ON THE SCHEDULE

The American-Canadian Tour teams head to Lee USA Speedway for the re-re-rescheduled Governor’s Cup 150. The latest schedule for the day’s program kicks off at 6:30pm due to inclement weather and a hope to avoid moving the race to Sunday afternoon. The PASS North Series is off until next weekend’s ACT-PASS doubleheader at Oxford Plains Speedway.

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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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