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MacDonald, Gerry Split ACT-PASS Doubleheader, Canadian Seasons Open: 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: MACDONALD HOLDS OFF LATE CHARGE FOR OXFORD VICTORY

After three weeks of rain delays to open the season, the American-Canadian Tour wrapped three consecutive weeks of racing with the first event of the year to be held on its originally-scheduled date.

The third ACT race of the young season was also a return for the Tour to Oxford Plains Speedway. After welcoming the Tour back in 2015 after a brief hiatus, the track was left off the 2017 schedule, with officials cutting the Maine dates due to a lack of Tour teams and equipment in the Pine Tree State. For 2018, the flat third-mile was back on the schedule for two events, both scheduled in tandem with the Pro All Stars Series Super Late Models.

The concerns of a short field were likely silenced by the thirty cars in the pit area, a stout turnout for a Sunday-afternoon event far from Vermont. The Tour regulars were joined by Thunder Road regulars Bobby Therrien (a 2015 winner at Oxford) and 2016 champion Nick Sweet, entered in his own #88VT SLM rather than the Mad Dog Motorsports #40VT. Rainouts at several area tracks likely inspired some drivers to make the trip, including White Mountain Motorsports Park veteran Quinny Welch and Mike Kenison. Mike Ziter was in Joey Polewarczyk’s #54 entry for his second start of 2018. Steuben, ME native JR Robinson, a former Tour regular, was prepared for his first Tour race of the season. Two drivers involved in last week’s altercation at Lee had made it back for another week: Christopher Pelkey’s #41VT bore some mismatched body panels but was back in one piece, and fellow Tour rookie Peyton Lanphear was in a borrowed car with her #22 on the doors and roof. With most drivers from Quebec racing in the CSCC’s debut event the night before, only two Canadian drivers, Jean-François Déry and Claude Leclerc, were in the pit.

The seventy-six-year-old Leclerc made some noise early Sunday by winning his heat race. Corey Mason and Mike Ziter won the other two heats, with Ryan Olsen winning a consi to set the remainder of the lineup. On the strength of their plus-minus scores following the heats and consi, Nick Sweet and Eddie MacDonald were awarded first and second place on the grid for the 150-lap feature.

A month ago in the season-opening PASS feature, Cassius Clark put on a demonstration of how to dominate a race at Oxford. For the first 132 laps of Sunday’s ACT race, it appeared that Nick Sweet and Eddie Mac had been taking notes. Sweet and MacDonald set off from the rest of the pack, building an early lead and lapping through the rear of the field. Sweet was at the point for the first 76 laps, working efficiently through lapped traffic. By halfway, Eddie MacDonald had closed in on Sweet’s bumper. The two red cars dueled for a few laps, with MacDonald taking the lead in traffic with 74 laps remaining.

The long green-flag stretch run, coupled with two-wide racing among packs of lapped cars, left quite a gap between MacDonald and Sweet and third-place Jimmy Hebert, who had to pick through the lapped traffic a few laps after MacDonald came through. Hebert, looking for his first Tour victory since 2013, was fast and began nipping away at MacDonald’s advantage, but only a caution flag would give him a shot at the win.

A spin by Christopher Pelkey on lap 132 brought out the caution Hebert wanted, leaving only five cars on the lead lap. With few lapped cars on the track between the three leaders, the field was bunched together for the restart. On the restart, Scott Payea spun in turn two with a flat tire, drawing the leaders close for another restart with eighteen laps left on the scoreboard.

Armed with a fast car and a fighting chance, Hebert went to work on the two leaders as the top three were free to settle the battle for the win. Hebert was able to dispatch Nick Sweet with ten laps remaining, and closed in on MacDonald’s bumper for the lead. With five to go, Hebert slipped, maintaining second place but losing some ground to the leader. Hebert would draw close in the final few laps, but Eddie MacDonald held on for his first ACT Tour win of 2018.

MacDonald’s win, the tenth points win of his Tour career, was his fourth Tour victory at the Maine oval, though his first since 2010. “The Outlaw” has two additional Oxford wins to his credit, having won the 2009 and 2010 Oxford 250 when the race was sanctioned by ACT. MacDonald’s win also cements his status in this year’s Summer Showdown Series; the victory was good for a $5,000 bonus, with another $5,000 at hand if MacDonald can sweep the other two events at New London-Waterford (CT) Speedbowl in June and Thunder Road in September.

Jimmy Hebert survived the race with no hard luck and finished a strong second, ahead of Nick Sweet. Corey Mason ran in the top five all day and finished fourth, with Scott Payea finishing fifth after his late-race spin. Bobby Therrien came out on top of a fierce fight between the lap-down cars to finish sixth, ahead of Miles Chipman, Mike Ziter and Rich Dubeau. Chip Grenier rounded out the top ten, displacing JR Robinson late in the running.

Robinson finished eleventh in his return to the Tour. WMMP winner Quinny Welch was fourteenth, ahead of Ryan Olsen in fifteenth. Joey Laquerre, 74 years young, bested the other ageless veterans to finish eighteenth. Claude Leclerc, after his heat win, finished two laps down in 20th. Matt White, after two top-ten runs to start the season, was never a threat and finished 21st.

Tour rookies Dylan Payea and Christopher Pelkey finished 23rd and 25th. The Lanphear sisters were no more fortunate. Peyton’s borrowed #22 needed a push to the starting grid, and she parked the car once she was lapped. Sister Reilly pulled off the track only a few laps later.

Scott Payea held onto the points lead, but lost some ground in what is shaping up to be a three-driver race for the championship, with MacDonald second and Hebert third. Miles Chipman, with two strong runs, sits fourth in points, ahead of Corey Mason, Matt White, and Rich Dubeau. Chip Grenier’s top ten vaulted him to eighth in points despite missing the field at Thunder Road. Bryan Mason and Brian Tagg round out the top ten. Dylan Payea, twelfth in points, is the top rookie.

The ACT teams have a week off from Tour competition, but many will be in action at Thunder Road this weekend for a 100-lap Late Model feature in conjunction with the PASS Mekkelsen RV Memorial Day Classic.

PASS NORTH: GERRY UNBEATABLE AT OXFORD IN FOURTH STRAIGHT OPS WIN

A month after opening Oxford Plains Speedway’s racing season in April, the Pro All Stars Series North Super Late Models returned home for a Sunday-afternoon showdown on the flat track. The Honey Badger Bar & Grill 150, named for the restaurant opened in the former track offices up the road, was the fifth race of the season and the second leg of Sunday’s doubleheader.

Despite the apparent convenience of a home-track showdown, and a rainout of weekly SLM racing the night before, only twenty-six cars were in the pits for practice. Father-and-son tandem Tim and TJ Brackett were among the Oxford regulars in the lineup, including last week’s SLM feature winner Justin Drake and rookie Gabe Brown. Legends star Austin Teras, also a weekly competitor at Oxford, was entered for his PASS debut in the Cushman Competition #29. Kyle Reid, who raced the evening before in New Brunswick with the Parts for Trucks Pro Stock Tour, decided on a doubleheader weekend of his own, arriving in time for practice at Oxford. Derek Kneeland, spotter for Kyle Larson in the NASCAR big leagues, was scheduled to make his first start in a Dale Shaw Race Cars #90, but Brandon Barker was pressed into service to practice and qualify. Eddie MacDonald and Nick Sweet, also entered in the ACT Tour event, had their Super Late Models in the pits and would run both features.

Notable absences included Johnny Clark, who had run well two weeks before at Star Speedway, and Dave Farrington, Jr., who ran the night before at Wiscasset Speedway. Joey Polewarczyk, crew-chiefing for Mike Ziter in the ACT Tour event, was content to stick with his job in the pits for the weekend. And a few Beech Ridge Motor Speedway regulars known for flirting with PASS action at Oxford, including Wayne Helliwell, Jr. and Mike Rowe, were taking full advantage of an off weekend at their home track.

One Beech Ridge regular not taking the weekend off was Curtis Gerry. The 2016 Beech Ridge Pro Series champion, an occasional Tour racer in recent years, had earned respect and accolades after winning the 2017 Oxford 250. Gerry’s next PASS start ended with an early accident at his home track, but he rebounded with a win in the PASS season finale at Oxford. Gerry’s streak continued in 2018, with a win at Oxford in April and another win a week later at Beech Ridge. Gerry had won four of his last five PASS starts, and was the winner of the last three races at Oxford.

TJ Brackett, Reid Lanpher and Derek Griffith each claimed a heat win, with Brackett and Lanpher leading the field to green. Brackett jumped into the early lead, but Lanpher soon made his move to take the advantage. Lanpher, a two-time feature winner in 2017, had yet to win a feature in 2018, and doing so would cement his position as one of the title contenders for the season.

Moving through the field from his thirteenth-place starting position, however, was Gerry, Lanpher’s onetime weekly rival. Gerry had charged to the lead late in his last Oxford wins, and this race had a different feel as Gerry moved into contention by halfway. Gerry and Lanpher battled for the lead briefly before Gerry moved to the top spot, with Lanpher settling into a safe second place with little to threaten his run.

For the final third of the race, Lanpher stalked Gerry as the leaders worked through thin lapped traffic. As Lanpher lapped the #4 of Ben Rowe with four laps remaining, Rowe put fender to fender and turned Lanpher in the middle of turn four. Lanpher and Rowe had gotten together two weeks before at Star Speedway, with Rowe spinning from the top five, and presumably this was Rowe’s payback for the incident. PASS officials, believing that Rowe’s contact with Lanpher was intentional, parked the multi-time PASS champion for the afternoon.

With Lanpher bounced from the top five, Gerry restarted ahead of Travis Benjamin and Garrett Hall with four laps remaining. Benjamin had no answer for Gerry’s speed in the final four laps. With no one to challenge his supremacy, Curtis Gerry cruised home to his third PASS win of 2018 in only three attempts, and his fourth straight PASS win at Oxford Plains Speedway.

Travis Benjamin crossed the line second, ahead of a torrid battle for the top five. TJ Brackett, declaring that he had finally figured out how to conserve a car in a long race, finished third, with Garrett Hall fourth. Reid Lanpher raced back from seventh place on the final restart to finish fifth after his spin. Oxford SLM regulars Justin Drake and Gabe Brown finished sixth and seventh, with John Peters eighth. DJ Shaw, who struggled all day with a poorly-handling car, finished ninth after an early spin. Austin Teras finished his first PASS race in tenth.

Eddie MacDonald finished eleventh after winning the ACT feature, ahead of Derek Griffith and fellow doubleheader participant Nick Sweet. Glen Luce struggled to a sixteenth-place run, two laps down. Derek Kneeland finished seventeenth after several pit stops to tune on his #90. Ben Rowe was credited with twentieth after being parked. Tracy Gordon was in attendance for practice, but never made it to the track for heats or the feature.

Gerry’s dominance was further justified when PASS officials ordered the engine from the #7G to be sent for dyno testing early this week. Much to the team’s satisfaction, the engine passed the dyno test with flying colors.

Travis Benjamin remains atop the point standings, but Reid Lanpher’s top-five run should help him close the gap on second-place DJ Shaw. The points spread is not too extreme through the eight full-season drivers thus far, but on the track, the top five are distanced from everyone else. With the exception of his run at Star Speedway, Ben Rowe has not been fast this year, and Glen Luce has struggled since last season’s final race at Oxford. The two veterans, top-four points finishers in 2017, have plenty of time through the summer to get their programs turned around.

With Gerry racing at Beech Ridge this weekend, the PASS North regulars get a week off from his dominance. However, the teams will be racing, as they travel to Thunder Road International Speedbowl in Barre, Vermont as the headline division of the annual Mekkelsen RV Memorial Day Classic on Sunday afternoon.

ACROSS THE BORDER: CSCC, PRO STOCK TOUR KICK OFF 2018 SEASONS

Only a month after its formation was announced, the Championnat de Stock-Car Canadien hosted its first race. The Quebec-based Late Model sanctioning body, headed by former partners of the US-based American-Canadian Tour, opened its season at Autodrome St.-Eustache, just northwest of the island city of Montréal.

Dany Trépanier led the final six laps of Saturday night’s 125-lap feature to win the first-ever CSCC event, beating out 2017 Série ACT champion Jonathan Bouvrette. Steve Côté finished third ahead of Patrick Cliche and Larue Motorsports driver Pier-Luc Ouellette, who debuted for Larue in the prior week’s ACT event at Lee USA Speedway. Mathieu Kingsbury, last year’s Série ACT top rookie, was sixth.

Well east of the Maine border, the Parts for Trucks Pro Stock Tour kicked off its 2018 schedule Saturday night as well, opening the season at Petty International Raceway in River Glade, NB. Dylan Blenkhorn took the checkers in the 150-lap event, with Nova Scotia racer and PASS invader Cole Butcher finishing second. Craig Slaunwhite, Dylan Gosbee and defending champion Shawn Turple rounded out the top five. Kyle Reid, who competed in the PASS feature the following day, finished 26th, only completing 92 laps. Cassius Clark, often in Rollie MacDonald’s white #13, was not in the field.

WEEKLY RACING: RAIN WINS AGAIN, THOMPSON RECONSIDERS CANCELLATION

Weekend rain once again thwarted race fans’ plans to take in a weekly show across the region. White Mountain Motorsports Park in North Woodstock, NH, Star Speedway in Epping and Oxford Plains Speedway were among the tracks that cancelled their Saturday-night racing due to weather. Beech Ridge Motor Speedway, already on an off-week due to another event at the track, was forced to reschedule that event as well.

Thompson Speedway chose to cancel their Sunday racing card based on the threat of inclement weather. After first announcing that a long-distance weekly race would become part of a later event, fans complained that the cancellation eliminated a more-affordable weekly event in favor of another high-dollar feature program. Track officials responded by rescheduling the entire program for Thursday, June 7, also retaining the “Military Night” promotion that grants free admission to active military members and veterans.

One track that did race Saturday night was Wiscasset (ME) Speedway, east of Portland. Nick Hinckley won the evening’s 40-lap Pro Stock feature over occasional PASS entrant Nick Reno. Dave Farrington, Jr. finished fourth in the feature. Veteran Jeremie Whorff finished ninth, nine laps in arrears.

NEXT ON THE SCHEDULE

The Granite State Pro Stock Series gets back to action Saturday night with a unique triple feature at New London-Waterford (CT) Speedbowl. Time trials will set the field for three 35-lap full-points feature races. On Sunday, Thunder Road International Speedbowl hosts the annual Mekkelsen RV Memorial Day Classic, headlined by the Pro All Stars Series North Super Late Models. ACT Late Models will take to the track for a 100-lap undercard feature.

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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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