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Bouvrette wins Bacon Bowl 200, O’Sullivan wins first since 2016 at WMMP: 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: BOUVRETTE WINS BACON BOWL, PAYEA CAPTURES TRIPLE CROWN

What may have seemed like an impossible event in April became reality this past weekend, as the American-Canadian Tour made its first and only visit of the year to Canada. Saturday evening’s Bacon Bowl 200 was the first ACT-sanctioned event in Canada since March’s split with the Québec-based team that managed the associated Série ACT.

The ACT Late Model Tour had not raced for points in Canada since 2015, and with the formation of the Championnat de Stock-Car Canadien (CSCC) in April to replace the Série ACT, the likelihood of a return to Canada seemed slim. However, Tour officials sought to maintain some connection to the nation referenced within its own name. The compromise was a non-points race that would not conflict with the Tour or CSCC schedules.

Autodrome Chaudière in Vallée-Jonction, QC hosted the special race, which served not only as a return for the American-based Tour participants but as a long-distance feature for Chaudière’s own weekly Late Models. Ultimately, the event was billed as one of the biggest Late Model races in the province.

Thirty cars were in the pits to set the 24-car starting lineup. Scott Payea, Nick Sweet (in the Mad Dog Motorsports #40VT), and Tour rookie Christopher Pelkey were on hand representing the Tour. Representing the CSCC LMS ranks were top points contenders Dany Trépanier, Jonathan Bouvrette, Martin Goulet, Jr. and multi-time feature winner Jean-François Déry. Patrick Laperle, a longtime fixture on both the ACT Tour and Série ACT, was looking for his second win of the year, having won at Speedway 51 in June. NASCAR Xfinity Series rookie Alex Labbé returned to the #48QC of Larue Motorsports, displacing regular racer Pier-Luc Ouellette.

Steve Côté and Samuel Charland were heat winners along with Labbé and Sweet, with Dany Poulin and Jeff Cote each claiming a consi win. Veteran driver Karl Allard, a former Larue Motorsports driver, would lead the field to green alongside Jean-François Déry. A last-minute driver change took Marco Bilodeau out of the starting lineup, with former PASS North competitor and Toyota development driver Raphaël Lessard taking the wheel of the #75 for the feature. Lessard would be forced to start shotgun on the field.

Allard and Déry swapped the early lead, with the three-time CSCC feature winner taking command from lap 8 onward. A couple caution flags drew the field back together, helping Samuel Charland to close in on Déry and make a bid for the lead. Charland was out front for nine laps, but tenth-place starter Jonathan Bouvrette moved in on him to contend for the lead himself.

Once Bouvrette displaced Charland at the point, he was unstoppable, hanging on through subsequent restarts and fending off a late challenge from a charging Alex Labbé. Bouvrette, the 2017 Série ACT champion and a three-time feature winner last year, led each of the final 120 circuits en route to his first touring win of 2018.

Alex Labbé’s reunion with his long-time ACT team (and part-time NASCAR sponsor) was fruitful with a second-place finish. Raphaël Lessard, after starting last, clawed his way to third at the checkers, nipping Samuel Charland in the closing laps for the final podium spot.

Scott Payea, in fifth, was the highest-finishing American driver, and in doing so clinched the ACT Triple Crown honors. Patrick Laperle finished sixth, ahead of Karl Allard, CSCC points leader Dany Trépanier, Nick Sweet and Steve Côté. Christopher Pelkey finished three laps back in 19th. Mid-race leader Samuel Charland took home Triple Crown honors of his own, winning Autodrome Chaudière’s own best-of-three challenge by two points over Patrick Laperle.

The cross-border event was a success, bringing plenty of Québec’s best short-track talent back under the ACT flag for an evening, and maintaining a Canadian presence for a tour that advertises such in its very name. However, like this season’s PASS race in New Brunswick, it highlighted the challenges and complexities of racing across the international border. In the short track racing world, this may be no more evident than in the Northeast, where the best racers from New England and Canada have tested each other on foreign soil for years. Such competition was at the very core of the American-Canadian Tour upon its inception in the mid-1980s.

But crossing the border now is a different challenge than it was thirty years ago, never mind doing so with a commercial vehicle, a race car and a pit crew. Add to that the exchange rate and fuel costs, and for many teams, it makes little financial sense to make those trips back and forth.

Only three American teams were in Saturday night’s feature race. Scott Payea was virtually assured of winning the Triple Crown, with Nick Sweet needing misfortune on Payea’s part to have a fighting chance. For the other contenders, the $2000 bonus awaiting the Triple Crown winner may not have been worth the expenses necessary to make the trip. For instance, Jimmy Hebert’s team was forced to rebuild their primary car just to stay in the title hunt; that expense may have offset the team’s hopes of traveling to Canada. (Hebert likely would have relished the chance; his second career Tour win was at Sanair Super Speedway in Québec.)

In its current incarnation, the ACT is a budget-minded tour, and the Tour has taken measures in recent years to make the prospect of cross-border racing less of a burden on their championship teams. However, at the end of the day, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow has to be big enough to be worth chasing.

To the ACT’s credit, this was a non-points race and not a part of the championship hunt. Teams had the option of making the trip on their own, rather than being forced into the trip after the season’s schedule was already established. The prospect of an event like this culling the championship field to two or three drivers with a few races remaining is a heartbreaker, especially with a driver on a hot streak entering the stretch run.

An ideal situation would feature a full contingent of Tour competitors fighting for the win. But in a less-than-ideal racing economy, the better outcome will be dialogue between teams and sanctioning bodies trying to see if the pot can be sweetened enough to make events like this a less-impractical measure.

GSPSS: REIGNING CHAMP O’SULLIVAN WINS RAIN-DELAYED WMMP 100-LAPPER

The Granite State Pro Stock Series returned to action last Saturday, marking the first event since July after two consecutive rainouts. Saturday night’s race at White Mountain Motorsports Park was the first makeup date of two, with teams heading to the quarter-mile oval in North Woodstock, NH for a 100-lap feature.

Seventeen Pro Stocks were in attendance for the event, with points leader Cory Casagrande among the entries. Casagrande had planned to skip the prior event on the schedule due to family commitments, but a rainout saved his schedule for the moment. A new face appeared in the #72 car previously driven by Scott MacMichael, with Guy Caron taking over the car that finished second in points in 2017. Todd Stone, winner of last year’s feature at WMMP, joined the series regulars in his black #1X entry. Jeremy Harclerode, Sammy Gooden and Richie Brown were among others who bolstered the entry list for the rescheduled race. Missing from the lineup were Josh King and Ray Christian III, as well as 2016 champion Barry Gray.

Reigning GSPSS champion Mike O’Sullivan flexed his muscle early on, setting a fast time in practice and backing it up through qualifying and his heat race. O’Sullivan’s title defense had crumbled early in the season; after misfortune in the first few races, Mike and brother Tommy had skipped the race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway to work on their cars. Top-ten results had followed for Mike, but the two-time series champion was still looking to put a top-five in the record book for 2018.

O’Sullivan’s race started in the right direction, with the veteran starting fourth after a redraw. Joey Doiron, winner of the second qualifying heat, brought the field to green, battling early with fellow Mainer Ryan Green. Doiron eventually asserted himself at the point as Green dropped back. A win for Doiron would be his second of the season, but more importantly, it could vault him back into the battle for the season championship after misfortune at Lee in July.

Doiron’s car tightened up as the race pressed on, though, with Mike O’Sullivan working his way into position to challenge for the win. O’Sullivan took the outside line from Doiron and moved into the lead as the laps ticked down. Doiron’s car was no match for O’Sullivan, who pulled away to his first win of the 2018 season and his fifth career GSPSS win. O’Sullivan’s victory also broke a long dry spell; the defending champ had not visited victory lane since May of 2016.

Devin O’Connell, who ran midpack in the early stages, fought past Doiron in the closing laps to finish second, with Doiron holding onto a podium finish. Jeremy Davis finished fourth ahead of Cory Casagrande, who recorded his fifth top-five result in six starts this year.

Behind Casagrande, second-year racer Nick Lascuola was sixth ahead of Todd Stone and second-place starter Ryan Green. Craig Weinstein finished ninth ahead of hard-luck racer Mike Scorzelli. Scorzelli’s finish was his first top-ten result of the year. Guy Caron, in the #72, was the last car on the lead lap in eleventh.

The GSPSS’s fall-heavy schedule makes this the surprising halfway point of the points chase. Cory Casagrande still sits at the top of the heap after a very consistent season. The bullet Casagrande dodged with the rainout at Monadnock may only be temporary, though, as the points leader may still miss a race for his brother’s fall wedding. An assist from Mother Nature may be his only saving grace. Only 22 points separate the top five behind Casagrande, with Devin O’Connell sitting second ahead of Joey Doiron, Nick Lascuola, and season opener winner Jacob Dore. Mike O’Sullivan’s win catapulted him to sixth in the standings, but he sits almost seventy points behind Dore, well out of the top-five battle.

The GSPSS teams are off for a week before returning to action for a 150-lap, $3500-to-win feature at Claremont (NH) Speedway on Labor Day weekend.

WEEKLY RACING: HALLSTROM WINS FIRST AT T-ROAD, ROWE PREVAILS IN BIRTHDAY WIN AT OXFORD

Evan Hallstrom earned his first career Late Model win last Thursday night at Thunder Road International Speedbowl. The rookie started out front and held off challenges from Mike “Beetle” Bailey and Jim “Boomer” Morris to claim his first Thunder Road feature victory. Morris finished second with Stephen Donahue third. Scott Dragon finished fourth in the feature to take a narrow lead in the track standings with one point-counting race to go. Jason Corliss sits second in points ahead of Trampas Demers, who slipped to third after a tire problem in Thursday’s feature.

After weeks of new winners adding themselves to the Oxford Plains Speedway record books, a more established name found his way to the winner’s circle Saturday. Mike Rowe led all fifty laps en route to his 152nd career win at the famed track. Budweiser Championship Series leader Gabe Brown, still shy of his 16th birthday, finished second ahead of Tim Brackett. After several weeks of deep fields, only twelve teams made the call for Saturday’s feature, with many teams opting to prepare instead for this week’s Oxford 250. Brown and his chief title rival TJ Brackett are both on the entry list for the 250.

Chris Thorne outdueled Daren Ripley to win Saturday’s Late Model Sportsman feature at Wiscasset (ME) Speedway. Despite only running six of seven races thus far, Thorne sits second in points behind fourth-place finisher Andrew McLaughlin.

In a prelude to Saturday’s GSPSS feature at White Mountain Motorsports Park, Jonathan Lemay won the weekly Late Model feature. Stephen Donahue finished second ahead of Jeff Marshall, with point leader Quinny Welch finishing sixth in the 12-car event.

Elsewhere throughout the region, rain again posed a problem for multiple tracks, with Seekonk (MA) Speedway cancelling their weekly card for the second straight week. Star Speedway tried to push forward with their weekly program but only got one feature race in before rain postponed the remainder of the schedule.

NEXT ON THE SCHEDULE

All eyes are on Oxford Plains Speedway this weekend as the venerable track hosts the PASS-sanctioned 45th Annual Clark’s Scrap Metals Oxford 250 on Sunday evening. Over sixty teams have already filed entries and as many as seventy are expected on race day, with $25,000 plus lap leader bonuses on hand for the winner.

The American-Canadian Tour teams will be at Oxford Saturday evening with their own 150-lap feature as part of the 250’s undercard.

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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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