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Pollard wins in first Oxford 250 attempt, MacDonald sweeps Oxford in ACT: 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 SWEEPS OXFORD IN PRELUDE TO THE 250

The American-Canadian Tour Late Models returned to Oxford Plains Speedway this weekend for their second visit of 2018. After last year’s all-SLM Oxford 250 weekend, the ACT Late Models supplanted the Granite State Pro Stock Series as the Saturday-night undercard to Sunday’s big race.

The ACT Tour was the undercard to the 2016 Oxford 250, with Scott Payea winning the 100-lap feature that year. With three races to go on the Tour schedule, Payea entered this Oxford weekend with a comfortable points lead. A top-five run at Autodrome Chaudiere had earned Payea the ACT Triple Crown honors a week ago. However, Payea’s competition carried the on-track momentum heading into Oxford, with second-place Eddie MacDonald winning in May and third-place Jimmy Hebert on a two-race winning streak.

Payea, MacDonald and Hebert were among twenty-five teams in the pit area for the Oxford Plains 150. Joining the touring regulars for a home game was JR Robinson, who finished 11th in the spring appearance at Oxford. Thompson Speedway regular Ryan Morgan, a three-time winner in weekly competition, made the trip north for his second Tour start of 2018. Sprinkled through the field were a few new faces as well. GSPSS competitor Craig Weinstein and Jason Larrivee, Jr. were making their first ACT Tour starts, as was Star Speedway regular Max Dolliver in the Sullivan Family Racing #0NH driven earlier this year by Miles Chipman.

JR Robinson won the first qualifying heat over Jimmy Hebert, but was disqualified after technical inspection. Scott Payea and Chip Grenier won the other two heats, with Claude Leclerc winning the consi to set the tail of the field. Evan Hallstrom, fresh off a win in weekly competition at Thunder Road International Speedbowl, was awarded the pole with Rich Dubeau lining up second. Eighth-place starter Mike Foster was unable to get his car going in time for the start, so only 24 cars would start the feature.

At the drop of the green flag, Dubeau jumped out to lead the first two laps, but Evan Hallstrom powered back into the lead on lap three. Hallstrom, in only his third Tour appearance of the year, looked stout out front as the title contenders maneuvered their way into position from tenth on back. Scott Payea was up to third when he and second-place Chip Grenier made contact. Grenier spun, and officials responded firmly by sending Payea to the rear of the field.

With Grenier and Payea out of the picture, Hallstrom faced Eddie MacDonald on the restart, and “The Outlaw” seized the race lead for his own on lap 52. MacDonald had an Oxford 250 entry in the pits as well, but for the moment, the championship race was the bigger task at hand. Jimmy Hebert raced his way to second, running down MacDonald in traffic. But even with the help of a few mid-race cautions, including a multi-car wreck that red-flagged the race with 24 laps to go, Hebert was unable to make the pass for the lead. MacDonald led the final 99 laps en route to his second ACT Tour win of 2018 and an Oxford sweep.

Jimmy Hebert came up one position short of winning three straight races, with Evan Hallstrom hanging on for a solid third-place finish. Equally impressive was Max Dolliver; after only a handful of starts in a Late Model and a feature win at Star Speedway, Dolliver drove his way to a fourth-place finish in his first Tour start. JR Robinson, who started 18th after his heat disqualification, rounded out the top five. Early leader Rich Dubeau finished sixth ahead of Shawn Swallow, with Mike Ziter eighth. Ryan Morgan finished ninth in his first visit to Oxford.

Scott Payea’s night only got more frustrating after his penalty. Payea raced his way back into fourth place, but made contact with Evan Hallstrom late in the going and went for a spin of his own. Back in May, a late-race spin left Payea with a season-worst fifth-place finish. This time, the defending champion could only fight back for tenth place.

Dylan Payea, Scott’s cousin, finished eleventh while fellow rookie Christopher Pelkey tied his best finish of the year with a twelfth-place run. Brian Tagg was the first car a lap down in thirteenth; Bryan Mason finished three laps back in sixteenth. Corey Mason recorded his third DNF of the season after being involved in a late crash with rookie Peyton Lanphear. Chip Grenier, despite starting fifth, finished last in the field, dropping out shortly after his spin.

Scott Payea’s misfortune at Oxford mirrors last year’s August race at White Mountain Motorsports Park. Payea struggled to a tenth-place finish while his chief title rival, Dillon Moltz, dominated en route to victory, keeping Moltz alive in the title chase with two races remaining. Unfortunately for Moltz, Payea returned to form a couple weeks later, winning the Labor Day Classic at Thunder Road.

This year, with two races remaining, Payea holds a 21-point lead over Eddie MacDonald, with Jimmy Hebert only four points back in third. Rich Dubeau sits a distant fourth, with a safe margin over Corey Mason.

And this weekend, the Tour heads home to Thunder Road for the Coca-Cola Labor Day Classic. Will Payea repeat last year’s performance and leave his competition battling for second place, or will fortune allow MacDonald and Hebert a chance to close in on a first Tour championship?

PASS NORTH: POLLARD CONQUERS OXFORD 250 IN HIS FIRST APPEARANCE

The final weekend in August has become the home of New England’s biggest and richest short track event. For the forty-fifth time, teams packed the pit area and parking lot of Oxford Plains Speedway in support of this year’s Clark’s Scrap Metals Oxford 250.

Sanctioned since 2013 as a PASS North and National Championship event, the Oxford 250 is the biggest one-day show in Super Late Model racing, with practice, qualifying and the feature race all held on one day. Lending to its roots as an open-competition event, the 250 is a crown jewel race attracting not only local racers but those who think they can top the regional aces. However, as a PASS event, the 250 carries championship ramifications should something go wrong. And in a forty-car field, those errors and misfortunes can easily be amplified.

The starting field, eventually set at 42 cars, would be culled from an entry list that approached seventy as the race drew closer. The bulk of the entry list came from the usual PASS North ranks and the weekly teams at Oxford Plains Speedway and nearby Beech Ridge Motor Speedway, both tracks with weekly SLM competition. PASS points leaders DJ Shaw, Travis Benjamin and Derek Griffith would be pitted against Oxford weekly points challengers TJ Brackett, Gabe Brown and Alan Tardiff. From Beech Ridge, three-time 250 winner Mike Rowe was joined by the winners of the last two 250s, Curtis Gerry and Wayne Helliwell, Jr. Gerry in particular was an easy favorite, riding a streak of five consecutive PASS victories at Oxford Plains Speedway dating back to last year’s 250.

The intrigue, though, was just outside the usual suspects. Leading that list was Senoia, GA superstar Bubba Pollard. The Southeast short-track ace was making his first attempt at the 250, having prepared for the race all year. PASS South star Kodie Conner was in from North Carolina, hoping to gain points in the PASS National Championship standings. Austin Theriault, the reigning ARCA Racing Series champion, returned to his home state for a crack at the 250. Eddie MacDonald dusted off his SLM in search of his third 250 trophy, but his first under PASS rules. Parts for Trucks Pro Stock Tour point leader Cole Butcher and countrymen Lonnie Sommerville and Kyle Reid hoped to win the first 250 for a Canadian driver since 1995.

A few bigger names from the entry list were no-shows; PASS South racer Tate Fogleman and NASCAR crewman Ben Lynch did not make the trip, nor did Massachusetts’ Derek Ramstrom or local star Brad Babb. The Canadian racers who earned provisionals in PASS’ June trip to New Brunswick had difficult choices to make, too; with the Pro Stock Tour racing on Saturday night, Jonathan Hicken chose to run for points.

Five heat races were the first step in setting the field, with the lineup for the heats determined by a random draw. Beech Ridge graduates Garrett Hall and Reid Lanpher won the first two heats, with Oxford weekly champion TJ Brackett and PASS veteran Johnny Clark winning the next two. Mike Rowe won the final heat, only hours after the 68-year-old won a Saturday-night feature at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway. One driver who had not locked in in the first round was Curtis Gerry; the defending 250 winner pitted on the first lap of his heat with suspension trouble.

The remainder of the field had to fight through two consis. Ryan Robbins won the first consi over Tim Brackett and Ray Christian III. In the second, Ben Rowe fended off a charge from Bubba Pollard, who had to work from the back in his heat. The second consi was punctuated by a grinding crash that further reduced the field, with John Peters and Adam Gray requiring a tow to the pits. Lonnie Sommerville and Derek Griffith were among the drivers who fell back on provisionals to advance to the 250 field.

Fifteen cars remained for the fifty-lap last-chance qualifier, with only the winner guaranteed to transfer. The LCQ also featured an element of drama surrounding the odds-on favorite. Most had assumed Curt Gerry could use the provisional awarded to the most recent Oxford 250 winner, including Gerry’s team. But Gerry’s part-time schedule and his PASS licensing status made him ineligible for the provisional. Last year’s winner had no choice but to race into the 250. Gerry started sixth in the LCQ, worked through traffic, and picked off early leaders Dennis Spencer, Jr. and Ivan Kaffel with five laps remaining. Gerry won the LCQ to advance, with Scott Robbins taking the past winner’s provisional and Shawn Martin rounding out the field. Oxford rookie Ivan Kaffel, second in the LCQ, went home early, along with Spencer, Travis Stearns, NASCAR spotter Derek Kneeland, and last year’s LCQ winner Jeremy Davis. (Oddly, Cole Butcher and Kodie Conner raced in the LCQ as well, though neither was scored. Both were eligible for provisionals, Butcher for his PASS win in Canada, Conner as a PASS South full-timer, and both were in the field on provisionals.)

Heat winners Garrett Hall and Reid Lanpher led the 42-car field to green just before seven o’clock, and Hall took off with the early race lead. The three-time PASS feature winner, in his first full-season campaign, had yet to win in 2018, with Hall’s results not always matching his early-race performance. But Hall had unloaded fast, had spent time atop the practice charts all weekend, and was showing his speed early, leading the first 100 laps of the 250 unchallenged.

Oxford veteran Jeff Taylor, many times a track champion but never a 250 winner, slipped past Lanpher for second early in the going. After not qualifying for last year’s 250, Taylor looked to make the most of his only start this season, giving Hall fits in a battle for the race lead. Taylor nosed past Hall for the lead a couple times, but Hall powered past a lap or two later each time, holding the point through mid-race caution flags.

A number of teams pitted under caution on lap 129, including Joey Polewarczyk, Jr. and Bubba Pollard, who had worked his way through traffic into fifth place. Hall, Taylor, and Lanpher, however, had committed to a late pit strategy, counting on a yellow flag after lap 150 to make their stops. And as the yellow flag never came, those who had pitted began working their way to the front as the leaders were forced to go into conservation mode. Joey Pole carved through the pack first, taking the lead from Garrett Hall on lap 172. Taylor followed Pole to take second a few laps later, but Taylor was forced to pit under green with fuel issues, dropping him from contention.

A spin for Lonnie Sommerville brought false hopes of a yellow, but Kyle Reid’s spin on lap 199 drew the yellow flag at last, allowing the fading leaders to make their pit stops. Oxford rookie Austin Teras stayed on the track, assuming the lead over Joey Pole for the restart, but Ben Rowe seized the race lead a few laps later. Travis Benjamin was next, swapping the lead with Rowe. Moments later, two of the early favorites went out in one shot as the lapped car of Kodie Conner collided with Cassius Clark and Curtis Gerry. Gerry, who had moved into the top ten before the earlier pit sequence, was coming through the field again, but his car sustained terminal damage with 45 laps to go. Clark, who had sustained earlier damage in traffic, made a few more slow laps before calling it a night.

Bubba Pollard, now in the lead pack, led one lap over Benjamin, but the two-time Oxford 250 winner made his way back to the top spot, holding off Pollard until the yellow flew for a spin with just over thirty laps to go.

Pollard made his move on the ensuing restart, taking the lead from Travis Benjamin. Through a couple more yellow flags, Benjamin was able to hang with Pollard on the restart, but the Southern invader battled back to the lead each time, finally clearing Benjamin with 23 laps remaining. Ben Rowe and Joey Pole charged into the second-place battle, with Pole taking second with twenty laps remaining. Pole, winner of a dominant Oxford 250 in the last season of ACT rules, was looking for his first 250 win in a Super Late Model. But try as he might, Pole could not get to Bubba’s bumper.

Bubba Pollard led only 33 laps on the day, but they included the most important laps as the Georgian won his first Oxford 250 in his first-ever attempt at the race. Pollard, not a usual fixture in the PASS circles, did so after a season where he tailored his “outlaw” schedule to tracks that would give him an edge on the unfamiliar flat track. A win at South Boston Speedway had earned him a provisional for the race, but Pollard raced his way in through the qualifiers and consis despite a bad draw early on.

Joey Polewarczyk, Jr. held on for a second-place finish, his best effort in the Super Late Model in the Oxford 250. Reid Lanpher, who ran in the top three in the early stretch run of the race, battled back from the late pit stop to finish third, his third time on the 250 podium in four starts. Garrett Hall fought back to a fourth-place run, leading 166 laps and taking home $20,000 in prize money. GSPSS regular Joey Doiron, a familiar face in the PASS circles, had a quiet run to a fifth-place finish.

Championship hopefuls DJ Shaw and Travis Benjamin finished sixth and seventh, with Shaw never challenging for the lead. Mike Hopkins, who tested the early pit strategy, came home eighth, ahead of Beech Ridge regular and Oxford feature winner Brandon Barker. Ben Rowe, who ran in the top five in the closing laps, bobbled with a few laps to go and dropped through the field, finishing tenth. Rowe, like Pollard, was running a new Terry Senneker-built chassis.

The differing pit strategies, long green-flag stretches and low attrition made for some surprises in the second half of the lead lap. ACT feature winner Eddie MacDonald was eleventh, followed by Wyatt Alexander on a weekend home from college in North Carolina. Ray Christian III, Dave Farrington, Jr. and Joe Squeglia rounded out the top fifteen after quiet runs all day. Weekly racer Calvin Rose, Jr. was sixteenth, with Kelly Moore and Wayne Helliwell, Jr. rounding out the lead lap.

Derek Griffith, after starting deep in the pack, finished 21st, one position ahead of heat winner (and race sponsor) Johnny Clark. Canadians Kyle Reid and Cole Butcher were each a lap down in 24th and 26th. Tracy Gordon was two laps down in 28th, ahead of Austin Theriault, who struggled to a 30th-place finish. Jeff Taylor, after running in the front all night, was still racing with the leaders at the end, but was scored three laps back in 32nd.

Former winners of the 250 had a tough night as well. Mike Rowe lost laps in the pit-strategy shuffle and finished 28th. Glen Luce, the 2015 winner, finished 35th after a hard crash ended his night. Luce announced over the weekend that he had been struggling with Lyme disease through the season, explaining his reduced schedule. Curtis Gerry was credited with 37th after his own crash. And 2002 winner Scott Robbins, in on a former-winner’s provisional, ended his day against the frontstretch wall to finish 39th.

Calvin Rose, Jr. was the best of the Oxford weekly regulars, with Gabe Brown finishing seven laps back in 33rd and Austin Teras parking his car early with drivetrain issues in the closing laps. Alan Tardiff was the first car out, and heat winner TJ Brackett followed shortly with suspension damage.

Bubba Pollard’s win was the first for an outsider to the region since NASCAR star Kyle Busch won the 250 in 2010, but it was the first for a Southerner since Tommy Ellis in 1983. In the PASS era of the 250, while there have always been opportunities for Southern-based drivers to compete, few have done so with great success, with none having scored a top-ten finish since 2013. In fairness, though, few had the level of preparation that Pollard was able to invest in this year’s race. The impact of Pollard’s win will probably not be evident for another year, when we learn if other Southern drivers like Stephen Nasse opt to give the race a shot, or if Pollard even becomes a regular visitor now that he has won.

While the Oxford 250 trophy is nearly a championship unto itself, the race has very real implications in the PASS North and National standings as well. In the North standings, DJ Shaw remains the point leader with a 40-point advantage on defending champ Travis Benjamin. Garrett Hall, best of the points contenders with a fourth-place finish, gained on Derek Griffith, who never made an impact in the race. Ben Rowe sits well back of Hall in fifth place, that position seemingly secured with Reid Lanpher and Glen Luce four races behind on their part-time schedules.

Griffith does lead the PASS National Championship standings over Ray Christian III and Ben Rowe, with Kodie Conner the only other driver to score points in all three National Championship events this year. It bears noting that this is the last National event in New England, as the schedule shifts south for the fall.

As for the North standings behind seventh-place Glen Luce, the field is wide open. The enormity and gravity of the Oxford 250 often result in a hangover effect where teams, their budgets and energy exhausted, cut back their programs as the weekly seasons wind down. Which teams opt to go the distance with five point-counting races left on the schedule remains to be seen.

The next of those point-counting races is on the 15th of September, as the PASS teams head to White Mountain Motorsports Park in North Woodstock, NH for their last Granite State trip of 2018.

NORTH OF THE BORDER: HICKEN WINS PRO STOCK TOUR BOUT AT PETTY

The Parts for Trucks Pro Stock Tour raced Saturday night at Petty International Raceway in New Brunswick. The Saturday-night feature created an interesting conflict; while the cross-border jaunt to Oxford for the next day’s 250 was technically possible, it would be incredibly difficult to pull off with success. For points leader Cole Butcher, the choice was surprising; Butcher opted to sacrifice some of his points advantage to compete in the 250.

In Butcher’s absence, Jonathan Hicken won the 200-lap Cummins 200, leading an all-Prince-Edward-Island podium featuring Darren MacKinnon and Robbie MacEwen. Russell Smith, Jr. finished tenth in Butcher’s #53 Atlantic Tiltload entry. With two races to go, Cole Butcher still holds a lead over Craig Slaunwhite, having finished no worse than fourth in his nine starts this year.

WEEKLY RACING: BLAKE WINS RACE, DRAGON CROWNED “KING OF THE ROAD”, ROWE KEEPS ROLLING AT BEECH RIDGE

Cody Blake won his third Late Model feature of the year at Thunder Road International Speedbowl last Thursday night, as part of the final Thursday-night program of the year. Behind Blake, Scott Dragon finished second in the feature, securing his second Thunder Road track championship for car owner Richard Green. Blake and Dragon secured their fates with a late pass on race leader “Boomer” Morris. Before the pass, fourth-place Jason Corliss was in position to claim the title of “King of The Road.” While Thunder Road’s weekly competition is over for the year, the track hosts one more ACT Tour event, as well as the season-ending Milk Bowl in late September.

A week after winning an early birthday feature at Oxford Plains Speedway, Mike Rowe cruised to victory in a 70-lap Pro Series feature at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway on the eve of the Oxford 250. Rowe held off fellow 250 competitor Curtis Gerry, who held onto a two-point lead over Rowe in the track standings. An article written in anticipation of the 250 suggested that Rowe will race as long as he keeps winning; Saturday’s feature win and Sunday’s heat win for the 250 suggest that the 68-year-old racer is nowhere near retirement.

Following the Oxford 250, in which Curtis Gerry’s car was severely damaged in a late-race shunt, Rowe made a class move, offering Gerry a car to finish out the Beech Ridge season if he could not get his back together. Gerry’s team vowed to repair their car for this weekend’s feature at Beech Ridge, though they announced they will not compete in the Boss Hogg 150 at Wiscasset Speedway to focus on the Beech Ridge track championship.

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.

Seekonk Speedway ran its first weekly program of the month of August after two rainouts and a scheduled break for one of their annual thrill shows. Ray Parent ended a three-race winning streak for Ryan Kuhn with his second Late Model win of the season, holding off Chase Belcher and Ryan Lineham for the victory. In the Pro Stocks, Jake Johnson broke a three-race winning streak for David Darling with his first win of the year. Todd Annarummo and Mike Mitchell joined Johnson on the podium, with Darling finishing eleventh on the tail of the lead lap. Johnson remains second in points behind Darling for the Pro Stock championship, while Ryan Kuhn holds the Late Model points lead over Ryan Lineham and Vinnie Arrenegado.

NEXT ON THE SCHEDULE

The American-Canadian Tour Late Models return home on Sunday for the Coca-Cola Labor Day Classic at Thunder Road International Speedbowl. Scott Payea won last year’s race to secure his points lead entering the season finale at Thompson, and after hard luck in last week’s race at Oxford, he will look to do the same for the second year in a row.

The Granite State Pro Stock Series returns to Claremont Speedway this weekend for the long-distance Rocky Ridge 150. The first-year special event, hoped to become a cornerstone of the GSPSS schedule, pays $3500 to the race winner, with Modified ace Todd Patnode and PASS North points leader DJ Shaw expected to attend.

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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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