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McKennedy’s homecoming earns second Star Classic win

A year ago, Jon McKennedy finished second in the ISMA Star Classic after a late-race pass ended a dominant evening. This year, with the event’s future up in the air, McKennedy left nothing to chance.

The versatile open-wheel competitor put on a clinic Saturday night, lapping most of the field en route to a dominant win in the International Supermodified Association-sanctioned 53rd Annual Bob Webber, Sr. Memorial Star Classic at Star Speedway in Epping, N.H.

McKennedy started fifth in the feature, but wasted little time getting to the front. The reigning ISMA champion moved into the second spot in thirty laps, passing polesitter Mike Muldoon on lap 46 for the race lead. From there, McKennedy never looked back, building a half-lap lead as the rest of the leaders picked their way through lapped traffic.

A couple late caution flags eliminated McKennedy’s lead, drawing second-place Ben Seitz within a few lapped cars of McKennedy’s rear bumper. But single-file restarts and open race track ahead of McKennedy allowed the Chelmsford, Mass. native to rebuild his lead, with Seitz forced to battle New York’s Jeff Abold in traffic for the runner-up spot. McKennedy went unchallenged in the final ten laps, taking his eighth career ISMA Supermodified victory and his second win in the Star Classic.

Ben Seitz of Bourne, Mass. finished second with Abold third and Canada’s Mark Sammut fourth. Mike Lichty survived a late-race spin to finish fifth. Only six cars finished on the lead lap, courtesy of McKennedy’s torrid pace. ISMA points leader Dan Bowes finished seventh, the first car a lap down.

McKennedy has run a varied schedule this season after winning last year’s ISMA championship. He opened the year racing with NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour car owner Tommy Baldwin Jr., but despite winning right out of the gate, the team opted not to run for the championship. McKennedy filled his schedule with spot starts for P&L Motorsports, the Massachusetts-based ISMA team for whom he won last year’s title.

A run in the Star Classic was a no-brainer for McKennedy, who cut his racing teeth at the tight quarter-mile. McKennedy has ample experience at Star both in a Tour-type Modified and a Supermodified, winning the annual SBM 125 Tour-type feature in 2011 and 2014.

This year’s Star Classic was named in memory of Star Speedway owner Bob Webber, Sr., who purchased the track in 1980. Webber passed away in January after a battle with cancer. Webber’s son Bobby, Jr., who has managed the track’s operations for several years, paid tribute to his father’s commitment to the sport throughout the season. Following victory lane festivities, McKennedy was given a victory lap around Star in the back of Bob Webber, Sr.’s pickup truck, which had served as a pace vehicle earlier in the evening.

Headed into Star Classic weekend, conversation suggested that this could be the last year for ISMA sanctioning at the Classic, with Bobby Webber, Jr. citing the cost among his reasons. Webber intends to keep the Classic on the calendar in some fashion, likely featuring the small-block Supermodifieds that are currently the top weekly division at the track. With that possibility in mind, fans packed the stands, a sure show of support for the crown jewel of the Star Speedway schedule.

If this is, indeed, the final ISMA iteration of the Star Classic, it seems fitting for the winner’s spoils to go to a driver whose career began at — and whose career arc is entwined with — Star Speedway.

The Star Classic evening also featured the Granite State Pro Stock Series and a fifty-lap feature for the small-block Supermodifieds. Jimmy Renfrew, Jr., a Star graduate who made his first GSPSS start in last year’s Classic, survived an off-track excursion and rebounded with his first GSPSS win at the age of 15. In the Randy Witkum Memorial 50, Dave “Hollywood” Helliwell dominated the race before his wing broke free with five laps remaining. Seventeen-year-old Jeffrey Battle, nephew of the late Randy Witkum, took the lead and held on for an emotional victory. Both Helliwell and Battle declined Bobby Webber, Jr.’s offer of a $10,000 winner’s bounty if either driver would relinquish his front-row start and start from the tail of the field.

The ISMA championship chase resumes in October, with the season finale a part of the World Series at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park in Connecticut. Star Speedway’s weekly season concludes on the 22nd of September, with the New England Strictly Stock Nationals and the annual Halloween Howler enduro closing out the year.

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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