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O’Connell takes second career GSPSS win, Rowe wins first PASS race since 2016: 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.

GSPSS: O’CONNELL WINS SECOND OF YEAR AT MONADNOCK

The Granite State Pro Stock Series wrapped up a three-week fever pitch of consecutive features with a trip to Monadnock Speedway in Winchester, N.H. The JBH 100, originally scheduled for mid-August, had taken residence in September after a rainout.

As the August date approached, title contender Cory Casagrande was preparing to miss the race to honor a commitment for his brother’s upcoming nuptials. The rainout gave Casagrande a reprieve, and entering Saturday’s race, the veteran GSPSS competitor remained perched atop the points standings. However, the rescheduled date still presented a family conflict for Casagrande, whose black #7 would not appear at Monadnock.

And Casagrande was not alone, as two other racers in the top five in points were absent for the JBH 100. Jacob Dore, winner of the season opener, was missing among the sixteen entrants. Nick Lascuola, fifth in points despite missing the race at Star, was not in the field either. After a grinding crash at Claremont two weeks before, it appeared that Lascuola’s strong season had come to a premature conclusion.

Star winner Jimmy Renfrew, Jr. was in the pits, though, as were brothers Mike and Tommy O’Sullivan and part-timer Todd Stone. Beech Ridge regular and PASS visitor Brandon Barker was entered in a #16 Chevrolet. And last year’s top rookie, Scott MacMichael, returned to the series in the #24 entry driven last by Todd Patnode at Claremont Speedway.

Todd Stone topped post-practice time trials, with Joey Doiron and Devin O’Connell winning the two heats. Doiron would start at the point in the redraw, with ACT veteran Guy Caron lining up alongside him. O’Connell would roll off third with Stone fifth.

Guy Caron led the first four laps, with Joey Doiron taking over after a yellow flag. The PASS veteran set the pace for several laps, still seeking a second win to lift his hopes of a GSPSS title at year’s end. However, third-place starter Devin O’Connell was knocking on the door as the race continued under green-flag conditions.

Quarter-mile ovals had yielded mixed fortunes for Devin O’Connell in 2018. After breaking into the winner’s circle at Hudson Speedway in July, O’Connell had struggled at Star Speedway a week ago. O’Connell finished ninth, his only solace coming in the form of trouble for title rival Joey Doiron. At Monadnock, the second-year GSPSS contender had found what he lacked a week earlier.

O’Connell stormed into the lead with Todd Stone in tow, and held off challenges from the Vermont veteran while working through lapped traffic. Stone, disciplined on both dirt and pavement, left nothing on the table while working over O’Connell, but the youngster from Connecticut held the point. Mike O’Sullivan closed in on Stone’s bumper with 25 laps remaining, but he had too few laps to mount a charge for the win.

In a fast feature that was over in less than a half-hour, Devin O’Connell held on for his second career GSPSS win and his second of the year. Todd Stone finished a close second with Mike O’Sullivan third. Polesitter Joey Doiron was fourth, with defending JBH 100 winner Josh King fifth at the checkered flag. Scott MacMichael was sixth, the final car on the lead lap. Barry Gray, outside polesitter Guy Caron, Ray Christian III and Tommy O’Sullivan rounded out the top ten. Brandon Barker was 11th, while Jimmy Renfrew, Jr.’s night ended in a 14th-place finish.

The official standings show Devin O’Connell with a 16-point lead over Joey Doiron. Cory Casagrande now sits third, twelve points back, with Jacob Dore fourth. Ray Christian III now sits fifth in points, with strong runs for Mike O’Sullivan and Josh King bringing them well into the top ten. With Nick Lascuola likely done for the season and Jacob Dore skipping the race, the back half of the top five is wide open depending on drivers’ schedules for the rest of the year.

Following the race, Cory Casagrande drew attention on Twitter to a rules discrepancy. A photo of Tommy O’Sullivan’s car at Monadnock showed the car running Casagrande’s #7, though race photos showed the car with its normal #4. Casagrande indicated that, with GSPSS officials’ blessing, they had cut a deal with Tommy O’Sullivan to run the #7 to earn owner’s points for Casagrande Motorsports. DJ Shaw used the same approach in 2016, with Craig Weinstein campaigning the #60 in two races where Shaw had conflicts with the PASS North schedule.

However, officials decided differently at the track, disagreeing that O’Sullivan could earn points for the #7. O’Sullivan reverted to his #4 for time trials and the race. Casagrande was miffed, arguing that he would have entered a car under his own team if he thought the number swap would be disallowed. Further postings on social media suggest that Casagrande’s season may have come to an early end of its own.

The situation is complex to say the least. This was, after all, a rescheduled race, and Casagrande’s team knew during the season that they would have to skip one or two events. But if past precedents offered a way for the team to offset that, those precedents should have been honored. Ultimately, what was a five-car title race only a few weeks ago has been reduced to a two-car battle with three races remaining.

If anything, this highlights a crucial concern for all regional sanctioning bodies. For most local racers, “real life” will have to trump racing at some point. Promoters face the nigh impossible task of defending the integrity of a season-long championship, yet making it possible for teams to chase that championship all season long.

That said, the GSPSS teams and officials deserve a shoutout for a feature that went from green to checkered flag in under thirty minutes with only one yellow flag. On the tight confines of a quarter-mile oval, running a clean race is commendable.

After three straight race weekends, the GSPSS teams get a short respite before returning to Lee USA Speedway for the track’s year-ending Oktoberfest spectacular in three weeks. While Pro Stocks and GSPSS teams are no stranger to Lee’s Oktoberfest, this year’s Pro Stock feature is a points-paying race for the touring teams.

PASS NORTH: ROWE ENDS TWO-YEAR WINLESS STREAK AT WMMP

For the first time since August’s Oxford 250, the Pro All Stars Series North teams went back on the road, making their final trip of the year to New Hampshire. The fourteenth race of the 2018 schedule was a 150-lap bout around White Mountain Motorsports Park, part of the track’s season finale weekend that also included a long-distance Late Model race the following day.

With five races remaining on the schedule, five drivers still remained in contention for the championship, with two-time champion DJ Shaw leading the standings over reigning champion Travis Benjamin. While the race was largely down to Shaw and Benjamin, Derek Griffith, Garrett Hall and Ben Rowe remained within reach if something drastic were to befall the leaders.

The end of weekly racing at most of the region’s tracks helped to bolster the starting field, with 27 cars in the pits for Saturday’s feature. Oxford Plains Speedway contributed recently-crowned champion Gabe Brown and fellow rookie Austin Teras, as well as Tim Brackett and Dennis Spencer, Jr. Beech Ridge Motor Speedway drivers Trevor Sanborn, David Oliver and Wayne Helliwell, Jr. made appearances at WMMP as well. Wiscasset Speedway points leader Nick Hinkley took advantage of an off weekend at Wiscasset for his first PASS attempt of the year. Jeremy Davis opted to race close to home rather than tow south for the GSPSS event at Monadnock. Also returning to PASS competition was Dillon Moltz; the 2017 ACT Tour runner-up was back in his Brackett Motorsports entry. Three drivers—DJ Shaw, Joey Polewarczyk, Jr. and Nick Sweet—were also entered in the next day’s Late Model feature.

Moltz’ return to the series was almost cut short, as the engine on the #5M let go during practice. While Moltz and his team swapped engines, Derek Griffith, Trevor Sanborn and Travis Benjamin collected heat victories. Sanborn lined up first on the grid alongside Johnny Clark, with Derek Ramstrom and Ben Rowe behind them. Moltz lined up shotgun on the field with a fresh engine, having been required to scuff in his tires before the race.

From the drop of the green flag, Sanborn and Clark battled for the race lead, with Johnny Clark taking charge fifty laps in. The six-time PASS North champion was nowhere near the title discussion in 2018; the WMMP event was only Clark’s eighth PASS race of the season. A win would be Clark’s first since 2016. For fifty laps, Clark went unchallenged for the top spot as the veteran looked to break the drought.

Looming behind Clark, however, was another multi-time champion who had experienced his share of struggles. Ben Rowe had been winless since 2016 as well, winning the second race of the season in a three-wide thriller against none other than Johnny Clark. Rowe had often struggled to stay on the lead lap in 2018, with only two top five finishes to his credit. At the Oxford 250, Rowe and his Richard Moody Racing team debuted a new car with a Terry Senneker chassis. Rowe’s friend Bubba Pollard steered him toward the Senneker car, and as Pollard went on to win his first attempt at the 250, Rowe ran with the leaders in the closing stages, looking as good as he had all year.

Rowe was back in the Senneker car, and he was chasing down Johnny Clark with fifty laps remaining. With 42 to go, Rowe took the lead for the first time, swapping the top spot with Clark until he was able to break free on a lap-123 restart.

Behind Rowe, Joey Pole dispatched Clark for second in the closing laps, making a late charge for the lead. Pole came close, but he was unable to get past Rowe for the race lead. Ben Rowe took the checkered flag for his first PASS North win of 2018 and his first in nearly two years.

Joey Polewarczyk, Jr. finished second in the first leg of his two-day doubleheader. Behind Joey Pole, Dillon Moltz finished an impressive third after battling his way from 27th and last on the starting grid. Johnny Clark faded to fourth at the end. Gabe Brown, who turned sixteen days before the race, recorded his first top-five finish in PASS competition.

Brown’s mentor, DJ Shaw, finished sixth with Massachusetts’ Craig Weinstein finishing a career-best seventh. Maine’s Reid Lanpher finished a quiet eighth, with Derek Griffith and Derek Ramstrom rounding out the top ten.

Mike Hopkins, fresh off a win in the Boss Hogg 150 at Wiscasset Speedway, finished 11th with Jeremy Davis 12th. Travis Benjamin was thirteenth. Garrett Hall finished a lap down in 16th. Polesitter Trevor Sanborn was a DNF in 17th, suffering tire issues late in the going. Austin Teras, Wayne Helliwell, veteran Glen Luce and Tim Brackett were also among those who retired before the checkered flag fell.

Despite finishing just outside the top five, DJ Shaw was able to extend his points lead over Travis Benjamin, with the gap widening over third-place Derek Griffith. Garrett Hall sits within striking distance of Griffith, with Rowe’s win still leaving him well back of fourth in the standings. Below Rowe, Reid Lanpher and Glen Luce have comfortable grasps on their positions, with Mike Hopkins battling Nick Sweet for eighth. Only ten drivers have started more than half the races this season.

The PASS North schedule marches on with the second of three consecutive weeks of racing, as the teams head to Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in Scarborough, Maine. Beech Ridge regulars have won the last three PASS races at the tricky oval, with Reid Lanpher winning in July, Curtis Gerry winning in April and Garrett Hall winning last year’s fall race in a close duel with Ben Rowe. With four more races on the schedule, Travis Benjamin will be looking for some good fortune to close in on DJ Shaw for the title battle.

WMMP LATE MODELS: MACDONALD LEADS ACT TOP-THREE SWEEP IN BLUE & GOLD 250

White Mountain Motorsports Park continued its 25th-anniversary celebration on Sunday with the NAPA Blue & Gold 250, a special $10,000-to-win Late Model feature. With a huge payday on the line, a long list of ACT Tour competitors joined the track’s weekly challengers looking to steal the prize from the weekly regulars. DJ Shaw, Joey Polewarczyk, Jr. and Canadians Jonathan Bouvrette and Patrick Laperle were among some of the non-regulars looking to drop in and claim the big check.

Drama kicked off in the qualifying heats to set the thirty-car field. Joey Pole, Stephen Donahue and Bryan Mason won the three heats, with ACT Tour points leader Scott Payea bumped into a consi after failing post-qualifying tech. Stacy Cahoon and Mike Kenison won the two consis, and this time Tour challenger Eddie MacDonald and track regular Jerry Lesage were bounced to the B-feature after inspection violations. Jesse Switser won the 15-lap B-feature, with MacDonald racing his way in and Lesage loading up early.

Canadians Alex Guénette and Jonathan Bouvrette led the field to green, with Guénette leading early until Quinny Welch marched to the front. Welch, who started third, dominated the early portion of the race, holding off a challenge from Joey Pole before yielding to Jonathan Bouvrette. Welch took the lead back shortly before halfway, and was in control with just under a hundred laps to go when he pitted for tires under caution.

Nick Sweet assumed the lead after Welch’s pit stop, and led briefly before having to fight off a challenge from Scott Payea. The two ACT Tour champions battled for several laps, with Payea overcoming Sweet and asserting himself at the head of the field. With Quinny Welch struggling to carve through traffic on new rubber, it seemed that Payea was en route to a big payday.

But Eddie MacDonald, from the 25th starting position, had other plans. MacDonald caught Payea and made the pass for the lead with 57 laps remaining. From there, “The Outlaw” went unchallenged en route to the victory. MacDonald had never before won in an ACT car at White Mountain Motorsports Park, but the veteran driver came out on top with the win in the NAPA Blue & Gold 250.

Jimmy Hebert finished second, marking a 1-2 finish for cars built by Dale Shaw Race Cars and giving some momentum to the two challengers for the ACT Tour points race. Scott Payea held on for third, with Joey Polewarczyk, Jr. fourth. Thunder Road regular and two-time ACT Tour winner Jason Corliss finished fifth. Nick Sweet was sixth, with Jonathan Bouvrette seventh, best among the Canadian visitors. Quinny Welch battled back for a disappointing eighth-place finish. Scott Dragon was ninth, with Canadian Mathieu Kingsbury rounding out the top ten.

Max Dolliver, in perhaps the longest race in his brief Late Model career, finished 11th in the Sullivan Family Racing #0NH. Polesitter Alex Guénette faded to 14th at the end, ahead of Thompson and Seekonk regular Mark Jenison. Patrick Laperle, always a contender in big events, was an unsatisfying 17th in the field.

Quinny Welch was easily best-in-class of the weekly regulars, with Stacy Cahoon 16th and Stephen Donahue 21st. B-feature winner Jesse Switser was 23rd, and Oren Remick was 25th. DJ Shaw was 28th in the field, one position ahead of Dave Farrington, Jr., who made a rare Late Model start while leaving the Super Late Model at home.

MacDonald’s win in the big feature tied a bow on the 25th-anniversary season of the Avery family’s quarter-mile oval in northern New Hampshire, a season that weathered more than a few rainouts and forced two touring features into rain dates in July and August. With luck, weather will be kinder for the track’s 2019 season.

NORTH OF THE BORDER: BLENKHORN WINS SEASON FINALE, BUTCHER TAKES THE CHAMPIONSHIP

The Parts for Trucks Pro Stock Tour brought its season to a close Saturday with the Dartmouth Dodge 200 at Scotia Speedworld in Halifax, NS. Though Cole Butcher had virtually sealed up the title entering the race, a furious battle for second on back still had to be settled.

Dylan Blenkhorn took the feature win, his fourth of the year and his second straight to close the season. Shawn Turple finished second. With his third place finish, Cole Butcher clinched his second Pro Stock Tour title in six seasons. Butcher missed one race to focus on his entry in the Oxford 250, but made up for it with four wins and top-five finishes in ten of his eleven starts. Blenkhorn’s win propelled him to second in the standings ahead of Craig Slaunwhite and defending champion Turple. Waylon Farrell of Newfoundland was awarded Rookie of the Year.

While the Pro Stock Tour season is over, Butcher’s season may go on a bit longer. As a participant in the Kulwicki Driver Development Program, Butcher’s performance in whatever races he competes in this fall could improve his standings in the coveted scholarship competition.

WEEKLY RACING: WISCASSET & SEEKONK SET THE STAGE FOR SEASON FINALES

Wiscasset Speedway’s Late Model Sportsman teams were in action Saturday night, with Chris Thorne picking up his second feature win of the year and his second straight at Wiscasset. Andrew McLaughlin finished third to hang onto his points lead, though Thorne was able to shave off some of McLaughlin’s advantage. The Late Model Sportsman teams have one points race left in two weeks, while Wiscasset’s Pro Stocks will wrap up their season this weekend.

Everett’s Auto Parts Fan Appreciation Night marked the second-to-last evening of weekly racing at Seekonk Speedway. Vinnie Arrenegado earned his first Late Model win of the year with former ACT regular Mark Hudson finishing a strong second. Ryan Kuhn and Ryan Lineham finished fifth and fourth, allowing Lineham to gain a bit on points leader Kuhn. In the Pro Stocks, David Darling showed championship form with his fourth feature win of 2018, with Todd Annarummo and Ryan Vanasse rounding out the podium. Jake Johnson’s fourth-place run was not enough to make any ground on Darling’s points lead.

NEXT ON THE SCHEDULE

New Hampshire Motor Speedway takes center stage in the New England short-track world for the second time this season, with Saturday’s Full Throttle Fall Weekend. The Musket 250 for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour is at center stage, along with the first American race for the NASCAR Pinty’s Series from Canada.

The Pro All Stars Series North teams will make their third and final stop of the year at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway on Sunday afternoon, with DJ Shaw looking to hold onto his points advantage over Travis Benjamin.

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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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