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Gary Smith wins bucket-list Beech Ridge race, Star and Seekonk crown champs: 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.

PASS NORTH: VETERAN SMITH MARKS PERSONAL MILESTONE WITH BEECH RIDGE WIN

For the third time this season, Beech Ridge Motor Speedway welcomed the Pro All Stars Series North teams for a close-to-home challenge. Sunday’s PASS 150 would close out the 70th year of racing at the flat oval in Scarborough, Maine. With the track’s weekly championships already awarded, many of the Beech Ridge Pro Series stars threw their hats into the PASS ring for the weekend, with the other weekly series hosting special season-ending features to make for a full afternoon of feature racing.

Sitting atop the points standings with four races remaining were two-time champions DJ Shaw and Travis Benjamin, each looking for a third title. Shaw’s consistency and two wins had kept him well ahead of Benjamin, who only spotted Shaw by two top-ten finishes and one victory. Derek Griffith, an early-season favorite to snare his first title, was a distant third, needing a lot of luck to close the gap.

Twenty-nine teams made up the entry list for the 150-lapper, with July Beech Ridge winner Reid Lanpher hoping to score a second PASS win in 2018 at his home track. 2018 Beech Ridge Pro Series champion Curtis Gerry was looking for a win as well, aiming to rebound from a crash in August’s Oxford 250 that nearly derailed his track title hopes. Gerry led a strong contingent of weekly Beech Ridge competitors, including the top six in track points as well as Brandon Barker, Donnie Colpritt and Wayne Helliwell, Jr. Beech Ridge graduate John Peters returned home with hopes of a solid performance. Tim and TJ Brackett brought friends from the weekly ranks of Oxford Plains Speedway. A surprising addition to the list was Jeff Taylor, with the veteran racer and chassis builder entering his second race of the year after a strong early run in the Oxford 250. The long-haul award went to NASCAR spotter Derek Kneeland; the Sebago, Maine native flew from Richmond, Virginia to compete in the Dale Shaw Race Cars #90.

Lanpher, Nick Sweet and TJ Brackett won the three heat races to set the starting lineup. Sweet and Brackett were lined up at the head of the field, with 2018 winner Lanpher starting eleventh. Curt Gerry, who had been fast in practice on old tires all afternoon, ran poorly in his heat, finishing last and starting 27th in the field. Derek Griffith was the best of the title contenders, starting 12th, with Shaw 14th and Benjamin 16th at the drop of the green.

TJ Brackett beat Nick Sweet on the first lap to set the early pace, but within a few laps John Peters ran down the two-time Oxford Plains Speedway champion to take the lead for himself. Peters, whose season seemed in doubt after a grinding wreck in Oxford 250 qualifying, had already demonstrated his team’s resilience with a runner-up finish in the GSPSS Star Classic 100 two weeks before. For thirty laps, Peters was in the zone, confidently leading the field as the points challengers tried to work their way to the front.

Peters’ next challenge came not from the PASS ranks, though, but from a weekly regular. As track regulars go, Gary Smith had a long haul to Beech Ridge, towing in from his native Bangor. The veteran racer was a key party in the Northeast Pro Stock Association, a touring series that emerged in 1996 after the death of the ACT Pro Stock Tour and dissolved in 2001 with the emergence of PASS. He had been a part-time PASS competitor for years. But for the past two seasons, the 62-year-old had been competing weekly at Beech Ridge, searching for a bucket-list victory at a track where he had never won, not even in a weekly division.

With 37 laps complete, Smith powered past Peters to take the race lead. While Peters tried to fend off charges by heat winner Reid Lanpher and a strong Jeff Taylor, Smith literally drove off into the sunset, lapping traffic and building an advantage over second-place Taylor. Despite a few opportune yellow flags, Smith had lapped traffic in his pocket to keep Taylor from restarting too close.

With about twenty laps left, the battle on the track was for second place, with Reid Lanpher challenging Jeff Taylor for the runner-up spot. Lanpher got past Taylor, with Taylor charging past in traffic. In the heat of the battle, Taylor and Lanpher made contact, with Lanpher spinning in turn three. But Lanpher merged into traffic, the yellow flag was not thrown, and Taylor lost an opportunity to make up ground on the race leader.

It was as close as anyone would get in the closing laps. Gary Smith led the final 113 circuits unchallenged en route to his first career win at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway. The win gave the Maine veteran a win at all six modern-era paved tracks in the state of Maine. The win was also Smith’s second in PASS North competition; he previously won at Lee (NH) USA Speedway back in 2011.

An apologetic Jeff Taylor, contrite about spinning Lanpher in the closing laps, finished a distant second. Despite spinning one of his customers, Taylor had a lot to smile about; his Distance Racing Products chassis had swept the top-five and made up much of the top ten. Taylor’s second-place finish came in only his second race of 2018.

Curtis Gerry, who started deep in the field and was nearly lapped by a mid-race caution flag, charged forward in the second half of the race to finish an impressive third. Garrett Hall, last year’s winner in a shootout with Ben Rowe, was fourth. Travis Benjamin, who struggled in the middle of the field for the first half of the race, ended his own late-race surge in fifth place.

Weekly racers Donnie Colpritt, Jr. and Trevor Sanborn were sixth and seventh, ahead of Oxford regular Alan Tardiff in eighth. Reid Lanpher, after his late-race spin, was ninth, with Brandon Barker rounding out the top ten. Dan Winter and Wayne Helliwell, Jr. were the last two cars on the lead lap in 11th and 12th.

Early leader John Peters finished a lap down in 13th, having been spun from the top five midway through the feature. Derek Griffith was 16th, the latest in a streak of merely-average runs that kept him from mounting a challenge for the points lead. After flaunting his new Senneker chassis for two races, Ben Rowe never showed speed at Beech Ridge, finishing a lap back in 17th. Rowe’s father Mike, second in the Beech Ridge track standings in 2018 and a feature winner only weeks before, struggled through the race and finished two laps back in 21st.

Where was points leader DJ Shaw? Shaw was racing mid-pack ahead of the leader near the halfway point when contact from J.T. Thurlow sent Shaw into the backstretch wall off turn two. Shaw was able to pit for repairs, but the black #60 was uncompetitive the rest of the afternoon. Shaw finished two laps down in 22nd. Travis Benjamin’s early struggles looked like they would minimize the pain, but Benjamin’s fifth-place finish carved a chunk off of Shaw’s points advantage. Shaw’s other car struggled as well, with Derek Kneeland finishing three laps off the pace in 26th, the last car running.

Shaw’s misfortune and Benjamin’s solid run did not shake up the points standings, but Benjamin now sits only 16 points back of the 2014 and 2016 PASS champion with three races left on the schedule. Derek Griffith finds himself in a battle for third in points, with Garrett Hall only 13 points behind him in fourth. Ben Rowe sits alone in fifth, with Reid Lanpher a distant and lonely sixth. Behind Lanpher, only two drivers in the standings, eighth-place Nick Sweet and fifteenth-place John Peters, were entered at Beech Ridge.

The PASS North teams have a short turnaround after a Sunday-afternoon race, with the next event running Friday evening at Vermont’s Thunder Road International Speedbowl. The PASS North teams are racing as part of the annual Vermont Milk Bowl, with their Friday feature preceding Sunday’s big race.

EXTRACURRICULAR EVENTS: KNEELAND GETS LAPS IN PASS MOD, THEETGE FINISHES ON PODIUM IN PINTY’S SERIES RACE

Derek Kneeland pulled double-duty on Sunday afternoon on his visit to Beech Ridge Motor Speedway. In addition to racing in the PASS North feature, Kneeland took the wheel of a PASS Modified as well, racing the #10 for rookie Kate Re. At fourteen, Re is not old enough to race at Beech Ridge, a requirement that has seen Trevor Sanborn and Austin Teras wheel the #10 entry this season. Kneeland started deep in the pack but finished a solid sixth in the feature.

The NASCAR Pinty’s Series was a part of last week’s Full Throttle Fall Weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, marking the Canadian touring series’ first visit to the United States for a points race. With the majority of the NPS schedule focusing on road courses and short tracks, most of the drivers had never made laps at NHMS or any larger track. One driver who did have plenty of experience was Donald Theetge. Theetge, seventh in points, is a veteran of the Série ACT, and raced multiple times in the ACT Invitational at NHMS. Theetge put his expertise to work Saturday, finishing third in a race won by Kevin Lacroix.

WEEKLY RACING: SANDS CLAIMS FIRST LATE MODEL TITLE AT STAR, SEEKONK CLOSES OUT 2018

Wiscasset Speedway hosted its first season finale of 2018 with the Pro Stocks closing out their season with the Group 1 classes. Andy Saunders won the final feature of the year over Kevin Douglass and Dave Farrington, Jr., but fourth-place Nick Hinkley clinched the title with three feature wins in 2018. Farrington, who struggled all year at Beech Ridge, finished fifth in track points with top five results in all of his appearances at Wiscasset. Wiscasset’s Group 2 teams, led by the Late Model Sportsmen, will conclude their season this weekend.

Star Speedway in Epping, NH closed out its weekly racing last weekend as well, marking the first championship honors for the track’s new-for-2018 Late Model division. Charlie Rose held off late-season arrival Max Dolliver for his second win of the season, bookending the year with a win in the season opener as well. Jay Sands finished eighth and secured the first Late Model track championship for Star’s newest division. Track owner Bobby Webber, Jr. continues to work with ACT director Cris Michaud to bring the ACT Late Model Tour back to Star in 2019. The quarter-mile oval has two more events on the 2018 calendar, with the N.E. Strictly Stock Nationals this weekend and the annual Halloween Howler enduro in late October.

Seekonk Speedway also called it a season for its weekly competitors. Ryan Lineham won the night’s Late Model feature, his second of the year, but he was unable to dethrone Ryan Kuhn for the track championship. The Pro Stock feature was interrupted by a big crash between Dylan Estrella and Mike Mitchell that ended with Mitchell’s car airborne and heavily damaged forward of the firewall. The wreck also collected Jake Johnson, who was unable to battle David Darling for the Pro Stock title. Nick Johnson went on to claim his first feature win at Seekonk, with Darling finishing second and clinching the track championship. Seekonk still has an active schedule for 2018, with the annual D.A.V. Fall Classic next weekend as well as the PASS North and Tri-Track Open Modified Tour season finale weekend in late October.

NEXT ON THE SCHEDULE

All eyes this weekend are on Thunder Road International Speedbowl in Barre, Vermont. The Pro All Stars Series North teams raced Friday night in an early-weekend bout under the lights. Sunday is the 56th Vermont Milk Bowl, open to ACT-rules Late Models, with qualifying for the big race to be held on Saturday. While not a points race, the $10,000-and-a-kiss-to-win feature will draw heavily from the region’s touring teams.

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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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