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Benjamin wins, but falls short to Shaw in PASS title race: 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: BENJAMIN RIDES LATE CHARGE TO SEEKONK WIN, BUT SHAW HANGS ON FOR THIRD TITLE

A brisk autumn day in southern Massachusetts was the setting for the Pro All Stars Series North season finale last Sunday. While the Maine-based tour had celebrated its championship battle at its home track of Oxford Plains Speedway since 2011, a mid-season schedule adjustment added a season-ending 150-lap event at Seekonk Speedway, a track absent from the PASS North schedule since 2012. The PASS Super Late Models would compete in a double feature with the Tri-Track Open Modified Series as the open-wheel all-star tour ended its own four-race season with the “Haunted Hundred” feature.

New England’s race fans would not end the season without enduring another threat of rain, though, and with heavy storms forecasted for Saturday, officials opted to nudge the race to the planned raindate of Sunday. Residual showers Sunday morning required a drying of the track, but by afternoon the sun had peeked out to keep the track and fans warm.

Since June, the championship race had been in the hands of five drivers contesting the full eighteen-race schedule. Ben Rowe, despite a late-season win, had struggled through misfortune most of the year and sat out of the running in fifth place. Derek Griffith, a two-time winner, had slipped to fourth in the standings, with winless Garrett Hall slipping past to claim third in his first full-time PASS outing. At the top of the standings were two two-time champions each vying for a third. Reigning champion Travis Benjamin was the challenger entering the Seekonk event, with an opportunity to secure his third title at a track that was special to him. However, he would have to top DJ Shaw, who had beaten Benjamin to win in PASS’ 2012 visit to the Cement Palace.

Twenty cars were staged in the pits outside turns three and four, with PASS semi-regulars Reid Lanpher and Nick Sweet joined by Oxford track champion Gabe Brown. Wayne Helliwell, Jr., who won Seekonk’s annual D.A.V. Fall Classic a few weeks prior, was looking for another Seekonk win to close out the year. Derek Ramstrom returned to PASS in his home state, with Ray Christian III joining the tour after winning the Granite State Pro Stock Series season finale the week before. The familiar faces of PASS would also have to battle some of Seekonk’s own weekly Pro Stock challengers: six-time track champion David Darling led the local charge, along with Ryan Vanasse, Craig Weinstein, Bobby Pelland III and “Radical” Rick Martin. An additional long-haul contestant was Zane Zeiner; the Pennsylvania native brought his Pro Stock along while he competed in the Haunted Hundred.

Familiar faces dominated the heats, with Derek Griffith, Nick Sweet and Travis Benjamin each winning one of the qualifiers. Coupled with DJ Shaw’s issues in the first heat, Benjamin’s win closed the points gap to twenty entering the feature. Shaw would roll off 19th, but only needed to finish better than eleventh to earn his third PASS North championship.

With the usual winner’s handicaps in effect, Gabe Brown lined up alongside Craig Weinstein to bring the field to green. Brown led early, but Weinstein and fellow Seekonk regular Ryan Vanasse quickly took the top two spots, driving away from Garrett Hall and the rest of the field. Weinstein was not a complete unknown to the PASS circle; since 2009 he had recorded 11 starts racing on the big tour, some in a Dale Shaw-prepared car, while focusing on weekly competition at Seekonk. His best result had been a seventh-place run earlier in the year. But for the first fifty laps, Weinstein was in control, leading and lapping into the tail end of the field.

Contact with lapped traffic sent Weinstein spinning from the race lead, though, handing the lead to Ryan Vanasse. While the other Seekonk stalwarts made pit stops for adjustments, Vanasse looked to be in control of his own destiny, stretching his advantage through the middle stages of the race and rarely facing a challenge.

As the field bunched up under late yellow flags, though, Vanasse found Travis Benjamin breathing down his neck. Benjamin had worked from thirteenth at the start to the runner-up spot. The two-time champion claimed one of his earliest victories at Seekonk, and if he had any hope of earning a third PASS North title, winning at Seekonk was practically a necessity.

Benjamin pressured Vanasse in the closing laps, the two trading the lead back and forth before slight contact upset Vanasse’s #11. Benjamin pounced on the lead, taking the top spot for good with 22 laps to go. From there, Benjamin drove away, leaving Vanasse to hold off a hard-charging pack of PASS staples for the runner-up spot.

Reid Lanpher, who weathered a run-in with DJ Shaw in the heats and made an early pit stop for adjustments, took over second in the closing laps, looking as if he might run down Benjamin. But the defending champion held on, crossing the line first for his second win of the season and his first since Star Speedway in May. The win was the former NASCAR Busch North competitor’s twelfth victory in PASS North competition, and his sixth since joining Peter Petit’s team in 2016.

Lanpher, winner of the U.S. Pro Stock/Super Late Model Nationals in July at Seekonk, finished second, with Nick Sweet an impressive third only weeks after his first PASS win at Thunder Road International Speedbowl in Vermont. Curtis Gerry finished fourth in an unexpected coda to his 2018 season. Derek Griffith, after weathering a tough run at Oxford two weeks prior, finished fifth to end his local season on a high note.

Ryan Vanasse ultimately finished sixth, best in class among the Seekonk regulars despite fading late. DJ Shaw finished seventh after a late pit stop. Wayne Helliwell, Jr. rebounded for an eighth-place finish after late contact sent him spinning from third place. Early frontrunner Garrett Hall and Derek Ramstrom rounded out the top ten.

Ray Christian III, Rick Martin and Gabe Brown rounded out the lead-lap finishers, with 2018 Seekonk champ Dave Darling struggling to a 14th-place finish, two laps back of the leaders. Bobby Pelland and Nicholas Johnson joined Darling two laps back, with Zane Zeiner finishing three laps in arrears. Early leader Craig Weinstein’s day only got worse after he spun from the top spot; a flat tire drew the caution later on, and a late-race incident ended his day 35 laps shy of the finish. Aside from Vanasse and Weinstein, the Seekonk regulars were surprisingly out of the hunt most of the afternoon; it bears noting that Seekonk’s weekly competition does not run on the Hoosier tires favored by PASS, so the difference in tire may have accounted for some of the struggles.

Veterans Gary Smith and Ben Rowe were out early, with Rowe drawing the first yellow of the day when his car suffered rear-end problems that resulted in a spin with only three laps complete.

Despite Benjamin’s winning performance, DJ Shaw’s seventh-place run was enough to earn him the 2018 PASS North championship. Shaw’s title came on the back of two wins and 11 top-five finishes in 18 starts, with only two finishes worse than ninth all year. Shaw’s celebration was his second of the month, as he and his wife welcomed their second child in October. Interestingly, Shaw’s previous titles came in 2014 and 2016, making him an early favorite for the 2020 championship.

Travis Benjamin finished second by eight points. Garrett Hall, in his first full-season PASS campaign, finished third in points despite going winless for the season. Derek Griffith finished fourth in the standings; while success early in the year pegged him as a title favorite, a summer slump kept him just out of contention. Ben Rowe ended the season in fifth place, a late-season win the only highlight of a difficult year.

Reid Lanpher made the most of a part-time program, finishing sixth in points with 12 top-ten finishes in 13 starts. Nick Sweet was seventh, struggling through most of the season but scoring a win and a top-three finish in the last few starts of the year. Glen Luce, last year’s points runner-up, went winless in twelve starts in 2018, admitting late in the year that he had struggled with Lyme Disease through the middle of the season. Gabe Brown, in addition to his Oxford track championship, was ninth in points with five top-ten finishes in ten starts. Mike Hopkins rounded out the top ten in the standings. Veteran PASS competitor Johnny Clark, who ran part-time, finished outside the top ten in points for the first time since the series’ first season in 2001.

While some teams will compete in the last PASS National Championship event of 2018, this marks the end of the series’ longest schedule since 2005. The teams now have a long offseason ahead to prepare for the season opener, most likely at Thompson Speedway’s Icebreaker in April.

ROUNDING OUT THE SCHEDULE: DARLING WINS SLM-MOD MATCH RACE, RYANS DOMINATE LATE MODEL 50-LAPPER

Despite David Darling’s struggles in Sunday’s PASS feature, the reigning Seekonk Speedway Pro Stock champion still came away with a victory. With the Tri-Track Open Modified Series on hand for the Haunted Hundred, Darling (in his #52 Pro Stock) faced off against Modified racer Les Hinckley (in his #06 Modified) in an old-school match race. Darling defeated Hinckley in the special event.

Seekonk Speedway’s Late Models closed out the season with a special 50-lap event of their own. Ryan Kuhn was untouchable early on in the feature, but as Kuhn’s tires wore down, Thompson Speedway regular Ryan Morgan gave chase. Morgan and Kuhn made late contact, with Morgan taking the lead and Kuhn slipping in a last-lap bid to take back the lead. Morgan won with Kuhn second and Vinnie Arrenegado, Jr. third.

Russ Hersey, who finished 13th in the Late Model feature, was not so fortune in his Modified entry, missing the field for the Haunted Hundred after crashing in his heat. Hersey found redemption anyway, winning a 20-lap non-qualifiers feature before the main event.

Hinckley followed up his match race loss with a sixth-place run in the Haunted Hundred, with Zane Zeiner finishing 21st after competing in the PASS feature. The Haunted Hundred was won by Matt Hirschman, who bested Ronnie Silk to secure the championship in the all-star series.

NEXT ON THE SCHEDULE

Sunday’s PASS season finale marked the end of New England’s short track season, as only special thrill shows and year-ending banquets remain for the area’s tracks and tours. Congratulations to this season’s many champions and winners, and best of luck to those who plan to represent New England’s racing community throughout the offseason.

While the Update will resume on a weekly basis in 2019, Short Track Scene will look back at this year’s touring action over the coming months, in anticipation of the new season.

Please consider supporting Short Track Scene’s at-the-track team as a STS Patron. Check out our Patreon page and see how you can get involved!

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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