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Granite State Pro Stock Series

New England Notebook: Barker takes second straight Lee GSPSS win, PASS rained out at Speedway 51

Jimmy Renfrew, Jr. (00) battles Joe Squeglia (03) late in the going at Lee USA Speedway. (Jeff Brown photo)

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: BARKER DOMINATES FOR SECOND STRAIGHT LEE VICTORY

For the second time in 2019, the Granite State Pro Stock Series helped to kick off the season for a Norm Wrenn-owned race track. This time, the ninth-year Pro Stock tour was one of the headline divisions for Lee USA Speedway’s “May Madness” weekend.

After years of pushing back the track’s early-April openers in search of drier grounds and a weather-free weekend, the New Hampshire oval opted for a mid-May opening weekend in 2019. The inaugural “May Madness” was a two-day racing card with practice and heats scheduled for Saturday and consis and features for Sunday. Saturday’s heats were bolstered by feature races for Pro-4 Modifieds and the visiting Northeastern Midget Association (NEMA). Sunday’s features included local events for Lee’s Late Model Sportsman class and Mini Stocks, as well as twin 50-lap features for the Valenti Modified Racing Series and the headlining GSPSS race.

Twenty cars took up residence in the pit area behind Lee’s turn-four grandstands. Among the new faces returning for the second race of the season were Rhode Island’s Bobby Pelland and rookies Jacob Perry and Jake Matheson. Jeremy Davis, who weathered a rough weekend at Star Speedway in the previous week’s PASS showdown, hoped for redemption at one of his favorite tracks. Joe Squeglia, who finished on the podium at Star, was back for more local action with a repaired #03. Jacob Dore, who opened the season with wins spotting for DJ Shaw in PASS competition, returned to the driver’s seat of his #05. Todd Stone, Ryan Green and Jeremy Harclerode all made their first GSPSS attempts of the year. A surprise attendee was ACT rookie Ryan Kuhn; with an off-week for the ACT Late Models, Kuhn rolled out a new Pro Stock for his season debut. Car owner Wright Pearson had two cars in the pits, a white #16 for regular driver Tom Rosati and a black #16 for Beech Ridge regular Brandon Barker, who won in the series’ last visit to Lee in October.

The week off was not enough time for one driver to make the race; Mike O’Sullivan, who suffered engine issues in the Claremont opener, had not been able to get his powerplant back together in time. Instead of borrowing a car, he sat out the race, marking the second season the 2017 GSPSS champion would be unable to seek a third title. Matt Frahm was also a no-show after appearing on the early entry list.

Joey Doiron again set fast time in qualifying, but with a rules change after Claremont, the Back of the Pack Challenge would be offered to the polesitter after the field redraw. Doiron and defending champion Devin O’Connell won Saturday night’s heats, with the redraw moving Ryan Kuhn and his new car to the pole with Jimmy Renfrew, Jr. outside. Third-place starter Brandon Barker left the track after qualifying to run his own #88 in Beech Ridge’s Saturday-night feature.

Sunday morning brought two late entries to Lee. Mike Mitchell, after a seventh-place run in Saturday evening’s weekly action at Seekonk, came north for the GSPSS race. Ben Rowe and his Richard Moody Racing team took advantage of a PASS rainout, bringing their ABC-bodied yellow #4 south from Maine. Both drivers would be added to the tail end of the field, after putting a few laps on their tires in a scuff session before feature races kicked off.

Cloudy skies and a threat of rain elsewhere in the state burned off by the early afternoon, and by the time the GSPSS teams took to the track to cap off the day, the skies were clear and blue for the green flag. Ryan Kuhn jumped out to an early lead, with Barker settling into second and Joey Doiron third. As Kuhn worked through lapped traffic, Barker carved into his advantage, ultimately leading Doiron past the black #72 for the race lead.

Doiron kept the pressure on his former Beech Ridge teammate as the leaders lapped nearly into the top ten. But just before halfway, Doiron pulled high on the backstretch, coming to a stop in turn three with a flat right-front tire. The yellow flag flew, and Doiron was assessed a sort of double penalty. The Claremont winner was docked a lap for intentionally bringing out the caution flag. But because the lap was the result of a penalty, Doiron would not be able to get it back through the free-pass system. For the rest of the race, Doiron would watch cars waved on from the rear of the field to get their laps back, unless he could race his way onto the lead lap. With the Modified teams occupying the infield pit road, and the GSPSS teams forced to pit outside the track, a green-flag stop would surely have been even more costly.

Doiron’s trouble moved Jeremy Davis into the runner-up slot with Ryan Kuhn, Jimmy Renfrew, Jr. and Ryan Green rounding out the top five. Kuhn’s strong run hit a stumbling block as he was sent for a spin through the turn-one grass. Meanwhile, Ben Rowe and Mike Mitchell, after starting shotgun on the field, moved their way into the top pack. However, Mitchell’s climb was slowed by a lazy spin off turn four that brought out a yellow flag with only 49 laps remaining.

On the restart, Ray Christian III and Ryan Green made contact in turn one, with Christian’s car taking the bulk of the damage and Joe Squeglia spinning to avoid the wreck. RC III returned from the pits with the left side of his car bandaged by red duct tape. What looked like the setup for a good points day, with points leader Joey Doiron trapped a lap down, shifted into an afternoon of survival.

Barker and Davis rolled to the green flag for what would be the final restart of the afternoon. As Barker and Davis set sail, the challenges of managing tires and equipment for 150 laps began to surface throughout the field. Ben Rowe, a long-race veteran, rose to third behind Davis. Jimmy Renfrew, Jr. faded from the top five, eventually pulling off the track with handling problems with 14 laps remaining. Devin O’Connell, who had clung to the top ten with some front-end damage, dropped off the pace late.

But out front, Barker was in command and Jeremy Davis could only watch as the black #16 carved through lapped traffic. In his fourth GSPSS start, Brandon Barker coasted to his second career GSPSS win and his second straight at Lee USA Speedway. The long stretches of green-flag racing had allowed Barker to expertly manage his tires.

Jeremy Davis finished second, admitting that he had been testing a different setup package that did not pan out in the closing laps. Ben Rowe was third after patiently working from the back of the field. Mike Mitchell crossed the line fourth, placing two Davis Chassis Works cars in the top four. Ryan Kuhn fought back from his midrace spin to round out the top five for a career-best GSPSS finish.

Joe Squeglia was sixth after struggling all afternoon with his #03, while Ryan Green finished seventh for a career-best effort of his own. Luke Hinkley finished eighth, the first car a lap down. Ray Christian III soldiered home in ninth with a bruised #93CT entry. Tenth was Joey Doiron, who ran in the top pack all afternoon despite being a lap behind the leaders.

Devin O’Connell finished eleventh, only a few feet from losing a second lap in the closing stages of the race. Dennis Spencer, Jr. managed a 12th-place finish. Josh King, Jake Matheson and Todd Stone were all two or more laps behind the leaders, with Bobby Pelland the last driver to cross the line. Tom Rosati and Jacob Dore, who had fought electrical problems for much of the weekend, were off the track before fifty laps were complete.

With two races complete, Joey Doiron sits tied atop the points standings with Luke Hinkley, with Ray Christian III six points back in third. Devin O’Connell and Jake Matheson round out the early top five. Poor finishes have left Dennis Spencer, Jr., rookie Jacob Perry and Jimmy Renfrew, Jr. deep in the standings while Brandon Barker sits in the top ten on the strength of his win. A few weeks from now, the full-time drivers should have a clearer view of the top.

The GSPSS teams and drivers only had a short week to regroup, with their next race Saturday evening at Monadnock Speedway in Winchester, N.H. The western New Hampshire quarter-mile will open its season with a race that was originally slated for the beleaguered New London-Waterford Speedbowl in Connecticut. Among the entries is 2016 points runner-up DJ Shaw, who will look for his sixth career GSPSS win before heading to Vermont for Sunday’s PASS feature.  

PASS NORTH: SPEEDWAY 51 POSTPONED FOR RAIN, RESCHEDULED FOR AUGUST

Teams reeling after the fender-to-fender action at Star Speedway were treated to a weekend off thanks to Mother Nature. With a threatening forecast promising rain for the northernmost reaches of the Granite State, PASS and Speedway 51 opted to call off Sunday’s race early, making the call late Saturday afternoon.

The NAPA Spectacular PASS 151 has been rescheduled for August 10th, shortening the usual break period for PASS teams leading into the Oxford 250.

STEEL SPORTSMAN SERIES: GSPSS-BACKED RETRO TOUR DEBUTS AT LEE

The Granite State Pro Stock Series showed off its newest class of racing this weekend as part of the sanctioning body’s visit to Lee USA Speedway. In the works since early 2018, the Steel Sportsman Series at last took to the track as part of the “May Madness” program.

The series, an offshoot of the GSPSS, was conceived as a low-dollar, entry-level approach to Pro Stock competition while adopting a retro feel akin to vintage racing. Rather than follow the ABC template, these cars will be bodied with a wide range of options intended to pay tribute to the Pro Stocks and NASCAR North/Busch North entries of the 1970s and 1980s.

What had been scheduled as the series’ debut race ultimately was presented as a fifteen-lap exhibition Sunday afternoon. George Baldwin, in a black car numbered “LL,” took the “win” over Seekonk Speedway regular Kyle Casper, whose #07 was painted as a tribute to Randy LaJoie.

Bryan Kruczek had a third car in the pits Saturday, but gremlins kept the car from making Sunday’s exhibition race. Other teams are said to be working on cars that will meet the new series’ rulebook.

The two-car match race was reminiscent of the mid-1990s when local tracks ran similar exhibitions for truck racing, as weekly tracks looked for a local option to capitalize on the popularity of NASCAR’s own national Truck Series. With luck, the GSPSS will be able to entice a few more teams to sign on to launch a competitive undercard tour.

LOCAL RACING: LUCE AND OLIVER REPRESENT PASS WITH WEEKLY WINS, WELCH STILL DOMINANT AT WMMP

Veteran experience remains the order of the day at Oxford Plains Speedway after Glen Luce captured his first feature win of the year Saturday night. Luce, a former PASS regular and the 2015 Oxford 250 winner, led wire-to-wire in yet another clean and green 50-lapper. Second was Jeff Taylor, with fellow track champion TJ Brackett third. Sixth-place Curtis Gerry remains the track point leader ahead of Taylor, as he seeks his first Oxford championship.

At Gerry’s former haunt, Beech Ridge Motor Speedway, another former PASS racer celebrated a win, with David Oliver outlasting the field for the Pro Series trophy. Veteran Gary Smith, who won the last PASS race at Beech Ridge in September, finished second. One interesting name in the 16-car field was Craig Weinstein, with the Seekonk regular trying out a new weekly track for a change.

Jeremie Whorff added another win for the veterans with a checkered flag in Wiscasset Speedway’s Pro Stock feature. Whorff is two for two on the season at Wiscasset.

Star Speedway’s ACT Late Models returned to action with Joshua Hedges taking the checkers for the first time in the division’s brief history. Hedges now leads the track points over veteran and first-week winner Charlie Rose. Only ten cars have earned points thus far; a number of drivers pledged support to the division in the offseason, but it appears some have still not been able to get their cars together for the season.

Seekonk Speedway’s second weekly racing card ended with Tommy Adams holding off Gerry DeGasparre, Jr. to win the Late Model feature at the “Cement Palace.” In the night’s Pro Stock feature, Ryan Vanasse took the win ahead of Austin Blais and Dave Darling. Mike Mitchell was seventh in the feature before packing to head north for the GSPSS event at Lee.

After finishing second to Scott Payea in the ACT Tour race at his home track, Quinny Welch started off his championship defense from the front Saturday at White Mountain Motorsports Park. Welch used a late-race outside restart to beat Scott Corey to the line, with Oren Remick rounding out the top three. ACT regulars Stephen Donahue (fourth), Mike Foster (13th) and Reilly Lanphear (14th) took advantage of a free weekend to get some extra lap time on the tough quarter-mile.

NEXT ON THE SCHEDULE

The Granite State Pro Stock Series marches on with 100 laps at Monadnock Speedway this Saturday, opening the venerable track’s first season under Norm Wrenn’s ownership. Fans attending Monadnock will be able to use their tickets for free admission to Sunday’s Tri-Track Open Modified Series event at Claremont Motorsports Park, marking a unique holiday-weekend doubleheader for fans.

The Pro All Stars Series North teams will make their first trip of 2019 to the Green Mountain State on Sunday for the Mekkelsen RV Memorial Day Classic at Thunder Road International Speedbowl. The PASS SLMs will run 150 laps in conjunction with a 100-lap feature for T-Road’s own Late Models.

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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