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New England Notebook: Hebert wins at Thompson, Davis extends Speedway 51 streak, Griffith triumphs at 95

Despite a win for Derek Griffith this weekend, Garrett Hall (94) leads the PASS North standings over DJ Shaw early in the year. (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.

ACT TOUR: HEBERT TRIUMPHS AT THOMPSON

The ten-race American-Canadian Tour schedule reached its midpoint Saturday night at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park. The Connecticut oval has long been the site of the Late Model Tour’s season finale, but an extra visit was added this year as part of the Tour’s Summer Kickoff Series. On a rare Saturday evening for racing on the high-banked track, the ACT teams took center stage, with NASCAR cancelling the K&N Pro Series East half of a planned doubleheader only two weeks before.

Thompson is still something of a new arrival on the ACT Tour schedule, with only four previous races at the speedway. In those four events, four different drivers had hoisted the hardware at race’s end. Only Thompson regular William Wall, who inherited last fall’s win, had the opportunity to score a repeat win on the high banks.

The Tour teams, in their first race since the Tour’s stop in Quebec at Autodrome Chaudiere, shared space in the pits with Thompson’s own ACT-legal Late Models, with 28 cars ready to do battle. Trent Goodrow, who skipped the Canada trip, was back with the Tour, while Vermonters Chip Grenier and Joel Hodgdon were not. Jake Johnson, who nearly won last fall’s Tour finale before being disqualified at the tech shed, was back seeking redemption. William Wall, Ryan Morgan, Tom Carey III, and Derek Gluchacki led the charge from the Thompson regulars. Bobby Webber, Jr.’s #19NH and Bryan Kruczek were entered for the first time since Thunder Road. Modified standout Woody Pitkat, also a Late Model regular at Thompson, was entered in Marcus Stetson’s #07MA Summit Ice car. A surprising entry came from veteran Tom Rosati, who skipped the night’s GSPSS feature to race at Thompson.

Sophomore Christopher Pelkey earned a heat victory, with Thompson stars Wall and Carey taking the other two heats. Matthew Lowinski-Loh, another Thompson regular, won the consi. The plus-minus pool elevated Ryan Kuhn to the pole, with Jimmy Hebert lining up outside. Morgan and Lowinski-Loh would line up third and fourth. Scott Coburn and Steve Fisher, who were slated to bring up the rear of the field, were unable to make the start of the feature, leaving only twenty-six cars to start the 75-lap race.

At the drop of the green, Kuhn took command of the point, leading the opening laps over Jimmy Hebert. After finishing 17th at Oxford and missing the field at Thunder Road, the rookie had rebounded with two top-ten runs. But top-ten finishes were no consolation for a driver who had dominated Seekonk Speedway’s weekly Late Models a year before. At nineteen years old, Kuhn looked like an expert, leading the first 28 laps.

But behind Kuhn, Jimmy Hebert moved into contention, taking the lead from the rookie. Of the three top contenders for the Tour crown, Hebert was the only one so far not to win in 2019. Hebert knew something of winless streaks; a mid-July win in the sixth race of 2018 broke a dry spell reaching back to his sophomore Tour campaign in 2013. Moreover, it ignited his team’s charge for the championship after destroying a car a race earlier. That was old news now; a sixth-place finish at T-Road was Hebert’s worst finish of the year, but a win would help.

Seven cautions kept the field close to Hebert’s bumper, though, with Kuhn giving Hebert fits on restarts and Hebert gaining strength on warm tires. Meanwhile, Bryan Kruczek and Woody Pitkat moved into third and fourth, ready to pounce if the leaders made contact.

The final restart set up an eleven-lap sprint to the finish, with Kuhn nosing in front to lead two laps before Hebert slipped past one more time. The battle for second heated up, with Kruczek and Pitkat taking advantage of a fading Kuhn. But as the two veterans battled for second, they fell just out of reach of the top spot. With clean race track ahead and the yellow flag tucked away, Hebert led the final nine laps to claim his first ACT Tour win of 2019 and the fifth of his career.

Pitkat, in only his third career ACT Tour points race, got the better of Kruczek in the closing laps, barely taking second over the season-opener winner. Scott Payea, who started back in 16th, nabbed fourth at the line, with Kuhn sliding to fifth in the closing laps. Jonathan Bouvrette was sixth, with Rich Dubeau finishing outside the top five for the first time in 2019. Thompson regulars Derek Gluchacki, William Wall and Ryan Morgan rounded out the top ten.

Jake Johnson finished eleventh, ahead of Dylan Payea and Quebecer Mathieu Kingsbury. Heat winner Christopher Pelkey wound up 15th. Rookie Stephen Donahue was 16th, with Claude Leclerc 17th. Tom Rosati was 23rd in the final running order, crashing to bring out the last yellow of the night. Consi winner Matthew Lowinski-Loh and Tom Carey III were no more fortunate, each failing to make the finish of the feature.

Jimmy Hebert’s win, coupled with Rich Dubeau’s worst run of the season, catapulted the Vermonter into the points lead, only ten over Dubeau and 46 over Scott Payea, who lost ground to the lead despite a fourth-place finish. Ryan Kuhn sits fourth in a close race with Dylan Payea, Donahue and Bouvrette. Thirteen drivers have attempted all five events, though only six have started all five.

The second half of the ACT Tour schedule opens with a visit to Star Speedway, the first stop for the Tour at the Epping, N.H. quarter-mile since 2013. In that evening’s race, Wayne Helliwell, Jr. and Joey Polewarczyk, Jr. waged a close but clean battle for the win, with Polewarczyk eventually taking the checkers. Both drivers have moved on from full-time Tour competition, but will they make an appearance in two weeks looking for an encore?

For more coverage, read Paul Lambert’s feature from Saturday’s Thompson 75.

GSPSS: DAVIS EARNS THIRD STRAIGHT CHECKERED FLAG AT SPEEDWAY 51

The Granite State Pro Stock Series came off its one-week hiatus with a visit to New Hampshire’s North Country. Speedway 51, nestled along the banks of the Connecticut River in the town of Groveton, welcomed the GSPSS back for its first visit to the tricky quarter-mile since 2016.

Fifteen cars made the trip to Speedway 51, but not among them were rookie Jacob Perry or veteran Tom Rosati. Perry’s absence was explained in a release on RacedayCT, where the family team announced they were going on hiatus after a difficult start to the year. Rosati was curiously in Connecticut, attempting the ACT Tour event at Thompson Speedway. Seekonk regular Bobby Pelland, who had contested all three races to start the year, was absent as well. PASS part-timer Travis Stearns, Massachusetts’ Kevin Folan and Vermont’s Todd Stone were among those rounding out the field.

The long absence from the track and driver turnover in the years since meant that only two drivers in the field were also in the 2016 event. One of those two was an enthusiastic Jeremy Davis. The Tamworth, N.H. driver and chassis builder won the 2016 race going away, nearly lapping the field en route to victory. The field for 2015’s race had a few more familiar names, but it also had a familiar winner, with Davis winning that race as well. After missing out on a win at Lee earlier in the year, Davis hoped a good run at Speedway 51 would add an eighth GSPSS trophy to his case.

Joey Doiron set fast time in qualifying once again, winning one of the heat races with Matt Frahm capturing the second. The pole redraw moved Luke Hinkley to the top spot, with Doiron outside and Frahm starting third. To win his third straight Speedway 51 GSPSS event, Jeremy Davis would only have to come from the fourth position on the grid.

Hinkley led the opening laps, but quickly got shuffled out of the lead battle, with Matt Frahm asserting himself ahead of Doiron and Davis. Frahm led through an early caution and a brief delay for a rain shower, but Joey Doiron would get the best of the veteran, taking the point around halfway. Frahm and Davis dueled for second place, but contact sent Frahm out of the groove and backwards through the top ten as Davis claimed the runner-up spot.

With the path to the lead cleared, Davis chipped away at Doiron’s lead, taking to the high side and working over the Mainer for the top spot. After a brief battle, Davis pulled ahead and ran from the field. Doiron was able to settle back into second, but he was unable to make up any ground on Davis. Davis cruised uncontested to his eighth career GSPSS win and his first of the 2019 season.

Doiron crossed the line second with Todd Stone finishing third. Devin O’Connell was fourth, while Matt Frahm clawed his way back to fifth at the end of the race. Ray Christian III, Luke Hinkley, Josh King, Dennis Spencer, Jr. and rookie Jake Matheson completed the top ten.

Matheson was the last car on the lead lap, ahead of visitors Kevin Folan and Travis Stearns. Mike O’Sullivan wound up a disappointing 13th, unable to replicate his Monadnock win. Jimmy Renfrew finished 14th after backing his car into the wall 33 laps into the race. Barry Gray, the only driver in the field besides Davis to start the 2016 event, finished dead last.

With three podium finishes in four races, season opener Joey Doiron stretched out his points lead yet again. Twenty points back, defending champ Devin O’Connell and Ray Christian III sit tied for the runner-up spot. Luke Hinkley sits a distant fourth in points with rookie Jake Matheson fifth. Behind sixth-place Josh King, the field is still sorting itself out, with hard-luck full-timers like Dennis Spencer, Jr. and Jimmy Renfrew trying to climb past part-time drivers with a win.

Doiron’s points lead might prove a bit deceptive, though. Strong runs from part-time contenders have kept both O’Connell and Christian from scoring a podium finish. With O’Connell’s experience and Christian’s strong runs in PASS competition, it seems unlikely that either driver will fail to turn the corner. With only so much room at the top, they may be able to close the gap with a few good runs, or if Doiron suffers any misfortune in the summer stretch.

The summer stretch begins on July 5 with a Friday under-the-lights race at Lee USA Speedway, the season’s second visit to “New Hampshire’s Center of Speed.” Will Brandon Barker and the Wright Pearson #16 claim their third straight win at Lee, or will someone else dethrone the Maine hotshoe?

PASS NORTH: GRIFFITH WINS FATHER’S DAY BOUT AT SPEEDWAY 95

With the ACT Tour and Granite State Pro Stock Series racing under the lights on Saturday, the PASS North Super Late Models had Sunday all to themselves. The PASS teams ventured to one of their easternmost stops of the season, the annual visit to Speedway 95 in Hermon, Maine. The third-mile speedway sitting just off the edge of Interstate 95 welcomed the PASS racers for their sixth race of the season, and the first in Maine not to be contested at Oxford Plains Speedway.

The Hopkins Milling & Paving PASS 150 had a familiar presenting sponsor, with PASS National Championship points leader Mike Hopkins sponsoring the event through his family businesses. Hopkins had a new race car at the ready for what would be his third start of the PASS North season. Andy Saunders was present in the #01 car that Hopkins had raced at Star Speedway earlier in the year. Another fourteen Super Late Models were in attendance, including Bangor local and Beech Ridge regular Gary Smith, veteran Scott Chubbuck in Chad Dow’s #39 car, college student Wyatt Alexander and Nick Jenkins. Massachusetts racer Craig Weinstein made the long trip north, passing on a Saturday night show at Seekonk. Missing from the lineup, as hinted in the entry list, was Reid Lanpher, leaving seven teams with a start in every race so far.

Derek Griffith and Garrett Hall won the two heats to set the field, but with winner’s handicaps due both drivers, Travis Benjamin and Gary Smith would lead the field to green. Mike Hopkins lined up third, with Nick Sweet fourth. Sweet, who had never raced at Speedway 95, had leaned on a competitor from his ACT Tour days, JR Robinson, for some insight on the fast way around. Griffith and Hall would line up just outside the top ten. Craig Weinstein, despite the long haul to Hermon, was unable to answer the call for the green flag, leaving fifteen cars to settle the 150-lap race.

Early on, it looked as if Hopkins would win his own race. The local racer shot out to the lead and ran from the field, building a half-lap lead at one point. Hopkins had won a PASS National event at Richmond earlier in the season, but on the PASS North circuit, he was still seeking a follow-up to his 2016 win at Star Speedway.

Behind Hopkins, though, heat winner Griffith was charging from eleventh on the grid, working through traffic. Griffith had scored his second career PASS North win at Speedway 95 in 2017. Griffith’s good runs in 2019 were tempered by a poor finish at Star Speedway, and a second win on the year would help undo some of the damage from Star.

Griffith climbed to second by halfway, with Hopkins beginning to fall back to earth. A brief battle moved Griffith ahead and Hopkins back to second, and the young New Hampshire racer set sail. Despite dominating the first half of the race, Hopkins had no answer for Griffith in the last 75 laps. At the end of the race, Derek Griffith took the checkered flag for his second win of 2019, his second win at Speedway 95 and his seventh career PASS North win. Griffith now has two wins in each of the last three seasons, with plenty of opportunities to add to his total.

Nick Sweet, despite no prior experience on the track, passed Hopkins for second late in the going, with the early race leader settling for a third-place finish. Points leader Garrett Hall was fourth, with Johnny Clark making a late charge into fifth. Travis Benjamin, in sixth, was the last car to finish on the lead lap.

DJ Shaw, who finished dead last at Oxford two weeks prior, was unable to find his prior form at Speedway 95, finishing a lap down in seventh. Gabe Brown was eighth, with Bobby Therrien ninth and Wyatt Alexander tenth, the last car to finish. Nick Jenkins was eleventh, Gary Smith twelfth, and Scott Chubbuck thirteenth. Ben Rowe dropped out after only 35 laps, continuing a frustrating streak of misfortune. Andy Saunders only completed four laps before heading to the pits.

Griffith’s win came, unsurprisingly, in an ABC-bodied car. Somewhat surprisingly, he was far from the only one with the old bodywork. With a short week before the series’ weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, and perhaps with short-track carnage on everyone’s mind, Mike Hopkins and Nick Sweet were the only two drivers to showcase the new cars. DJ Shaw and Ben Rowe rolled out ABC-bodied cars for the first time this year in a PASS North show.

A top-five day for Garrett Hall kept the Scarborough, Maine racer atop the standings, with DJ Shaw sitting 31 points back. Gabe Brown remains third with Griffith closing the gap in fourth. Nick Sweet and Travis Benjamin are fifth and sixth, with Ben Rowe rounding out the full-timers in seventh. Johnny Clark and Reid Lanpher have their own battle for eighth, each with five starts on the season, with Bobby Therrien tenth in points with four starts this year. As in past seasons, the back half of the top ten is sure to shake up as teams settle on their part-time itineraries.

The PASS teams have a short layover with a two-day show in Loudon, N.H. coming up. The PASS circuit returns to New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the first time since 2015 as part of the third annual New England Short Track Showdown. Long-track expert Eddie MacDonald is an easy favorite, but Reid Lanpher upset “The Outlaw” in last year’s GSPSS-sanctioned feature, and plenty of PASS stars will be hoping for the same opportunity.

LOCAL RACING AND MORE: LEGENDS MOORE, ROWE CLEAN UP IN MAINE, EDDIE MAC GOES (MID)WEST

A former Oxford Plains Speedway champion took the track’s Super Late Model class to school Saturday night. Kelly Moore, the 1984 track champ and the 1995 NASCAR Busch North Series champion, moved from fourth to the lead early on and sailed home to his first SLM victory of the season. Oxford points leader Curtis Gerry was second with Scott Robbins third in his first weekly start of the year. Brandon Barker was ninth and PASS part-timer Dan Winter 11th in the 19-car field. Ben Lynch, a graduate of the local racing scene now living in Charlotte, was 16th on an off-weekend for NASCAR’s Cup Series; Lynch often runs a few summer features in advance of the Oxford 250.

Beech Ridge Motor Speedway celebrated 71 years of operation with a 71-lap main event for its Pro Series teams. Mike Rowe and Dave Farrington won the heats and took their speed directly to the main event, with Rowe dominating the long feature for his second win of the year. Rookie Josh Childs rounded out the top three for his first career podium finish.

White Mountain Motorsports Park had a weekly program scheduled for Sunday in celebration of Father’s Day, but rain forced the program to be postponed. The features will now run as part of this weekend’s “Pack the Track” event. Star Speedway’s weekly Late Models were off for a similar promotion.

Despite the ACT Tour racing at nearby Thompson Speedway, Seekonk Speedway’s weekly Late Models had a solid turnout, with sixteen cars in the pit and fifteen taking the green. Mark Jenison, a former Tour regular and a feature winner at Thompson, won his first Seekonk feature over Bobby Tripp and Tommy Adams. Jenison and Adams are tied for the points lead only a couple markers ahead of Ryan Lineham. The evening’s Pro Stock feature was less surprising, with David Darling topping Fred Astle and Austin Blais for his second straight feature win and his third of the season. With last year’s runner-up Jake Johnson focused on touring racing, Darling has a commanding lead in the standings as he seeks another Seekonk title. Bobby Pelland, opting for the local feature instead of traveling north for the GSPSS event, finished twelfth in the 15-car field.

The PASS Modifieds shared time with the PASS North teams Sunday afternoon at Speedway 95. Sophomore racer Kate Re (pronounced “ray”) led all 40 laps en route to her first PASS Mod win of the year and her second career PASS Mod victory. Former Late Model racer Spencer Morse was fourth in a car built by GSPSS winner Jeremy Davis; he leads the points in the support division.

Eddie MacDonald was not racing in New England last weekend, but his name and car number popped up in an unlikely place, specifically in West Allis, Wisconsin. MacDonald was entered in the ARCA Midwest Tour’s Father’s Day 100 at the legendary Milwaukee Mile, in a partnership between Midwest-based car builder Pathfinder Chassis and MacDonald’s own Dave Lemieux-owned SLM program. Despite struggling through practice on Saturday, MacDonald and team turned the car around for the Sunday race, sitting on the pole and leading early on. Pit strategy bit the team in the late stages, with MacDonald fading to ninth on old tires at the finish. Austin Nason won the event over rising star Ty Majeski.

Reigning Thunder Road Late Model champion Scott Dragon won a rain-delayed feature Friday night after inclement weather halted the track’s usual Thursday-night show. Bobby Therrien finished fourth in Phil Scott’s #14VT, with ACT Tour regular Christopher Pelkey finishing 11th. Tour rookie Stephen Donahue finished last in the nineteen-car lineup.

NEXT ON THE SCHEDULE

All eyes are on New Hampshire Motor Speedway this weekend, as the Pro All Stars Series returns to Loudon as part of this year’s third annual New England Short Track Showdown. While many of the series’ stars have raced at the track in various divisions, the PASS organization is making its first start at the big track since 2015.

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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