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New England Notebook: Kruczek, Hall split ACT/PASS doubleheader, GSPSS adds Monadnock visit

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: KRUCZEK SCORES SURPRISE WIN IN SHORTENED TOUR OPENER

The American-Canadian Tour kicked off its ten-race 2019 Late Model Tour schedule in earnest this past Sunday. Two weeks after early-Spring snow forced Oxford Plains Speedway to postpone its doubleheader opening weekend, the track was able to welcome back both the Pro All Stars Series and ACT Tour teams for their twin 150-lap features.

Technically, the ACT Tour season opened in March, with PASS inviting the Vermont-based Late Models along for a feature as part of Richmond Raceway’s Commonwealth Classic. A strong turnout of cars made the trip to Virginia for a non-points event. And with championship points on the line, an equally-strong field of thirty-six cars filled the backstretch pits at Oxford to kick off the season.

The field of thirty-six was a showcase of the diversity of the American-Canadian Tour. Touring specialists like defending champion Scott Payea, Jimmy Hebert and Rich Dubeau were pitted alongside regional racers like former tour competitor JR Robinson. At-large drivers racing away from their home tracks, like Tom Carey III or Stephen Donahue, had something in common with the seven Quebecers racing away from their home country, drivers like title hopeful Jonathan Bouvrette and Jean-François Déry. Tour rookie Ryan Kuhn would be battling fender-to-fender with ACT veteran Claude Leclerc, nearly sixty years Kuhn’s elder. The only drivers not to return from 2018’s top-eleven points finishers were Thompson regular Brian Tagg and points runner-up Eddie MacDonald, who was across the pit area with a new PASS Super Late Model to shake down.

Sunday’s four heat races were split between familiar and novel faces at the front of the pack. Scott Payea and Joey Polewarczyk, Jr. were familiar winners. Rookie Ryan Kuhn and Bryan Kruczek claimed the other two heats. Consi victories went to Dylan Payea, whose new #7NH Dodge looked like it had been acquired from cousin Scott’s stable, and Wayne Helliwell, Jr., making his return to full-time ACT Tour competition. Chip Grenier and Dany Trépanier were the beneficiaries of the ACT plus-minus system, earning the front row for the start of the 150-lap main event.

At the drop of the green, Chip Grenier set sail, leading the first seven laps before heat winner Kruczek took command. The Newmarket, N.H. racer only had five prior starts in ACT competition, having directed his energy and budget into PASS Super Late Models. Kruczek’s only career PASS win came at Oxford in 2015. He looked to be on the way to a second such win in early 2016, when a late divebomb by Ben Rowe ended Kruczek’s day three and a half laps shy of the checkers. Since then, Kruczek, who cut his schedule to part-time later that year, had struggled to find success. In his debut for car owner Bobby Webber, Jr. at Richmond, Kruczek finished second-to-last, parking the car after only 18 laps.

But on familiar ground at Oxford, the new owner-driver pairing found its stride. Kruczek led for 37 laps before “Bad Boy” Bobby Therrien, wheeling the Fast One Motorsports #5VT, took the lead for his own long stint. Kruczek stayed within striking distance, taking the lead back from Therrien briefly before Therrien regained control.

Despite the battle at the head of the pack, the story of the race was the cautions. Whether due to some unfamiliar combinations of drivers or early-season jitters or simply the cool racing surface, thirteen cautions conspired to slow the race by lap 96. As the cars paced around the track under the thirteenth caution, with the PASS Super Late Models still awaiting their feature, the call was made to shorten the Tour feature to 125 laps.

The next restart would be the last of the afternoon, with Therrien, Kruczek and Joey Polewarczyk, Jr. setting off in a three-car battle for the win. Kruczek and Therrien slipped early, with Joey Pole making a three-wide move for the lead, but Kruczek powered back to duel with the former Tour champion for the win. Pole and Kruczek traded the lead back and forth, but it was Kruczek who made the final pass, securing the lead on lap 107 and using lapped traffic to keep Pole at bay. In his sixth ACT Tour start, Kruczek led sixty-one laps en route to his first career Tour win.

Joey Polewarczyk, Jr., the winner of the non-points Commonwealth Classic feature in March, finished second. Bobby Therrien crossed the line third, but a wheelbase violation in post-race inspection resulted in a disqualification. Instead, Jimmy Hebert was scored third, marking a strong start to his championship chase. Polesitter Chip Grenier finished fourth, with Rich Dubeau rounding out the top five.

JR Robinson, the only Mainer in the field, was sixth across the line, with 2018 CSCC LMS champion Dany Trépanier the highest-finishing Quebecer in seventh. Scott Payea was eighth, ahead of White Mountain Motorsports Park track champion Quinny Welch and sophomore Dylan Payea.

Thompson (Conn.) Speedway feature winner Tom Carey III finished twelfth. Wayne Helliwell, Jr. finished 16th in his first Tour points race since August of 2016 (at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway, also in Maine). Stephen Donahue in 14th was the top rookie, with Ryan Kuhn finishing 17th. Particularly short days were in store for Jonathan Bouvrette, Bryan Mason, Reilly Lanphear and GSPSS feature winner Jimmy Renfrew, Jr., as neither saw the second half of the race.

Kruczek’s win is also the first Tour win for car owner Bobby Webber, Jr. In addition to owning Star Speedway in Epping, N.H., Webber has dabbled in team ownership as well, owning weekly entries in Star’s 350 Supermodified and Late Model fields. Webber also fielded a winning TQ midget entry for NASCAR Modified champion Justin Bonsignore in indoor competitions over the winter. Webber and Kruczek had only promised to run selected Tour events this year, but a strong run at Thunder Road this weekend could surely inspire greater plans for the duo.

Kruczek sits atop the point standings after one race, but with second-place Joey Polewarczyk also planning a limited schedule, all eyes are upon third-place Jimmy Hebert for a strong start. Scott Payea has a little ground to make up, but given the usual mid-season pace of Payea and the #37VT team, starting from seventh in the points is more like a handicap. With Jonathan Bouvrette’s early DNF and Bobby Therrien’s disqualification, it will be interesting to see if either switches focus to chasing wins over championship points. Therrien could still revert to a weekly points run at Thunder Road.

The title chase for the ACT Tour moves on to Thunder Road this Sunday, where 2017 top rookie Jason Corliss swept both races last year in a limited Tour schedule. Scott Payea swept both T-Road events in 2017, but the two-time champion will have to fend off Corliss and the other weekly warriors as they tackle the slightly-renovated high-banked quarter-mile.

PASS NORTH: HALL CAPTURES UNEXPECTED VICTORY IN FIRST PASS WIN SINCE 2017

After Sunday’s American-Canadian Tour feature at Oxford, the Pro All Stars Series North Super Late Models took to the track for their half of the Sunday doubleheader. The quick fendered cars would be racing both the darkness and an unseasonable chill as they settled the score for their second points race of 2019.

Thirty-three SLMs were in the PASS paddock Sunday morning, with the touring stars’ numbers bolstered by Oxford’s own weekly competitiors. The opposite was to be true Saturday night, when some of the visitors were expected to race in Oxford’s season-opening weekly feature, but rain soaked the track after practice and Saturday’s racing card was postponed.

Among the visitors in the pits were 2013 PASS champion Cassius Clark, in Rollie MacDonald’s #13, and veteran racer Tracy Gordon in an all-white #41. New Oxford weekly regular Curtis Gerry joined Oxford veterans Tim and TJ Brackett, Alan Tardiff, and Shawn Martin. Two former PASS Modified champions were in the lineup, with Ryan Robbins in his #36 and reigning two-time champ Ben Tinker shaking down a new #19 entry. Rookie Evan Hallstrom would kick off his part-time PASS schedule at Oxford, and 2015 Oxford 250 winner Glen Luce returned to competition in the #7L. The PASS field even had its own Canadian contingent, with Pro Stock Tour champion Cole Butcher and Ashton Tucker hauling in from the Maritimes.

Shawn Martin, DJ Shaw and Nick Sweet claimed the three heats, with Tracy Gordon winning a nine-car consi to set the field. A number of big names started deeper in the field, among them Mike and Ben Rowe, Travis Benjamin, and Curtis Gerry. Bryan Kruczek could only celebrate briefly after his ACT win, as he had to roll off 26th on the grid for the PASS feature.

From the drop of the green, Nick Sweet showed the way. After struggling through much of 2018, a home win at Thunder Road late in the year had turned the fortunes for Sweet and the Mad Dog Motorsports operation. Sweet’s early speed gave way to mechanical issues, though, clearing a path for Cole Butcher and then DJ Shaw to take the point. Shaw finally began to build an advantage on the young Canadian, looking to defend his third PASS North title with a two-win start to the season.

While Shaw and Butcher battled out front, though, Garrett Hall was working through traffic from the 20th position on the grid. Hall’s 2018 season was of mixed results. In his first full-season PASS effort, he finished third in points on the back of 13 top-ten finishes, consistent if not in contention. A solid Oxford 250 performance had been a highlight, but a zero in the wins column stared back. Hall’s last win was in a memorable home-track bout at Beech Ridge in September 2017, where his car had to be towed back to victory lane after holding off a charge by Ben Rowe.

Hall was third in the lineup with fifty laps remaining, and late-race caution flags played into the Scarborough native’s favor. Hall moved past Butcher with twenty-five laps to go and began chasing down the dominant Shaw. But another late-race yellow drew the field together, giving Hall a shot at the lead with fourteen laps left on the scoreboard.

Hall pounced and took the lead from Shaw on the restart, then held the defending champion off to score his first PASS win of 2019. Shaw finished second, with Cassius Clark passing Cole Butcher for third late in the going. Reigning Oxford SLM champion Gabe Brown rounded out the top five.

Derek Griffith finished sixth after struggling much of last year on the flatter tracks. Mike Rowe wheeled his new red #24 to seventh, ahead of Alan Tardiff and Travis Benjamin. Ashton Tucker finished tenth, ahead of Dan Winter and rookie Evan Hallstrom.

Eddie MacDonald finished thirteenth in his #17 Camaro. Ben Rowe was fifteenth, the first car a lap down. Rookie Ben Tinker was eighteenth in his SLM debut, ahead of Glen Luce and Seekonk Speedway regular Craig Weinstein. Early leader Nick Sweet finished four laps down in 26th.

Curtis Gerry finished 27th, an uncharacteristic off-night for a racer with plenty of Oxford success in the last year. Consi winner Tracy Gordon was 28th, victim of a wreck just past halfway. Reid Lanpher’s struggles continued with a flat tire that culminated in a race-ending wreck before twenty laps were complete.

Shaw and Brown were the only two top-five finishers to showcase the new Gen-6 body, with winner Hall celebrating with his ABC-bodied car. Clark, Cole Butcher and tenth-place finisher Ashton Tucker compete primarily in Canada, likely making the ABC bodies a safer bet for rules compliance. Similarly, Derek Griffith remains committed to the ABC body. Those who have changed either run locally or exclusively with PASS. Mike Rowe, Alan Tardiff and Tim Brackett were among the local competitors showing off new bodies; as cars are rebodied and repaired through the season, it will be interesting to see how many opt for the Gen-6 body.

Ten drivers have collected points in both races so far, with DJ Shaw planted atop the standings with a win and a runner-up finish. Garrett Hall’s win propelled him to second in the standings, ahead of Derek Griffith, Gabe Brown and Travis Benjamin. Johnny Clark, Ben Rowe, Nick Sweet, and Lanpher round out the top nine in points, with Dan Winter deeper in the standings. Despite the early season woes of drivers like Sweet and Lanpher, it remains far too early to count them out of the title chase with plenty of races to go.

Perhaps the only surprise absence is that of PASS National Championship leader Mike Hopkins; Hopkins has turned in some impressive runs in the National events, including a win, but appears to be committed to a part-time North program this year after sitting out Oxford.

The PASS North season continues next weekend at Star Speedway in Epping, N.H., the first of two consecutive quarter-milers on the schedule.

GSPSS: SERIES ADDS MONADNOCK DATE TO REPLACE WATERFORD TRIPLE-FEATURE

The Granite State Pro Stock Series’ 2019 season kicks off this weekend, but a schedule modification has already been made in regards to one of the year’s unique events.

GSPSS officials announced that New London-Waterford Speedbowl, the coastal Connecticut venue that hosted last year’s championship event in October, will no longer host a Memorial Day race this year. The race was to be the second running of a special 105-lap triple-feature that rewarded three 35-lap “feature” winners with the best-overall driver securing the event victory.

The beleaguered oval, which has battled numerous forces since the arrest of owner Bruce Bemer a couple years ago, is installing long-promised grandstands, but the work is not expected to be done in time for the May 25th event. Both GSPSS and NLWS officials felt it best to cancel May’s race, with two later-season dates still on target for the junior Pro Stock touring series.

Earlier this week, Monadnock Speedway, also facing weather delays in the installation of its own new grandstands, was tapped as a replacement venue for the cancelled NLWS event. Monadnock’s delayed season opening weekend will now feature the GSPSS as a touring division.

The Monadnock race will mark the third time in 2019 that the Granite State Pro Stock Series is featured at a track’s season opener. All three tracks—Claremont (N.H.) Speedway, Lee (N.H.) USA Speedway and Monadnock—are owned by Norm Wrenn.

LOCAL RACING: RAIN CREATES DELAYS FOR WEEKLY OPENERS

Weather has been relentless early in the 2019 racing season, and this weekend was no exception. Oxford Plains Speedway ultimately cancelled its weekly opener Saturday night despite getting practice in during the afternoon. Nearby Wiscasset Speedway called off its weekly racing for the second week in a row. Oxford will run a double feature this weekend as a benefit for the teams and fans.

Monadnock Speedway was forced to push back its 2019 schedule as well. A damp month of April following a seemingly-endless winter kept the track from completing its new grandstands in time for the season to open. One of the track’s famed mud bog events will go on as scheduled on the 12th of May, but oval track racing will have to wait until the 25th, by which time the new stands should be completed. While Monadnock was scheduled to open with a visit by the Valenti Modified Racing Series, the Granite State Pro Stock Series date mentioned above will anchor the track’s new opening weekend.

NEXT ON THE SCHEDULE

The Granite State Pro Stock Series opens its 2019 campaign tonight at Claremont Speedway, with features going green at 7pm. The American-Canadian Tour Late Models will return to action tomorrow at Thunder Road International Speedbowl for their first home visit of the season. A number of the region’s local tracks also hope to get their first races in this weekend, if weather allows.

The Pro All Stars Series teams get a week off, but will race next Saturday evening at Star Speedway in Epping, N.H.

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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