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New England Notebook: Bouvrette wins ACT race, Dubeau crowned champion, MacDonald takes GSPSS win at Thompson

Eddie Mac and Hopkins, STS 2019
Eddie MacDonald (#17MA) and Mike Hopkins (#15) were among last weekend's New England short track winners. MacDonald won the Granite State Pro Stock Series feature at Thompson Speedway's Sunoco World Series, while Hopkins won the Late Model main event at Speedway 95, his home track. (Jeff Brown file 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: BOUVRETTE DOMINATES THOMPSON FOR FIRST U.S. WIN, RICH DUBEAU CROWNED CHAMPION

The American-Canadian Tour’s second 2019 visit to Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park carried far more gravity than seemed apparent in June’s appearance at the legendary oval. Indeed, the ACT Tour was the headline event of the second night of Thompson’s 57th annual Sunoco World Series of Speedway Racing. But in this race, the tenth and final points-paying event of the year, a champion would be crowned following the checkered flag. And while the points race was all but sealed up as teams rolled into Connecticut, the race victory was certainly up for grabs.

After Friday-night rain cancelled all on-track activities, Saturday became a far busier day with the addition of Friday’s feature races. The rain also posed an issue for many Late Model teams; Thompson’s own Late Model feature was suddenly a Saturday-afternoon race, and teams that planned on running the Tour race as well were now forced to race twice, if they made it through the first.

The tour regulars had few surprises among them. Bryan Kruczek and Bobby Webber Racing fielded an entry alongside the usual touring specialists, with team owner Webber looking at a championship run for 2020. Claude Leclerc, who had already missed a couple events in 2019, was not at the track at all, leaving nine drivers who had made the trip to all ten races. Jean-François Déry, Alexendre Tardif and Remi Perreault joined full-timers Mathieu Kingsbury and Jonathan Bouvrette in representing Quebec. Star Speedway champion Joshua Hedges, Seekonk regular Paul Newcomb, Jr. and Rhode Island’s Mike Mitchell all had entries ready for the high banks. Derek Gluchacki, winner of the day’s Thompson Late Model feature, dusted off his car after his feature victory to join the Tour teams. Gluchacki led a contingent of Thompson’s best, including Tom Carey III, Woody Pitkat, Ryan Morgan and Mark Jenison, who entered a second car for brother Lance.

And when the smoke cleared, thirty-six ACT Late Models were lined up and ready for heat racing. To accommodate the huge turnout, officials elected to start as many as 35 cars, with a stipulation that any drivers running lower than 26th would be parked for the evening should they spin out or crash.

Rookie Ryan Kuhn, who was fast in practice early in the afternoon, took the first heat race win, with Mark Jenison and Rich Dubeau winning the other two heats. With his heat win points, Dubeau officially clinched the ACT Tour championship for 2019. Two drivers dropped from the lineup during heats; Rick Gentes was a scratch in one heat, while Trent Goodrow crashed in another and was unable to repair his car in time for the feature.

The plus-minus seeding from the heats elevated Ryan Morgan and Tom Carey III to the front row, with son and father Stephen and John Donahue lining up next. Rich Dubeau would start back in 12th as a former race winner, with Jimmy Hebert 13th and Scott Payea just ahead in 10th.

The feature went green just past nine o’clock, and the fireworks started immediately as Morgan and Carey made contact in turn two, while Jean-François Déry lost his clutch while rolling off fifth. The field stacked up, collecting Ryan Lineham and Michael Benevides deeper in the pack. John Donahue and Jonathan Bouvrette snaked through the carnage to assume the race lead with no laps complete. The restart was not much cleaner, with Bouvrette taking the lead from Donahue and cars getting together deeper in the field. Another yellow bunched the field up, and this time the field was able to get rolling, only for Reilly Lanphear and Remi Perreault to make contact on the frontstretch, ending the older Lanphear sister’s evening with suspension damage.

The field went back to green on lap three, this time with John Donahue stacking up the field. As the cars tried to get under control going into turn one, Jimmy Hebert was booted into the concrete, with Peyton Lanphear skidding into his stopped car. Hebert returned to the pits for repairs, while Lanphear joined her sister behind the wall with terminal damage.

With Jonathan Bouvrette out front, the field finally got a few laps in before a lap-nine pileup in turn two that collected Rich Dubeau, Jake Johnson, Joshua Hedges, and rookie Stephen Donahue. Dubeau was able to continue, but the field had been trimmed to 23 only nine laps into the 75-lap feature. Officials put single-file restarts into play for the remainder of the race, hoping to slow the carnage.

The move was a boon for Jonathan Bouvrette, who remained at the point and drove away on the next restart. Behind him, Mark Jenison ran second with John Donahue and Scott Payea battling for third. Bryan Kruczek and Woody Pitkat joined a furious battle for third on back as the race marched on.

A lap-32 caution slowed the race momentarily, but Bouvrette shot out to the lead on the restart, with Jenison again warding off Payea and Pitkat for the runner-up spot. While the Quebecer built a lead of nearly a straightaway, the battle for second, third and fourth behind him was a thriller. With ten laps to go, Scott Payea and Bryan Kruczek made contact, sending Payea hard into the inside backstretch wall, ending Payea’s night and erasing a four-second lead for Bouvrette.

Bouvrette led the field to green with 65 laps complete. And while he was unable to check out on the rest of the field, Woody Pitkat’s battle with Mark Jenison kept Jenison from challenging Bouvrette for first. The top three, and in fact most of the drivers in the top ten, had never won an ACT points race, setting the stage for a first-time winner even if misfortune befell the leaders before the end.

The late-race caution never came, though, allowing Jonathan Bouvrette to cruise to the checkers. Bouvrette had been close before, taking a win in 2017 at Devil’s Bowl Speedway that was rescinded in post-race inspection. And Bouvrette had four wins to his credit in the defunct Série ACT in Quebec, including the final Série ACT championship in 2017. But Saturday’s victory, his first in the United States, was his first official victory on the U.S.-based Tour. Bouvrette’s win was the first of the year for a driver from Quebec, and the first for a Quebec driver since Patrick Laperle won last June at Speedway 51.

Pitkat nipped Jenison for second in the closing laps, matching his finish from June’s ACT race at Thompson. Jenison’s third-place run was easily his best in Tour competition. Ryan Kuhn secured top-rookie honors with a fourth-place finish, and Dylan Payea rounded out the top five with a solid run after starting 25th.

Derek Gluchacki followed up his win earlier in the day with a sixth-place finish after starting 33rd. John Donahue held on for seventh, with Mike Mitchell, Ryan Morgan and Bryan Kruczek closing out the top ten finishers. Among the top-ten finishers, only Kruczek and Donahue were Tour winners before Saturday’s feature.

Glenn Boss was 11th, ahead of points challengers Rich Dubeau and Jimmy Hebert, who soldiered on from early crashes to finish 12th and 13th. Mathieu Kingsbury was 14th, with Alexendre Tardif 15th after a last-lap crash. Scott Payea, eliminated with ten laps to go, was 20th in the final rundown.

When the celebration was complete for Bouvrette, Rich Dubeau took center stage as the 2019 ACT Tour champion. In his fifth full season on the Tour, Dubeau emerged as an early favorite for the title race, punctuating his journey with his first two series wins. Jimmy Hebert, the June Thompson winner, stayed close to Dubeau all year, but trouble at Thunder Road in the second-to-last race of the year sealed his fate as Dubeau won the race.

Ryan Kuhn, the rookie of the year, finished third in points with a pole and seven top-ten finishes. Scott Payea’s season was an uncharacteristic struggle; while he bounced back with a win after failing to make the field in the year’s second race, the two-time champion suffered his first two finishes outside the top ten since 2016 in consecutive races. Payea ended the season fourth in the standings, with cousin Dylan fifth in points in a promising sophomore campaign.

So ends a competitive season for the American-Canadian Tour Late Models, a season that welcomed a new champion and three first-time winners to the record books of the Vermont-based organization. Hints at dates for the 2020 schedule have begun to emerge, but official announcements will surely develop in the next two months.

GSPSS: NO SURPRISES AS MACDONALD TAKES DELAYED WORLD SERIES FEATURE

After a Sunday-night bout in New Hampshire, the Granite State Pro Stock Series turned around quickly for its second-to-last race of 2019, a Friday night showdown at the high-banked Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park. The visit to the Connecticut oval was the third race of a four-race, four-week sprint to the season finale. And as a featured part of Thompson’s annual World Series, the GSPSS was once again paired with one of New England’s most thrilling multi-division specials.

A Friday night at the high-speed track was not immediately friendly to car count, though. After big fields at Seekonk and Lee in the last two races, only thirteen cars were initially in the pits. Among those thirteen were some heavy hitters, though. From the PASS wars in Maine came big-track pros Ben Rowe and Reid Lanpher. Eddie MacDonald, the defending race winner, was back for his second GSPSS attempt of the year. ACT Tour rookie Ryan Kuhn dusted off his Pro Stock for a run at the high banks. Cory Casagrande and Nick Lascuola, both of whom had run limited schedules in 2019, were back in action, as was Tommy O’Sullivan, who stepped into the #16 Wright Pearson car for the night.

But one driver’s car was missing in action. Devin O’Connell, third in points, had thrashed all week to get ready for the penultimate race of his title-defense season. A wreck at Lee had left his team with two damaged cars: the white car he had run most of the year, and the black car he had crashed much earlier in the season. O’Connell and his team put their focus on finishing the black car in time for Friday night, but by Friday, the car still needed work. Rather than put an unfinished car to the test at the fastest track on the circuit, O’Connell came to Thompson as a spectator.

But throughout Friday, rain soaked the track, threatening the first day of the three-day World Series program. With plenty of reasons to get the first night’s features in, Thompson held out until almost six o’clock, when they finally cancelled the night’s activity. Presented with a reprieve, Devin O’Connell and a couple recruits dashed home, putting the finishing touches on the black #43 in hopes of racing Saturday.

While O’Connell tried to pull his race car together, Thompson officials worked to cram three days of features into Saturday and Sunday. For the GSPSS, that meant a single round of practice, with qualifying slashed from the schedule. Joey Doiron would lead the 14-car field to green alongside Ray Christian III. Ringers Rowe, Lanpher and MacDonald would have to come from the back. And while the weather was a boon for O’Connell, it was a headache for Kevin Folan, who had family plans on Saturday, and hoped to make it to Thompson in time for the feature.

For everyone else, it was a long day of watching and waiting. And when the GSPSS feature finally kicked off just past eight o’clock, Ray Christian III went right to the front. The Star Speedway victor had spent the entire season chasing his first podium finish, never mind his first win of the year. But the last few weeks of the season had certainly been strong for the Connecticut-based team. Christian’s late-season results matched his race speed far better, and on the high banks of Thompson, he had yet another opportunity to show what his Crazy Horse Racing-backed team was capable of.

But Christian had to worry about the back of the field, where the ringers had rolled off to take the green flag. While Ben Rowe remained mired in traffic, Eddie MacDonald, Cory Casagrande and Reid Lanpher were picking off cars on a march through the field. MacDonald was making the best progress of the three, working his way to Christian’s rear bumper while managing his tires for the end of the fifty-lap sprint.

With the laps ticking down, MacDonald made his move on Christian, taking the top spot and leaving the series regular to fend off fellow Nutmeg Stater Cory Casagrande. Once in the lead, MacDonald was home free, coasting to his third career GSPSS victory and his second straight win in the GSPSS World Series feature.

MacDonald’s other win in his six career GSPSS appearances came at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2017, demonstrating a mastery of the region’s largest ovals. The former NASCAR K&N Pro Series East competitor has five career wins at Thompson, winning in ACT, PASS and GSPSS competition at the famed oval.

Ray Christian III earned his third podium finish in the last four races with his runner-up result, and Cory Casagrande took his best finish of the season not too far from home. Ryan Kuhn, minutes from hopping into his ACT Tour Late Model, finished fourth with Reid Lanpher rounding out the top five.

Jimmy Renfrew, Jr. finished sixth despite a spin into the turn-three wall, and Josh King finished a strong seventh. Devin O’Connell, who would not have made the starting grid a night before, finished eighth after going to the back of the field for his contact with Renfrew. Joey Doiron struggled from the drop of the green and finished ninth, with Tommy O’Sullivan coming home tenth in the Wright Pearson entry.

Rounding out the field were Mike Mitchell, Nick Lascuola, Ben Rowe, and Kevin Folan, who did make the start in his #17 car.

Ray Christian’s second-place finish, coupled with two disappointing runs for Joey Doiron, allowed “RC III” to chip away at the points lead, but it will likely be a case of too little, too late, as Doiron’s 41-point lead makes him virtually assured of the championship if he starts next Sunday’s season finale. Devin O’Connell and Jimmy Renfrew, Jr. sit third and fourth, within grasp of second place in the points should trouble befall Christian.

The Granite State Pro Stock Series will come full circle this weekend, returning to Claremont Motorsports Park in New Hampshire’s Upper Valley. Sunday’s season finale, staged where the season opened in May, will wrap up the series’ eighth full season and will almost certainly crown a first-time series champion.

WEEKLY RACING: THOMPSON CLOSES 2019 LATE MODEL SEASON

Saturday’s racing card at the Sunoco World Series also featured the season-ending bout for Thompson Speedway’s Late Models. Woody Pitkat hoped to earn the track’s Late Model title, but an early crash took him out of the race and out of title contention. Derek Gluchacki topped Tom Carey III and Mark Jenison en route to his first win, while William Wall clinched the track championship with a sixth-place finish. Thirty cars took the green flag for the feature, with a number of them regrouping quickly for the night’s ACT Tour event.

Speedway 95 in Hermon, Maine hosted its annual Paul Bunyan 250 Speed Weekend, with PASS veteran Mike Hopkins taking the win over Ben Ashline in Sunday’s Late Model feature. Andy Saunders was 13th with JR Robinson 15th in the 22-car field.

NEXT ON THE SCHEDULE

The penultimate race of the Pro All Stars Series schedule kicks off Saturday afternoon at Oxford Plains Speedway in Maine, with a 150-lap battle highlighting the afternoon’s PASS 400 event. Saturday’s race will set the stage for next week’s championship finale at Seekonk Speedway.

Claremont Motorsports Park hosts its own season-ending fall weekend spectacular as well, with the Granite State Pro Stock Series anchoring Sunday’s feature racing schedule. Sunday’s GSPSS race will close out the 2019 season and the year’s champion will be crowned.

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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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