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Four years later, a different look to this year’s PASS race at NHMS

PASS @ NHMS 2015
PASS teams line up on New Hampshire Motor Speedway's frontstretch for driver introductions in 2015. The series' first visit to NHMS was a unique event featuring a handful of future NASCAR stars getting their first laps on the "Magic Mile." (Jeff Brown photo)

New England’s fastest Super Late Models will truly earn their billing this weekend.

For the second time in the series’ nineteen-year history, the Pro All Stars Series will race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The PASS North Super Late Models will compete in a 50-lap feature Sunday afternoon as part of the third annual New England Short Track Showdown, a multi-division feature treating fans to six staples of weekly short track racing contested on the region’s longest and fastest paved oval track.

PASS joins the Short Track Showdown lineup this year after the Granite State Pro Stock Series helped to establish the standalone weekend as an annual event. Sunday’s feature, which is not only a PASS North points race but part of the PASS National Championship, is surely one of the marquée events on the eighteen-race schedule.

But compared to the PASS appearance that preceded it, Sunday’s feature will look a lot different from the series’ first visit.

New Hampshire Motor Speedway has always embraced the spirit of short track racing. In the 1990s, NASCAR’s Busch North Series and Modified Tour made multiple annual visits to the track, usually in a doubleheader format. In 2009, NHMS welcomed the American-Canadian Tour Late Models for the first time, with the all-star ACT Invitational becoming a part of the fall’s NASCAR Cup Series weekend.

And so in 2015, with the backing of series sponsor AIM Recycling, the Pro All Stars Series scheduled its own event at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Rather than appear as a support division, the PASS AIM 60 was a standalone event booked for Independence Day weekend. A practice day on Saturday, July 4 was followed by a Sunday racing card headlined by the 60-lap PASS feature, a short feature for the North East Mini Stock Tour, and a 15-lap “Sportsman/Late Model open” exhibition race.

Like most major events on the PASS schedule, the AIM 60 was designated as a PASS National Championship event, paying points to drivers hailing both from PASS’ North and South tours. However, the race was not officially a PASS North event. Instead, drivers running for the PASS North championship would be able to replace a poor finish during the year with their NHMS result.

With competitive fields in both the PASS North and PASS South circuits, as well as a NASCAR K&N Pro Series East event scheduled as part of the coming NASCAR Cup Series weekend that month, the entry list for the AIM 60 was an intriguing blend of PASS North regulars, Southeastern visitors, and funded development drivers looking to get some laps at NHMS.

One such driver was a young Oklahoman named Christopher Bell. Bell, still learning the art of racing on pavement, was entered for the race in one of two Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota Camrys. The rookie was fast in practice, but a rules infraction forced him to start deep in the field. Bell made it eleven laps before losing a tire and crashing, finishing last in the 26-car field.

Kaz Grala was in the second Kyle Busch Motorsports entry. Grala, from Massachusetts, was a second-year NASCAR K&N Pro Series East racer looking for seat time. His seat time turned out to be short-lived; Grala was one of several drivers who crashed during Saturday’s practice sessions. The team was unable to repair the car in time for Sunday’s qualifying heats.

Former NASCAR Truck Series team owner Richie Wauters fielded two cars for Dalton Sargeant and Vinnie Miller. Sargeant, touted as a rare American Formula 1 prospect, was then a rookie in the K&N Pro Series East. Sargeant drove a clean race and finished sixth, hoping to parlay that experience into a good finish two weeks later. Miller was not so fortunate; the Michigan teenager was caught up in a grinding wreck just after the restart for Bell’s incident.

One regular PASS competitor turned out to be a development driver in the making. Rookie Raphael Lessard was only seven races into his PASS North career entering the AIM 60. The youngster from Quebec turned fourteen years old the day of the race. Lessard dropped out just shy of a third through the event. He would not linger for a sophomore PASS season; instead, he moved south as a development driver for Toyota. Lessard has since earned his own opportunity in equipment for Kyle Busch Motorsports.

Future NASCAR stars were not the only ringers in the field. Veteran driver and car owner Scott Mulkern entered a second car for Connecticut star Ted Christopher, who had plenty of success at Loudon at the wheel of Modifieds and Busch North cars. Unfortunately, TC’s entry was withdrawn after the team lost an engine in Saturday’s practice sessions.

But the most notable ringer in the field was one of the most familiar. At the time, Eddie MacDonald was one of the last remaining New England racers on the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East. Eddie had a more limited presence in local racing. But Eddie was a very familiar face in NHMS’ victory lane, with three K&N Pro Series wins and three ACT Invitational wins entering July’s race. MacDonald and car owner Dave Lemieux had built a brand new car in anticipation of the PASS race at NHMS.

MacDonald dominated the race, fending off David Garbo, Jr. and Georgia’s Spencer Davis to take his first career PASS win and his seventh win at NHMS. DJ Shaw, in fourth, was the highest-finishing PASS North regular. Veteran Mike Rowe finished tenth; he would be crowned champion at season’s end.

Since that event, the Super Late Model atmosphere has shifted in the Southeast, with more alternatives for competitors and a hesitance—or a lack of need—to travel. PASS opted to focus on the North and National Championship schedules in 2019, while remaining committed to its high-profile events in the Southeast. But thus far, the northern events on the National schedule have not drawn interest from teams in the south.  

And so by comparison, the field for this year’s 50-lap PASS feature looks like a traditional PASS North event.

There are a few drivers who could be deemed visitors. Austin MacDonald, grandson of Nova Scotia racer Rollie MacDonald, is in the familiar King Racing #13 as he makes the transition to Super Late Models. Bill Penfold, the NASCAR Busch North Series journeyman, was a late entry as he arrived with his pink, black and white #07 on Saturday. Cory Casagrande, Nick Lascuola and Michael Scorzelli are all GSPSS veterans making their presence known on the PASS side of the pit area. Current GSPSS regulars Devin O’Connell and Ray Christian III have added PASS events to their schedules while also chasing the National Championship honors this year. ACT Tour rookie Ryan Kuhn is moonlighting in a Super Late Model on a weekend off from the Tour.

However, the majority of the field is stocked with names and faces familiar to long-time PASS supporters. Former PASS North champions Ben Rowe, Johnny Clark and Travis Benjamin are searching for a big win on the big track. Rookie Gabe Brown will make another start at NHMS after being pressed into service in last year’s GSPSS feature. Reid Lanpher, the upset winner of last year’s Showdown, will look to repeat in PASS trim. Derek Griffith, Garrett Hall and DJ Shaw already have two wins a piece, but will be on the lookout for a third.

But to take home the trophy, they will have to get past “The Outlaw.” Eddie MacDonald has increased his PASS presence in recent years, winning at Thompson Speedway in 2017. Since 2015, MacDonald has added another two ACT Invitationals and the inaugural Short Track Showdown to his trophy case, for a total of ten wins at the “Magic Mile.”

To no one’s surprise, MacDonald and the red #17MA entry were atop the leaderboard throughout Saturday’s practice sessions. While no longer the outsider, MacDonald remains the favorite.

There may be a different look to this year’s PASS race at NHMS, but the new look is far more representative of New England’s Super Late Model landscape. It is a look PASS can be proud of as the organization, its teams and drivers become a part of one of New England’s biggest celebrations of short track racing.

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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