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ACT & PASS Crown Champs, GSPSS Sets The Stage: Northeast Late Model Recap

Oxford 150 Start

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: The Granite State Pro Stock Series was part of the kickoff to Thompson Speedway’s annual Sunoco World Series of Speedway Racing. The tour’s penultimate race of 2017 was scheduled as a Friday-night 60-lapper on a weekend that would crown champions across multiple series.

As the series arrived for its first visit to the banked oval since 2015, Mike O’Sullivan carried a thin lead in the points over rookie Scott MacMichael, with defending champion Barry Gray and Nick Lascuola a little further out of the picture. O’Sullivan, a former Pro Stock champion at Thompson, held the home-track advantage among the points leaders.

O’Sullivan’s brother Tommy split the heat races with Derek Ramstrom, another racer with a collection of trophies from weekly competition at Thompson. Ramstrom started eighth in the feature after a redraw, with Eddie MacDonald drawing the pole. Former GSPSS champion Derek Griffith would roll off third, ahead of points leaders MacMichael and Mike O’Sullivan.

MacDonald and Griffith set sail at the start of the feature, exchanging the lead on a couple early restarts before MacDonald took control. Ramstrom worked his way through traffic to run third. Griffith took the lead from MacDonald one last time before halfway, with Ramstrom on his tail. It was a matter of laps before Ramstrom took the lead for himself. The former Thompson Pro Stock champion was dominant for the second half of the race, driving off to win his first GSPSS race of the season in his first start of the year. The win was Ramstrom’s second GSPSS victory as part of the Sunoco World Series.

Griffith held on for second, with Tommy O’Sullivan finishing third. Brad Babb, who focused on racing Supermodifieds in 2017, finished fourth in his own Pro Stock, with GSPSS regular Mike Scorzelli finishing fifth.

For the GSPSS points leaders, the night was a test of survival. Scott MacMichael and Mike O’Sullivan were involved in early spins of their own, then swept into a lap-eighteen restart wreck that ended with Greg Nanigian’s car atop O’Sullivan’s. O’Sullivan was able to continue, finishing several laps back in thirteenth. MacMichael, after repairs, rebounded with an eighth-place run, closing the gap in the points battle to four points—two positions on the track, effectively—with one race remaining.

Woody Pitkat, making a one-off start in a Pro Stock, finished sixth in the feature. Early leader Eddie MacDonald suffered a flat tire shortly after losing the race lead, forcing him to the pits under green. Eddie Mac came back to finish eleventh.

Eventful evenings for defending champion Barry Gray and Nick Lascuola left both drivers with finishes deep in the field. Gray, third in points, is still mathematically in contention for the title, but with a race win earning fifty points, Lascuola sits just beyond the window of eligibility. Cory Casagrande sits fifth in points after missing two events this year.

The GSPSS teams have one event remaining on the calendar, a battle at New London-Waterford Speedbowl this coming Saturday. The early entry list hints at a stacked field, with visitors like 2017 winners Joe Squeglia, Jr. and Jeremy Davis, PASS regular Travis Benjamin, and Modified regular Ronnie Silk joining the GSPSS regulars for their season finale.

ACT TOUR: Saturday night of the Sunoco World Series was headlined by the season finale for the American-Canadian Tour. The 75-lap Late Model feature would cap off a challenging season for the Vermont-based late model series. On the track, the ten-race season schedule had been resorted multiple times on account of weather, and one race was cancelled altogether late in the season. Off the track, the teams were still mourning the loss of ACT founder Tom Curley in May, with the teams and sanctioning body discussing how to move forward without Tom’s guidance.

The eight previous races left two drivers standing in the title chase: Vermont veteran Scott Payea, in his second year driving for Rick Paya Motorsports, and Connecticut’s Dillon Moltz, in his second full season on the Tour driving for Mark Brackett’s team. Payea held the advantage, on the back of a four-race win streak early in the year, but neither driver had finished outside the top ten all season long.

With both Thompson and not-too-far-away Seekonk Speedway running ACT rules for their weekly Late Models, and with Thompson’s Late Models wrapping up their season the night before, a number of drivers stuck around for a second night to compete in the ACT feature as well. Three heats set the lineup for the 28-car field, with wins going to Woody Pitkat, Matthew Lowinski-Loh and Ray Parent. The ACT handicapping system put Thompson racer William Wall on the pole alongside Tour regular Jimmy Hebert. Dillon Moltz would roll off eleventh; Payea would have to climb from 15th.

Wall took charge of the field in the opening laps, but with twelve laps complete, fifth-place starter Eddie MacDonald was knocking on the door. Looking to avenge his loss from the night before, MacDonald led a few laps before taking the lead for good with eighteen laps complete. A few restarts tested the Rowley, Massachusetts racer, but the race went green for good with 57 laps remaining, and Eddie Mac was untouchable as he cruised to his second ACT Tour win of 2017. It was also a bookend win for MacDonald; his first win of the year was in April in the PASS season opener at Thompson’s Icebreaker weekend.

Woody Pitkat, running the #07 Summit Ice entry in which he won the ACT Invitational instead of his usual #91CT Thompson Late Model, finished second, adding to a busy weekend for the versatile driver. Jean-François Déry, the only Série ACT entrant in the lineup, finished third.

As for the ACT title chase, it played out with little drama. Following the heats, Scott Payea only needed an eleventh-place finish to clinch the title, regardless of Dillon Moltz’ performance. Moltz rose to the occasion; he raced his way into the top five, dueled with Déry in the closing laps, and came home fourth. But Scott Payea’s red Dodge was in his mirror, and with a fifth-place run, his eighth top-five finish in nine starts, Payea was able to take home his first ACT Late Model Tour championship.

For team owner Rick Paya, it was his ninth championship as a crew chief. Two years before, Paya celebrated in Thompson’s victory lane with multi-time champion Brian Hoar, who announced in the winner’s circle that he was retiring from competition after a couple part-time seasons. Paya called Scott Payea out of his own retirement to wheel the venerable #37VT, with the duo earning eight wins and a championship in 23 ACT Tour starts together.

Regional racers rounded out the top-nine, with William Wall finishing sixth, Ray Parent seventh, Glenn Boss eighth, and Tom Carey III ninth. Tour regular Rowland Robinson, Jr. finished tenth.

Milk Bowl winner Jason Corliss finished thirteenth, ending his first full Tour season third in points. Jimmy Hebert, who ran part-time in 2016, and third-year Tour racer Rich Dubeau finished in the top fifteen to secure fourth and fifth in season points, ahead of Josh Masterson and Rowland Robinson, Jr. Mark Hudson was eighth in points, starting every feature with a best finish of 16th (twice). Kyle Welch and Miles Chipman, each of whom skipped the final two races of the season, rounded out the top ten in the standings. Seven drivers started every Tour race, and 89 drivers were credited with a Tour start during the season.

The upcoming offseason for the American-Canadian Tour will be a time for the ACT teams to assess how to move forward without Tom Curley. Curley had been open about his efforts to ensure that the thirty-one-year-old Tour would survive beyond him, and VP Darla Hart reaffirmed before last Saturday’s feature that the ACT would return in 2018. The teams and officials have a long break to reflect and prepare before the season-opening Governor’s Cup at Lee USA Speedway next April.

PASS NORTH: While Thompson Speedway served as the region’s hub of racing action for the weekend, it was far from the only track. A few hours north, Oxford Plains Speedway welcomed the Pro All Stars Series SLM teams for a season-ending 150-lap feature to settle the sixteen-race-long championship.

Four drivers entered the event with a mathematical shot at the title, but the title realistically came down to two drivers with similar numbers. Travis Benjamin, a former PASS champion and two-time Oxford 250 winner, held the points lead in his second season driving for Peter Petit’s #7 team. Glen Luce, a journeyman still riding a streak of success following his 2015 Oxford 250 victory, was 25 points back in his #7L entry. Ben Rowe and defending champion DJ Shaw were within 100 points of Benjamin, but both needed a miracle to claim the title.

The home race for the PASS North teams, at a track in fertile Super Late Model territory, meant a strong entry list, with 46 teams on hand to qualify for the 32-car field. Cole Butcher and Dustin Tucker hauled in from the Canadian Maritimes. Hallstrom Motorsports was on hand with Scott Dragon at the wheel of their #1VT Toyota. Dale Shaw Race Cars prepared rides for youngster Gabe Brown and veteran Scott Mulkern, who brought his own #84 to a former DJ Shaw entry. And former PASS competitor Austin Theriault, home in Maine on an off-weekend before clinching the ARCA Racing Series championship, was a late entrant in a family-owned car he had not raced in two years.

Four heat races went to Joey Doiron, Ben Rowe, Oxford 250 winner Curtis Gerry and Travis Benjamin, with two consis won by Beech Ridge Motor Speedway regulars John Peters and Mike Rowe. Former NASCAR Busch North Series veteran Billy Penfold held the final transfer spot in the second consi, but he failed post-race inspection, bumping him out of the field. Joining Penfold on the sidelines were Brown, Mulkern (who withdrew before qualifying), PASS Modified racer Ryan Robbins, and another dozen hopefuls from the Oxford Plains and Wiscasset Speedway ranks.

Ben Rowe, still in search of his first feature win of 2017, brought the field to green alongside Tracy Gordon, who exchanged his own #41 for the black #14 owned by David and Cathy Frahm. Rowe shot out to an early lead before facing a challenge from Dave Farrington, Jr. For the first fifty laps, it looked like Farrington might be headed for his first career PASS victory, but a caution drew the field together and allowed Gordon to take a turn at the front.

Another restart allowed Joey Doiron to lead a few laps, but in the mirror, an unsurprising contender had emerged. Curtis Gerry had worked his way through traffic and into the top three, and once he got around Doiron for the race lead, the defending Oxford 250 champion set sail. Much like he did in August, Gerry drove away from the field, lapping cars well into the top fifteen.

Gerry crossed the line just ahead of twelfth-place John Peters to win his second PASS feature of 2017. The win capped off a career year for the 47-year-old weekly racer from Waterboro, Maine. Gerry defended a Beech Ridge track championship with multiple feature wins and a second place finish in the weekly standings. In addition, in six PASS appearances he earned two wins and four top-five finishes.

Well behind Gerry in lapped traffic, Travis Benjamin came home in second place to secure his second PASS North championship. Benjamin, whose previous title and Oxford 250 wins had come in his family-owned #17 car, had joined Petit Motorsports after they split with driver Mike Rowe following the 2015 championship season. The 2016 season started out with crashes and poor runs, but the team caught fire at the end of the season, winning two races. In 2017, Benjamin added two more wins and 13 top-ten runs in 16 starts to earn a second championship in three years for car owner Peter Petit.

Defending champion DJ Shaw finished third in the race, ahead of Reid Lanpher and mid-race leader Joey Doiron. Derek Griffith followed up his runner-up finish at Thompson the night before with a sixth-place run on a long-distance double-duty weekend. Glen Luce, the other championship hopeful, started deep in the field and worked through traffic all night to earn a seventh-place finish ahead of Oxford regular Scott Robbins. Tracy Gordon, who feared a flat tire late in the race, faded to ninth ahead of Wayne Helliwell, Jr.

Early leader Ben Rowe finished eleventh, the last car on the lead lap. Austin Theriault, who made the field via a consi and survived a mid-race wreck that sheared a fender from his car, never saw the front of the field and finished 16th. Dave Farrington, Jr. rode out the second half of the race with a suspension issue and finished 17th, ahead of Beech Ridge winner Garrett Hall. Johnny Clark struggled with the handling on his #54 before parking the car with 88 laps complete, finishing 30th in the field.

Aside from eighth-place finisher Scott Robbins, the track was unkind to its weekly combatants. Alan Tardiff parked his car with a handful of laps remaining, Shawn Martin and Scott Luce were involved with Billy Rogers in a turn-four wreck, and son-and-father tandem TJ and Tim Brackett finished 31st and 32nd after suffering through their own incidents.

Official points have not been released yet, but DJ Shaw should end the season third in points over Ben Rowe. Derek Griffith’s sixth-place run should vault him into the top-five in points after a difficult season, with Dave Farrington also moving ahead of Johnny Clark among the full-time competitors. Seven racers made all sixteen races, with another three competing in eleven of the sixteen.

The 2017 season was a competitive one for PASS, with eleven different feature winners. Only five drivers won a second race, including first-time PASS winners Reid Lanpher and Curtis Gerry. The teams will now prepare for the offseason, with a long winter ahead before the likely season opener at Thompson Speedway’s Icebreaker.

WEEKLY ACTION: Friday night at Thompson Speedway also saw the season-ending event for the track’s own Late Models as a prelude to the GSPSS feature. Ray Parent entered the last race of the seven-race season with two feature wins and a worst finish of eighth. To clinch the title, he only needed to finish near the top ten.

And that was precisely what he did. While Matthew Lowinski-Loh cruised to his second feature win of the year over Walter Sutcliffe and William Wall, Parent took home a ninth-place finish and secured the title for himself and Don Parsons Racing. William Wall finished second in the standings, followed by Modified star Woody Pitkat.

The track championship, according to Parent, was his first title in any series since winning a Mini Stock title at Seekonk Speedway in 1996. Parent spent a number of years on the ACT Tour, winning one points race in 2014 and the 2013 ACT Invitational. Earlier this year, at 43, he made his NASCAR K&N Pro Series East debut, finishing fifteenth at Thompson.

COMING UP: The Granite State Pro Stock Series concludes its 2017 season this weekend with a Saturday feature at Connecticut’s New London-Waterford Speedbowl, as Mike O’Sullivan and Scott MacMichael settle the series’ championship battle.

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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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