Sunday’s Northeast Classic may have been a new addition to the rich tapestry of New England racing spectacles, but the trophies were handed out to some established names.
Bobby Santos III, Jimmy Renfrew, Jr. and Emerson Cayer were among the veterans that joined Johnny Clark and Jimmy Hebert in New Hampshire Motor Speedway’s victory lane at the multi-division event.
Twin 50-lap features for the Pro All Stars Series North Super Late Models and the American-Canadian Tour Late Models, won by Clark and Hebert respectively, anchored the inaugural event. But a full slate of short track action rounded out the afternoon. Non-points open features were staged for Tour-type Modifieds and Street Stocks, while the North East Mini Stock Tour and EXIT Realty Pro Truck Challenge held events counting toward their own championships.
Santos surprised few with his victory drive in the afternoon’s 50-lap Tour-type Modified open. The open-wheel ace from Franklin, Mass. was a force in the second half of the race, holding off a charge from Chase Dowling to pick up his eighth Modified win at the Magic Mile.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Santos said after the win. “Thanks, New Hampshire, and all these guys, ACT and PASS, who put on this show and invited the Modifieds along.”
Matt Swanson dominated the first half of the race, but Santos assumed the lead after a scheduled halfway break, with Swanson restarting deep in the field. Dowling, who started on the pole, took the lead for the first time on lap 35, dicing with Santos for the top spot.
But the 2010 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champ shut the door for good on Dowling with seven laps remaining, hanging on in a caution-free sprint to the finish.
Ronnie Williams, Martinsville Tour winner Eric Goodale, and Mike Christopher, Jr. rounded out the top five in the eleven-car field.
Santos was at the wheel of Tinio Motorsports’ familiar #44, an entry he drove to five of his previous seven Modified wins at NHMS. Car owner Salvatore “Sully” Tinio passed away over the winter, with the team electing to carry on in his memory. “I’ve gotta thank the Tinio family for being here, first of all,” Santos said. “It’s pretty cool to get them back to victory lane.”
Santos was third for the Tinio family in last week’s Outlaw Open Modified Series Icebreaker 125 at Thompson (Conn.) Speedway, following up a victory earlier that afternoon in the day’s NEMA Midget feature.
While Santos’ win was an emotional triumph, Renfrew’s was about redemption. The Candia, N.H. teen went from the infield care center to victory lane, closing out the afternoon with a win in the 25-lap Street Stock feature.
Renfrew’s double-duty day started in the ACT Tour main event, where he crashed hard after contact in turn two while running solidly in the top ten. After a quick check-up in the care center, he hopped into his Street Stock hoping to reverse his fortunes.
Indeed, Renfrew was nearly unstoppable. A rash of early yellows kept Devon McConologue and Steven Dickey within reach, but in the final green-flag stretch, Renfrew gapped McConologue to coast to an uncontested win.
A former Granite State Pro Stock Series feature winner, the young Renfrew has been a force locally in Street Stocks, winning all but one feature at Lee (N.H.) USA Speedway in 2020.
Emerson Cayer had the privilege of winning the first feature of the day, capturing the season opener for the North East Mini Stock Tour. Cayer, the 2017 NEMST champion, topped a 22-car Mini Stock field for his first NHMS win in six appearances at the big track.
Cayer faltered on a late-race restart, dropping from the lead to fourth with five laps to go. A battle between Desmond Skillings and Cody LeBlanc allowed Cayer to close the gap, and contact between the two on the final lap opened the door for Cayer to take the win. Skillings, the reigning NEMST champion, was second, with 2018 series champ LeBlanc third.
The EXIT Realty Pro Truck Challenge made its NHMS debut as part of Sunday’s program. Jason Ferreira celebrated his first series win in a dominant performance in the caution-free feature. Ferreira battled past Jim Boyle to take the lead early on, a lead he would never relinquish. However, Ferreira was later disqualified for an engine infraction, handing the win to Boyle. Seekonk (Mass.) Speedway regular Ryan Vanasse was credited with second.
Sunday’s Northeast Classic was originally planned for last April, effectively replacing the co-promoted New England Short Track Showdown with a program backed instead by PASS and ACT. Last year’s event was initially postponed due to the pandemic, then called off altogether when it proved too challenging to coordinate a makeup date. Speed51 hosted a virtual “Northeast eClassic” through iRacing, with Ryan Kuhn winning the Super Late Model portion of the digital race.
This year’s event was slated for Friday and Saturday, but an early-April snowstorm anticipated on Friday forced a one-day delay, with open testing on Saturday and all heats and features run on Sunday instead.
But otherwise, the inaugural Northeast Classic went off without a hitch, building upon NHMS’ legacy of contributing to New England’s short track ecosystem with a unique and revered battleground.
Editor’s note: This article has been corrected to reflect Monday’s announcement regarding Jason Ferreira’s disqualification in the EXIT Realty Pro Truck Challenge feature.