With only one lap complete in the second heat for Saturday’s Tri-Track Open Modified Series Prelude to SBM X at Star Speedway, Jon McKennedy faced an early end to the afternoon.
A few hours later, McKennedy punched his ticket for a long night of celebration.
The Chelmsford, Mass. open-wheel ace drove from deep in the field to earn his first Tri-Track victory since 2014, capping off a reboot to his 2021 season. And even better, it came at the speedway where he cut his racing teeth.
“It feels so great to get a Modified win here at Star Speedway again,” McKennedy said in victory lane. “Great race, great competition. It feels great. Great to be back home at Star.”
McKennedy arrived at Star with a brand new car, having lost another brand new car in a grinding wreck at Thompson Speedway in April’s Icebreaker. McKennedy dialed the new car in early, with only Matt Hirschman clocking a faster lap in practice.
But one lap into McKennedy’s heat, contact up front forced the veteran to his pit stall with suspension damage. Their heat race over, McKennedy’s team thrashed to repair the car for the consi.
McKennedy rolled off deep in the pack for the consi, but dodged another multi-car crash to emerge in a qualified position. A third-place finish behind Matt Hirschman and Anthony Nocella advanced McKennedy to the feature, albeit with a starting position deep in the field.
And with no shortage of fast cars through the 28-car grid, simply driving to the front in search of the lead would be a tall order.
Front-row starters Brian Robie and Ronnie Williams set the early pace, but seventh-place starter Chase Dowling was the strongest threat, charging to the front in the opening green-flag stint. Dowling was in control when the race’s first caution flew at lap 35. McKennedy was among a few drivers who opted to pit early.
Dowling remained in command through another short green-flag run, but a crash for TJ Bleau on lap 50 forced some difficult decisions. Dowling stayed on the track while Justin Bonsignore, Robie, Williams and others headed pitside for adjustments.
A new top-five arrangement of Dowling, Max Zachem, early pitters Chris Pasteryak and Matt Swanson, and Kyle James brought the field back to the green. Dowling clung to the lead, with Matt Hirschman creeping into the top five. But on lap 64, Hirschman spun off turn two, bringing out the race’s third and final yellow flag.
This time, Dowling and Zachem peeled off for pit road, with Pasteryak assuming the lead. McKennedy drew alongside Pasteryak for the restart.
With clear track ahead for the first time all race, McKennedy jumped into the lead and ran.
While Dowling tried to claw through the field after his pit stop, McKennedy put distance between himself and the second-place battle between Pasteryak and Swanson. Swanson was able to get around Pasteryak, closing some of the gap between himself and McKennedy in lapped traffic.
But on the familiar pavement of Star Speedway, McKennedy was an unstoppable force, leading the rest of the way to capture his first Tri-Track victory since winning the inaugural series championship.
Swanson, running an “outlaw” schedule at the wheel of the Boehler family’s legendary “Ole Blue,” matched his Tri-Track career best with his second-place finish. Swanson was the runner-up in last year’s SBM “Tim Turns 21” 121 at Star Speedway.
Pasteryak was third, his best finish since 2018 in limited Tri-Track appearances. New Jersey’s Anthony Sesely finished fourth, with Thompson Icebreaker winner Ron Silk fifth.
Cam McDermott backed up his early time at the front with a sixth-place finish. Ronnie Williams crossed the line seventh, ahead of Woody Pitkat in eighth. Connecticut’s Les Hinckley was ninth. Consi runner-up Anthony Nocella rounded out the top ten.
Dowling, the early pacesetter, could get no higher than 15th at the checkered flag.
For McKennedy, who capped off his win with a turn-three smoke show, Star Speedway has always held a special significance. Since honing his racing skills at the Epping, N.H. quarter-mile, McKennedy has established himself as an open-wheel threat, primarily in Tour-type Modifieds and winged Supermodifieds. McKennedy’s talents have earned him the 2017 International Supermodified Association championship, as well as a NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour feature win in 2018.
McKennedy ended 2020 on a high note, placing second in NASCAR Modified Tour points in an abbreviated season. And after the retirement of his longtime ISMA car owners, McKennedy debuted a new big-block Supermodified with three straight wins, including his third Star Classic.
McKennedy sits eighth in NASCAR Tour points three races into the season, but the disappointment he faced at Thompson in April was a devastating blow to his local efforts.
And so it all comes back to Star, where McKennedy won the inaugural SBM 125, a race intended to return interest and glory to a track that was emerging from a few dark years. McKennedy repeated in 2014, the first year of the Tri-Track Open Modified Series, a series that evolved from the success of Star’s SBM 125.
July’s tenth running of the SBM 125, as well as September’s ISMA-sanctioned Star Classic, still loom large on the 2021 calendar.
And Jon McKennedy has those dates circled in red.
Unofficial Results, Tri-Track Open Modified Series Prelude to SBM X at Star Speedway:
1. (79) Jon McKennedy
2. (3MA) Matt Swanson
3. (75CT) Chris Pasteryak
4. (16NJ) Anthony Sesely
5. (16) Ron Silk
6. (8CT) Cam McDermott
7. (25) Ronnie Williams
8. (6) Woody Pitkat
9. (06) Les Hinckley
10. (92MA) Anthony Nocella
11. (25NH) Brian Robie
12. (06MA) Sammy Rameau
13. (60) Matt Hirschman
14. (18) Max Zachem
15. (9CT) Chase Dowling
16. (5) Tommy Barrett
17. (27MA) Kevin Iannarelli
18. (50C) Joey Cipriano
19. (76) Kirk Alexander
20. (07) Kyle James
21. (8) Earl Paules
22. (81ME) Josh Cantara
23. (48) Jon Kievman
24. (00) Justin Bonsignore
25. (4) TJ Bleau
26. (66) Austin Kochenash
27. (50) Carl Medeiros, Jr.
28. (60) Andy Shaw