Saturday night was precisely the kind of homecoming party Bryan Kruczek had in mind.
In his first local start of the season, Kruczek took charge early and drove away to his second career Granite State Pro Stock Series victory in the Hedges Excavating 100 at Star Speedway.
Simply put, Kruczek was on cruise control.
“I can’t thank my guys [enough] for giving me a rocket,” Kruczek said in victory lane. “This thing was just flawless to drive.”
Not that Kruczek’s day was flawless. The veteran racer from Newmarket, N.H. fell short of victory in the Star Derby, a just-for-fun prelude to the afternoon’s feature racing. And after a ride back to the pit area, he could only draw the second grid position for the start of the GSPSS feature.
But Kruczek won everything else under the touring series’ banner on Saturday.
Kruczek was fastest in time trials, then went out and won his heat race. Kruczek’s second-place draw, though, handed the pole position to Jimmy Renfrew, Jr., another driver with plenty of laps on the Epping, N.H. quarter-mile. Renfrew, like Kruczek, had picked up his first GSPSS victory at Star, recovering from a tow from the trees to win in only his fifth series start at the age of fifteen.
Renfrew jumped out to the early lead, but Kruczek reeled his young rival in, getting past Renfrew for the lead just as the caution flew for a spin by Bobby Baillargeon. Kruczek showed the way for another short green-flag stretch, with Renfrew and Luke Hinkley settling into second and third.
Local racer Randy Cole drew the next yellow with his own turn-four spin, tightening the field again. Shortly after the restart, Sammy Gooden bobbled in the rear of the pack. Bobby Frappier was unable to dodge the self-proclaimed “Whitefield Weapon,” driving over Gooden’s car and tearing most of the bodywork free. A few laps later, Derek Gluchacki sent Baillargeon around for his second spin of the day, bringing out another yellow flag at lap 30.
As the field came to green for the restart, though, Renfrew jumped from the outside, beating Kruczek to the flagstand. The restart was called off, and Renfrew was sent to the tail of the field for jumping the start. Hinkley lined up alongside Kruczek for a do-over, with Nick Cusack third and John Peters fourth. Peters, making his first GSPSS start since 2018, had started back in 12th, courtesy of a heat-race spin while racing Cusack for a win.
This time, Kruczek crossed the line first, with Hinkley settling into second and Peters getting past Cusack for third. But as the field stretched out, opportunities for a caution flag dissipated, with only lapped traffic causing stress for the unchallenged leader.
Kruczek caught the slower cars of Gluchacki and Baillargeon in the closing laps, and while Hinkley was able to shave off a few car-lengths as Kruczek worked through traffic, Hinkley quickly lost that ground while working through the traffic on his own terms.
A second and a half ahead of the field, Kruczek coasted to his second straight win in the first GSPSS visit of the year to Star Speedway.
Hinkley was a distant second, but the Claremont, N.H. racer had plenty to be pleased about. The runner-up result was his third consecutive second-place finish in GSPSS competition, his second-straight top-five finish at Star, and his fifth-straight top-five finish dating back to last summer.
Peters, who hauled from his North Carolina home to race at Star while visiting his native Maine for a long Mother’s Day weekend, made his trip count with a third-place finish. Peters’ last two outings at Star ended in runner-up finishes, but given his racing luck earlier this year, the podium finish was encouraging.
Joey Doiron was in an unfamiliar mount for the afternoon, racing the car Jacob Dore demolished in a hard crash at Star last fall. The 2019 GSPSS champion showed off the car’s potential by driving to a fourth-place finish. Dore finished third last May in the car, and was running well when caught up in a late-race crash in September.
Cory Casagrande, who added Star to his schedule earlier this week, made his season debut for GSPSS with a fifth-place run. Like Peters, Casagrande hoped to correct course after a streak of bad luck marred his early-season efforts.
Following his lap-30 penalty, Jimmy Renfrew, Jr. was able to drive back to a sixth-place finish, but never got the caution flag he needed to contend. Nick Cusack was seventh in the running order, ahead of series rookie Dylan Estrella. Casey Call and Derek Gluchacki rounded out the top ten.
Saturday’s win was the latest success for the pairing of Kruczek and car owner Bobby Webber, Jr., whose family has operated Star Speedway since 1980. Kruczek, a Pro All Stars Series veteran with two PASS North wins in his own equipment, joined forces with Webber’s team in 2019, fielding a part-time American-Canadian Tour team and picking up two wins. Webber and Kruczek committed to a full-time program for 2020, winning once more and placing fourth in points.
Changes during the offseason brought Webber and Kruczek to the GSPSS in 2021, running the majority of the schedule while fielding a Late Model Sportsman entry weekly at the nearby Lee USA Speedway. Kruczek was dominant at Lee, winning nine features and contending for the track championship. On the touring side, the tandem’s best success was at home, with Kruczek winning at Star in May and finishing a disappointing second in September.
For 2022, Webber and Kruczek added a few longer trips to their schedule, with Kruczek winning a Pro Late Model feature in New Smyrna (Fla.) Speedway’s World Series and finishing sixth in a CARS Pro Late Model Tour event in April. Their local schedule remains up in the air; Kruczek and many of the crew members have roles at Star as well, and their focus is trained on the track’s operation through the short season.
With only a few races firmly on the schedule, the hard-charging Kruczek is out to bring home as many trophies as possible.
Kruczek came up short in the first race of the day, the first-ever “Star Derby.” A send-up of the Kentucky Derby held that afternoon, Star’s version of the famed horse race featured representatives from each of the afternoon’s divisions teamed up as “jockey” and “handler” of the team’s own wheeled contraptions designed around a horse theme. Street Stock racers Jim Storace and Aaron Day were the first team to the line.
Kruczek, with team member Kyle Casper pushing him down the frontstretch, was third out of four.
With horsepower in plural under the hood, Kruczek’s fortunes were far better.
Unofficial Results, GSPSS Hedges Excavating 100 at Star Speedway:
1. (19) Bryan Kruczek
2. (31NH) Luke Hinkley
3. (09) John Peters
4. (05D) Joey Doiron
5. (7CT) Cory Casagrande
6. (00) Jimmy Renfrew, Jr.
7. (2) Nick Cusack
8. (46) Dylan Estrella
9. (90NH) Casey Call
10. (48) Derek Gluchacki
11. (82) Bobby Baillargeon
12. (55MA) Randy Cole
13. (01) Sammy Gooden
14. (05F) Bobby Frappier
15. (77) Jeremy Sorel