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Granite State Pro Stock Series

Barker takes first career GSPSS win in Lee Oktoberfest, Helliwell returns to victory lane

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: BARKER WEATHERS RAIN DELAY FOR OKTOBERFEST WIN

The Granite State Pro Stock Series visited Lee USA Speedway on Sunday as part of the New Hampshire oval’s end-of-year Oktoberfest event. The two-day multi-division program, featuring both the track’s NASCAR-sanctioned weekly classes and a smattering of special visitors, was anchored this year by both the GSPSS and the Valenti Modified Racing Series. While Lee has long included Pro Stocks among the weekend’s divisions, this was the first time that the Pro Stock feature, lengthened to 100 laps, would be a points-scoring race for the GSPSS teams.

Devin O’Connell and Joey Doiron led a two-man points race to Lee, with 16 points separating the sophomore driver from the regional veteran. Behind Doiron, the points were up for grabs; a few series regulars facing shortened seasons had opened the back half of the top five to those who had struggled through the year. Cory Casagrande’s title bid, already in jeopardy, had come to an early end after a skipped race at Monadnock. Nick Lascuola’s consistent season had ended a few weeks earlier with a wreck at Claremont. And with Jacob Dore absent at Monadnock and now Lee, a title drive that opened with a win in the first race of the year was over.

Seventeen entries were in a crowded pit area at Lee, with O’Connell and Doiron joined by Ray Christian III, Mike O’Sullivan, Josh King and hard-luck racer Mike Scorzelli. Scott MacMichael was back in the #24 Pro Stock, and Todd Stone was back for more after a strong outing at Monadnock. Jeremy Davis, always a threat to win at Lee, was back in action at his favorite track. Rookie winner Jimmy Renfrew, Jr. was seeking his second top-five run of 2018. Making his second start of the season was Brandon Barker; the Beech Ridge Motor Speedway regular had slipped into the white #16 entry driven on the Pro All Stars Series circuit by Adam Gray. A surprising absence from the lineup was Joe Squeglia, Jr.; the July winner at Lee had finished third in Saturday’s DAV 150 at Seekonk Speedway, and opted not to pull a double for the weekend.

Devin O’Connell and Joey Doiron won their respective heats, with reigning champion Mike O’Sullivan and Ray Christian III leading the field to the green flag. However, Mother Nature intervened as a cloudy day turned damp later in the afternoon. Rain soaked the track with three features remaining, among them the GSPSS and VMRS main events. After multiple rainouts of the season opener in April, Lee would have to contend with rain in its second-to-last weekend of racing. And with strict local rules on hours of operation for the track, a rain date was not an option, and a curfew loomed at ten o’clock Sunday night.

After a three-hour delay to wait out the rains and dry the track, the GSPSS and VMRS teams went out to assist in the last track-drying efforts. Officials shortened the features for both events to ensure the races would get in before curfew, with the GSPSS race becoming a 75-lap sprint to the checkers.

Mike O’Sullivan took the lead from the start, and while the field diced for position behind him, the two-time GSPSS champion held the point for the first half of the feature. O’Sullivan had not chased points in 2018, but his limited schedule had earned him one more victory than he claimed in 2017, and it seemed he was en route to doubling that total under Lee’s lights.

By that point, Brandon Barker had climbed from seventh at the start to the runner-up spot, allowing Ray Christian III and Todd Stone to battle for third. Barker drove with aggression, nearly scraping the wall as he chased down O’Sullivan for the lead. In his own #88 ride back in Maine, Barker had found success in the late summer, earning feature wins at Beech Ridge and Oxford Plains Speedway, and driving to a top-ten finish in the Oxford 250.

Barker’s star began to fade as O’Connell took second place back in the closing laps, but Barker charged back to second with fifteen laps remaining. As O’Connell dropped back, Barker ran down O’Sullivan, challenging the series veteran for the race lead. Barker found an opening for the lead pass, but a yellow flag with three laps remaining handed the lead back to O’Sullivan for the restart.

When the green flew with three laps to go, Barker beat O’Sullivan for the race lead, holding it as the yellow flew again with two laps remaining. Officials opted for a single-file restart in the interest of time. On the final restart, Barker got away as O’Sullivan drifted high, with Todd Stone stealing the runner-up spot. With no one to challenge him on the final lap, Brandon Barker cruised to his first career GSPSS win in his second start in the series. Barker is the ninth winner in ten GSPSS races this season, with only Devin O’Connell scoring multiple series wins so far.

Todd Stone held on for a second-place run, his second-straight runner-up finish, with Mike O’Sullivan third after dominating the early portion of the race. Jimmy Renfrew, Jr. finished fourth for his second top-five finish of his young career. Points leader Devin O’Connell rounded out the top five to defend his points advantage.

Ray Christian III finished sixth, with Barker’s one-time Beech Ridge teammate Joey Doiron finishing seventh. Luke Hinkley was eighth, with Guy Caron ninth and Josh King rounding out the top ten. Pre-race favorite Jeremy Davis, who was involved in a wreck with three laps to go, was fifteenth.

Unfortunately for Barker, there were no frontstretch celebrations for his first series victory. With more rain and a curfew approaching, victory lane ceremonies were curtailed to get the Valenti Modified Racing Series teams out on the track for what would be an abbreviated feature. A third feature for the track’s own Late Model Sportsmen was called off entirely due to the weather, likely to run as part of the track’s year-ending enduro program this weekend.

Devin O’Connell’s top-five day and Doiron’s seventh-place run left the two separated by twenty points, or ten finishing positions, entering the penultimate race of the season at Thompson Speedway in O’Connell’s home state of Connecticut. Behind them, Cory Casagrande remains third in points, with Ray Christian III closing in on the former points leader. Mike O’Sullivan, with two straight podium finishes, sits fifth in the standings despite skipping two events.

The GSPSS teams have a quick turnaround ahead, with a Friday night race at Thompson as part of the track’s year-ending World Series celebration.

DAV 150: HELLIWELL FINDS VICTORY LANE FOR FIRST SLM WIN IN TWO YEARS

Though its weekly competition is over for the season, Seekonk Speedway still has a handful of special events remaining on the schedule. Among those was Saturday’s D.A.V. Fall Classic, a non-points afternoon held in honor of track founder and patriarch D. Anthony Venditti. Venditti elevated Pro Stocks to the track’s top weekly division in the late 1970s and 1980s, and so the D.A.V. Fall Classic’s main event is the 150-lap Pro Stock feature, with a $6,000 check in store for the winner.

Despite strong weekly turnouts in the track’s Pro Stock division and a big payday on the line, only thirteen teams showed up for the event, with Matt Frahm’s #14 operation bowing out after blowing an engine in practice. The reasons were many: a few teams had lost cars to wrecks in the Seekonk weekly finale, while others may have been forced to favor the first-time GSPSS points race at Lee USA Speedway’s Oktoberfest. Many expected a larger draw from the PASS faithful, in anticipation of the season finale at Seekonk in a few weeks. With three straight race weekends to close out the year for the North teams, including a potential trip to Richmond, Virginia, many may have relished the off-week to prepare.

Another element is the David Darling factor. The six-time and recently-crowned 2018 Seekonk Speedway champion was an easy favorite for the 150-lapper and the big payday.

Darling and Kevin Casper brought the field to green. As anticipated, Darling took the lead ten laps into the feature and set sail, building a straightaway-long lead over Casper at times. A caution with 27 laps remaining offered an opportunity for the teams to change tires, but Darling and Casper, among others, opted to go the distance on their rubber.

After the restart, Darling again took off with the race lead, with Casper fighting for second with Ryan Vanasse, Rick Martin and Wayne Helliwell, Jr. As the laps wound down, Darling’s car began to show weakness, and Casper pounced, closing the gap and overtaking the dominant #52 with eleven laps remaining.

A spin by Bobby Pelland brought the yellow flag out with six laps remaining, drawing the field together for a climactic restart. David Darling made a bold outside move to challenge Casper for the lead, but it would be his last bold move of the race, as Darling and Casper got together in turns one and two. Casper would continue, but Darling’s car was done for the night.

Ryan Vanasse emerged with the race lead, with Wayne Helliwell, Jr. restarting alongside him. Helliwell battled the Seekonk regular hard, coming out on top after another restart with only three laps to go. Helliwell surged ahead to win the D.A.V. 150 over Vanasse, with Joe Squeglia, Jr. finishing third. Rick Martin and Bobby Pelland rounded out the top five, with Kevin Casper racing back to eighth at the finish.

Helliwell’s win marked the end of a winless streak that went back to the 2016 Oxford 250, over two years ago. Helliwell, who has multiple sclerosis, suffered a severe flare-up of the disease after his 250 triumph, forcing him to the sidelines as he fought to get his condition back under control. The three-time American-Canadian Tour champion ran limited schedules in 2017 and 2018, but victory had eluded him since the biggest win of his career.

Top Pro Stock Rookie Jake Johnson was not in the lineup for the D.A.V. 150, but he scored the runner-up prize, besting a field of 25 entrants in the 50-lap Late Model feature. Ryan Kuhn, the season’s Late Model track champion, finished 23rd in the feature.

FALL BRAWL 151: THERRIEN TAKES THIRD FALL BRAWL WIN AT SPEEDWAY 51

Speedway 51 in Groveton, N.H. hosted its annual Fall Brawl Saturday evening, with the multi-division show anchored by the Li’l Joey Generation Next Late Model 151. The race, run in memory of track namesake Joey M. Laquerre, marks another big-money show for ACT-rules Late Models during the long layover before the season finale at Thompson Speedway’s World Series.

Twenty-seven Late Models took the green flag, with “Bad Boy” Bobby Therrien dominating the final stages of the race to earn his third Fall Brawl 151 victory. Therrien’s win came a week after a Milk Bowl performance that would have earned him a win in any year since 1998, but was only good enough for second place against Jason Corliss. The Hinesburg, VT racer opted not to chase Thunder Road points in 2018, instead running an outlaw campaign that saw him behind the wheel of his Late Model as well as a Super Late Model in selected events.

Josh Masterson finished second to Therrien, with Marcel J. Gravel, Quinny Welch and ACT regular Bryan Mason rounding out the top five. Stacy Cahoon, Jean-Philippe Bergeron, Stephen Donahue, Corey Mason and Jonathan Bouvrette completed the top ten. ACT full-timer Claude Leclerc was eliminated in a mid-race crash with veteran Jamie Aube. Nick Sweet dominated the early stages of the race, but his own crash with a lapped car doomed the recent PASS winner to a 25th-place finish.

NEXT ON THE SCHEDULE

Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park in Connecticut hosts the World Series program this weekend, culminating in the season finale for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. Joining the NASCAR Modifieds at Thompson are the Granite State Pro Stock Series, who raced Friday evening, and the American-Canadian Tour, who will crown their champion after Saturday night’s season finale.

The Pro All Stars Series teams will race Saturday afternoon at Oxford Plains Speedway in Maine, with the penultimate race on the schedule likely serving as a season finale of sorts for many of the Maine-based teams.

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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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