There are two factors that elevate the stature of a Super Late Model race. The first is legacy, a history and grandeur dating back years before many of its participants were conceived.
Lacking legacy, an ample helping of cold, hard cash never hurt.
And only a week after the Oxford 250, a race replete with both, Super Late Model racers in northern New England will have unprecedented opportunities to go bounty-hunting.
This Sunday, the Granite State Pro Stock Series returns to its home track, Claremont Motorsports Park in New Hampshire’s Upper Valley, for the third running of the Newport Chevrolet 150. Billed under the mantle of the Granite State Nationals, the race itself is not new, but the purse has been significantly sweetened for 2020, with $10,000 paid to the victor.
And next Friday evening, across the state, Lee USA Speedway will host the recently-announced Freedom 300, a big-ticket event anchored by a 150-lap, $10,000-to-win Pro Stock “open-competition” feature.
Add in this weekend’s $5,000-to-win Boss Hogg 150 at Wiscasset Speedway in Maine, and in a few weeks, over $50,000 in winner’s prizes alone will have been on the table for drivers with straight-rail cars by any name.
In a pandemic-stifled economy, it’s an encouraging sight.
The Granite State Nationals is the realization of GSPSS president Mike Parks’ goal to give his touring series its own signature event. An extra fifty laps and an extra boost to the purse established the race two years ago as a key standalone date on the GSPSS schedule. This year, with Parks leasing Claremont and assuming promoter duties, Claremont became the de facto home track for the tenth-year touring division.
Claremont was originally slated to host two GSPSS events this year, the season opener in May and the Labor Day 150-lap feature. Cancellations and postponements driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, plus Parks’ new relationship with the speedway, made Claremont the host track not only for the season opener, but for three of the first four races of 2020. Sunday’s race is slated to be the final GSPSS visit of the season to Claremont.
A mid-summer sponsorship announcement turned the GSPSS’ planned fall visit to Claremont into not only the series’ richest race ever, but a genuine regional crown jewel.
If a mid-summer crown jewel announcement seems late in the game, Lee’s Freedom 300 evening is even more last-minute. The speedway, owned by Claremont co-owner Norm Wrenn, announced the event only a couple weeks ago. Where the GSPSS event is a part of the series’ points-paying championship, Lee’s 150-lapper is an open-competition race independent of sanction. Lee’s race will draw from a stripped-down rulebook that should accommodate most Super Late Models and Pro Stocks campaigned in New England’s two touring series and at the few tracks that still run the state-of-the-art fendered cars as a weekly class.
The race is a notable addition for Lee, which has few direct ties to modern Pro Stock or Super Late Model racing. Formerly Lee’s top fendered class of weekly racing, Pro Stocks have been absent from the rotation for many years, only appearing as part of October’s multi-division Oktoberfest program, or as part of a visiting touring series.
The GSPSS, the only such touring series to compete at Lee since 2017, has sanctioned the Oktoberfest Pro Stock feature for the last two years. However, both of the series’ planned trips to Lee have been cancelled this year in connection with the pandemic.
New England’s relationship with the Pro Stock, and the Super Late Model nomenclature that largely succeeded it, is complex. Seekonk Speedway in Massachusetts was one of the first local tracks to use the Pro Stock name for its top fendered class, adopting the term in 1979. Many tracks followed suit, hosting weekly Pro Stocks despite disparate rules from speedway to speedway.
Pro Stocks took hold on a touring level with the 1986 formation of the American-Canadian Tour, whose Pro Stock Tour quickly became the region’s top non-NASCAR touring organization. Finances forced ACT to disband the Pro Stock Tour after 1995, with the Northeast Pro Stock Association (NEPSA) and International Pro Stock Challenge (IPSC) filling the void.
Racer and promoter Tom Mayberry’s new Pro All Stars Series supplanted NEPSA and IPSC in 2001, with PASS’ Pro Stocks becoming the region’s premier tour. In 2005, PASS began to phase “Pro Stock” out of its vocabulary, adopting the Super Late Model nomenclature that was in use across the country.
And at a local level, rising costs and dwindling car counts caused Pro Stocks to fade away from the weekly ranks as well. As Late Models of various types became the top weekly class at tracks like Lee and Star Speedway, Pro Stocks became a touring curiosity.
Oxford Plains Speedway in Maine, owned by PASS’ Mayberry family, still sanctions Super Late Models in its weekly program. Two tracks within ninety minutes of Oxford, Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in Scarborough and Wiscasset Speedway, host Pro Stocks with a similar rulebook. Seekonk Speedway is the only other New England track to sanction a weekly Pro Stock class.
With only four of New England’s seventeen active asphalt short tracks hosting Pro Stocks and Super Late Models, the prospects of high-stakes events are that much more dependent upon the touring series that bear the flag for the platform.
In the modern era, the Oxford 250 is uniquely positioned to set the gold standard. As an event under any sanction, it retains the grandeur of the biggest fendered short track event in New England. With $25,000 to the winner and another $25,000 in lap-leader bonuses up for grabs, it promises a purse no local race can match. And with the sanctioning of PASS and a healthy field of regional Super Late Model regulars, an admirable and competitive field is a near-guarantee.
For three years, the U.S. Pro Stock/Super Late Model National Championship attempted to follow that model. The independently-sanctioned $10,000-to-win showdown was hosted at Seekonk Speedway from 2016 to 2018, scheduled on a July weeknight before New Hampshire Motor Speedway’s annual Cup Series weekend. Despite drawing strong fields and interest from outside New England, the National Championship did not make a fourth season.
Other big-ticket races either have remained local curiosities, like Wiscasset’s Boss Hogg 150, or have become part of a touring series schedule, like Seekonk’s annual D.A.V. Fall Classic. After only 13 cars turned out for a shot at the $6,000 winner’s prize in 2018, the GSPSS took over sanctioning of the race for 2019 and beyond.
There is an opportunity for high-stakes Super Late Model races in New England, if only a promoter can perfect the formula.
The future of the GSPSS-sanctioned Granite State Nationals seems far more secure at present. Mike Parks has proven himself willing to take big chances. In addition to taking on weekly promotion at Claremont, Parks made bold moves with this year’s pre-pandemic GSPSS schedule, negotiating for races at Adirondack International Speedway in upstate New York and at Beech Ridge, which had not hosted a touring Super Late Model event since 2018. And just last week, Claremont staged a $10,000-to-win Tour-type Modified feature race, under the promotion of former Tri-Track Open Modified Series founders Dick Williams and Jim Schaefer.
With nearly thirty cars entered for Sunday’s race, and as a key event toward the GSPSS title chase, the Granite State Nationals is positioned well for success.
Lee’s Freedom 300, meanwhile, invites some cause for concern. The race is a late addition to a busy fall schedule, one where commitments and budgets may already be maxed out. Moreover, it comes at the tail end of a rush of high-stakes races. For many racers, the decision to go to Lee may be a last-minute call hinging upon Sunday’s results at Claremont or Wiscasset.
But in a season where few have raced as much as they would like to, Friday’s Freedom 300 represents another opportunity to get to the track. It represents opportunity for veteran drivers who can manage their tires and equipment on Lee’s sometimes-puzzling surface. For the remaining Super Late Model specialists in southern New Hampshire, who have lost race dates at Lee and Star this year already, it could be an opportunity to get a race in without having to travel.
For every reason racers can find not to make the trip, there are ten thousand reasons to reconsider.
Credit is due to Mike Parks, Norm Wrenn, and the other promoters and sponsors involved in these events. In many ways, we are fortunate to have racing in any form this season. And beyond merely keeping the wheels turning, promoters like Parks, Wrenn, the ACT’s Cris Michaud and PASS’ Tom Mayberry are innovating and investing in the sport. Michaud jump-started the racing season for multiple tours in New England; Michaud and Mayberry have breathed new life into this fall’s World Series at Thompson. Parks and Wrenn are putting big money on the line for racers who rarely see a payday of that scale.
And as a season of uncertainty draws to a close, for a select few of New England’s top Super Late Model racers, the next few weeks are certain to be quite lucrative.