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: RC III WINS RACE, O’CONNELL CLINCHES TITLE FOR HOMETOWN SWEEP AT WATERFORD
Coastal Connecticut’s New London-Waterford Speedbowl hosted the season finale for the Granite State Pro Stock Series last Saturday night. The 100-lap feature was the exclamation point on three consecutive weeks of feature racing, weeks that paired New England’s newest Pro Stock touring series with some of the biggest weekends in local racing. It was a wrap on the GSPSS’ biggest and boldest season yet, with new tracks and race formats setting a path for 2019 and beyond.
And for two racers, it was the last week of a title chase dating back to May. Sophomore driver Devin O’Connell, from nearby Madison, held the advantage, needing only to finish better than 14th to clinch the title. Chasing O’Connell was Joey Doiron, a first-time GSPSS racer but an established name in northern New England. Doiron had shown the speed to contend all year, but misfortune had left him a step behind when it mattered.
With one of the region’s final race weekends in store, Doiron and O’Connell were far from the only drivers in the pit area. Twenty-one drivers were in GSPSS trim for the evening’s feature, including former points leader Cory Casagrande. With Southern racing opportunities cancelled due to inclement weather, Casagrande’s team prepared their backup car for one last shot at a bump in the GSPSS standings. The postponement of the PASS Commonwealth Classic in Virginia allowed two other drivers to change gears; Ben Rowe planned to make his first Waterford start in many years, while Ray Christian III would now be able to race at his home track.
Casagrande was not the only GSPSS driver on hiatus to return, with Jacob Dore also making the trip for the season finale. Seekonk Speedway fixtures David Darling and Kevin Casper, along with Rhode Islander Bobby Pelland, were on site. Recent ACT Tour winner William Wall took the seat of the red #42. From New Hampshire, Joe Squeglia, Jr. looked to defend his win in last year’s season finale. Lee winner Brandon Barker and Dave Farrington, Jr., who won at Waterford in 2016, were also in attendance, along with Oxford Plains Speedway champion Gabe Brown.
Josh King, sixth in points, was not in attendance, nor was Todd Stone, freezing the Vermont driver’s streak of consecutive second-place finishes at three.
Dave Darling and Ben Rowe topped the field during time trials, each leading one of the qualifying heats to green. Ray Christian III and William Wall won the heats, with Wall and Mike O’Sullivan earning the top spots on the grid after a redraw. Title contenders O’Connell and Doiron lined up side-by-side in seventh and eighth.
O’Sullivan jumped to the early lead, with Wall dropping back through the pack. As Wall fell into the clutches of the title contenders, he became part of the championship drama, as Wall and Joey Doiron got together to bring out the second yellow of the night. Devin O’Connell got into another driver at the same time, doing damage to the nose of his #43. While Doiron was sent to the rear for his involvement in the caution, O’Connell went to the pits for repairs, returning minus some of the front-end bodywork.
On the restart, Ray Christian III slipped past O’Sullivan and into the lead, with Ben Rowe taking the lead on the next restart. Rowe, a PASS stalwart, was a rare fixture in GSPSS competition; his only two prior starts in the series were at the 2017 and 2018 Short Track Showdowns at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. With an unexpected off-weekend before the PASS season finale, Rowe and his Richard Moody Racing team opted to keep their skills sharp. A win at a mostly-unfamiliar track would certainly be a welcome highlight for the season.
Behind Rowe, the championship leaders were experiencing very different evenings; Doiron had battled back into the top ten, while O’Connell rode at the rear of the field in a car now liberated of all its front-end cladding. Doiron’s progress was promising to his faint title hopes, but O’Connell received a reprieve with thirty laps complete, as a seven-car wreck brought out the red flag. Defending race winner Joe Squeglia, Jr. was among the cars involved, and also among those who would be unable to continue.
Rowe held the lead for the next several laps, while Ray Christian III mounted a charge for the top spot. Christian was able to get alongside Rowe, but could not make the pass. At last, with 21 laps remaining, Christian made his move stick, powering past Rowe and into the top spot.
In the final fifteen-lap sprint, Gabe Brown muscled his way into second, while a desperate Joey Doiron battled Ben Rowe for third, needing the win to clinch the championship for himself. As Brown chased down Christian, Doiron found himself stuck in fourth, unable to get around his former PASS rival. Brown made an aggressive move on Christian on the final lap, in hopes of claiming his first GSPSS win, but Christian held off the charge. The Uncasville driver, who had anticipated being in Richmond for the weekend, claimed his own first GSPSS trophy in his rookie year.
Gabe Brown settled for second, with Ben Rowe third and Joey Doiron fourth. Early leader Mike O’Sullivan was fifth. Jacob Dore, David Darling, Kevin Casper, Scott MacMichael and Bobby Pelland rounded out the top ten.
Dave Farrington, Jr., who had been in the top five with twenty laps to go, finished eleventh after being turned late in the going by Craig Weinstein. Weinstein was twelfth. Corey Bubar was 13th with Cory Casagrande finishing 14th.
Devin O’Connell, with a battered race car, limped home to a 16th-place finish, but the finish was good enough to secure the 2018 Granite State Pro Stock Series title by six points over Joey Doiron. O’Connell won two races in 2018, taking his first career win at Hudson Speedway in July and following up with a win at Monadnock Speedway in September. In the process, O’Connell ended a dubious streak; the 2016 and 2017 champions had been winless in their title seasons.
Doiron’s runner-up finish in the standings was surprising given the experience and winning record he carried into his first full GSPSS season. The 2015 PASS National Championship winner and 2013 PASS North runner-up won the spring’s three-segment feature at Waterford, but a frustrating number of late-race crashes and a couple mechanical problems left Doiron chasing the leaders most of the season. The oft-awarded hard-luck prizes could not make up for the points left on the track.
While official points have not been updated, Ray Christian III is likely to finish third in the season standings, while Mike O’Sullivan will slip past Cory Casagrande for the fourth position after skipping two events. Jacob Dore will move to sixth, ahead of Mike Scorzelli, who made it to every race despite facing hard luck and crashes throughout the season.
With that, GSPSS teams and drivers can look forward to a long offseason to regroup and rebuild as they await the release of the 2019 season schedule.
NEXT ON THE SCHEDULE
The Pro All Stars Series North teams will crown their champion Sunday afternoon in the rain-delayed 150-lap season finale at Seekonk Speedway, marking the series’ first visit of the year to Massachusetts. The race will be held in conjunction with the Tri-Track Open Modified Series’ Haunted Hundred feature for Tour-type Modifieds.