As Derek Griffith pulled to a stop on the frontstretch at Lee USA Speedway Sunday night, the sun was not only setting on a competitive weekend of racing at the coastal New Hampshire speedway.
It was setting on a very successful month for Griffith.
Griffith took the lead early and never looked back, winning his second straight running of the Granite State Pro Stock Series feature of Lee’s annual Oktoberfest.
With wins in three of his last four Pro Stock/Super Late Model events in New England, and a second-place finish by mere inches in a thriller in the fourth, Sunday’s Oktoberfest victory capped off a successful run in the Northeast for the hot Hudson, N.H. prospect.
With Griffith’s racing season in the Northeast likely complete, Sunday afternoon’s win was something of a walk-off.
Griffith drew third on the grid in the pre-race redraw, lining up behind Seekonk Speedway regulars Dylan Estrella and David Darling. And when the green flag dropped, Griffith wasted little time dispatching Darling, then Estrella, to move to the lead.
Contact between Rusty Poland and home-track favorite Eddie MacDonald stacked up the second half of the field on lap 7, eliminating MacDonald, 2018 Oktoberfest winner Brandon Barker, Maine visitor Evan Beaulieu and a handful of others from contention. And in any other race, the wreck might have changed the complexion of the race to come.
But Griffith was already securely in the top spot, and on the restart, Joey Polewarczyk could only shadow his cross-town rival as the two put the bulk of the field a lap in arrears.
A lap-76 caution flag closed up the remaining lead-lap cars, breathing new life into the battle for second place. Polewarczyk faded from the podium as Joey Doiron moved to second and Jimmy Renfrew, Jr. took third. Doiron, at the wheel of the Wright Pearson-owned entry he drove to a Pro All Stars Series victory at White Mountain Motorsports Park in September, looked like he might have something left for Griffith, and another yellow for Wayne Helliwell, Jr.’s flat tire with 12 laps remaining gave the reigning GSPSS champion a shot.
But Doiron could not match Griffith’s pace in the closing laps, settling for a season-best second-place finish.
Renfrew, who finished second to Griffith in last year’s Oktoberfest feature, started the year as one of the GSPSS title threats, but an early crash in the season opener reworked those plans. Instead, Renfrew bounced between GSPSS and American-Canadian Tour touring events, while focusing on Lee’s weekly Street Stock ranks. Renfrew won Sunday’s Street Stock feature, capping off a season in which he won all but one Street Stock event at Lee en route to the track championship. And with PASS racer Gabe Brown calling the shots for the afternoon, Renfrew earned a season-best third-place finish.
Polewarczyk, the only of the frontrunners in the GSPSS points race, settled for a fourth-place finish, with New London-Waterford Speedbowl feature winner Darling rounding out the top five.
Ray Christian III, the points leader for the first half of the season, struggled with an unfamiliar chassis and mechanical issues in practice and was forced to qualify through the consi. Christian won the last-chance race and was faster in the feature, but could only finish sixth, losing ground to Polewarczyk in the penultimate race of the season.
Sunday’s event came a few weeks after a controversial open-competition event at Lee, the Freedom 300, which was anchored by a $10,000-to-win Pro Stock feature. Delays throughout the program forced officials to cleave laps from the big-money Street Stock and Pro Stock events to meet a strict local curfew, with Griffith taking the checkered flag after only 100 of 150 laps were complete. Fans and racers alike criticized the pace of the program afterwards, echoing a long-standing criticism of racing programs at the track.
But a leaner and meaner schedule for the final day of the three-day Oktoberfest spectacular ensured that the final checkered flag flew before six o’clock, meaning many fans could even make it home in time for dinner.
The urgency was clear through the day. Time trials were scrapped for the GSPSS, with the final practice and scuff session used to seed the three qualifying heats, and victory lane celebrations were devoid of teams and interviews, a move that also supported stricter mask and distancing guidelines that were handed to New Hampshire speedways earlier in the week.
For Griffith and car owner Louie Mechalides, the win was the finale of a wildly-successful early-autumn run in southern New Hampshire.
After ending August with an early exit to the Oxford 250, Griffith and Mechalides thrashed to get the car ready for the GSPSS Newport Chevrolet 150, part of Claremont Motorsports Park’s inaugural Granite State Nationals on Labor Day weekend. Griffith, the 2015 GSPSS champion, led the extra-distance feature from start to finish, taking home a series-record $10,000 payday.
Following a quick celebration, Griffith and team tore the engine from the car, turning it over to GSPSS officials for dyno testing. The engine was returned Tuesday, leaving the team enough time to prep the car for that Friday’s Freedom 300. Griffith started midpack in the Pro Stock open, but drove to the front, took an early lead, and took the checkered flag as the clock struck midnight.
Griffith’s next race was an ARCA Menards Series appearance at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway the following Thursday, after which he flew back to New Hampshire and hurried to Star Speedway in Epping for Friday’s GSPSS feature in conjunction with the annual Star Classic. Griffith was dominant early, but late cautions set up a thrilling duel between he and Joey Polewarczyk, with “Joey Pole” edging Griffith by inches at the line for the win.
The team had some breathing room last week before this weekend’s Oktoberfest, where Griffith was the car to beat as soon as he rolled the red-and-black #12G from the hauler.
Griffith, last year’s Pro All Stars Series championship runner-up, parlayed strong runs in February’s World Series at New Smyrna (Fla.) Speedway into an ARCA Menards Series opportunity with car owner Chad Bryant. Changes to Griffith’s ARCA schedule following the pandemic have kept him from making a championship run up north, but Griffith has a PASS feature win in addition to his late-season success.
Griffith also has planned ARCA starts in the next two weeks, starts that will likely mean an end to his local program for this year as he tries to earn opportunities on the national stage for 2021.
For those entered in the upcoming PASS and GSPSS races, though, that may be a sigh of relief.
The Granite State Pro Stock Series has two weekends off before the season finale on October 24 at New London-Waterford Speedbowl in coastal Connecticut. Joey Polewarczyk will look to seal up the championship over Ray Christian III and Angelo Belsito at Christian’s home track.
Unofficial Results, GSPSS Oktoberfest 100 at Lee USA Speedway:
1. (12G) Derek Griffith
2. (16) Joey Doiron
3. (00) Jimmy Renfrew, Jr.
4. (97) Joey Polewarczyk
5. (52) David Darling
6. (93CT) Ray Christian III
7. (46) Dylan Estrella
8. (27NH) Wayne Helliwell, Jr.
9. (44) Rusty Poland
10. (8) Angelo Belsito
11. (90NH) Casey Call
12. (52NH) Jake Matheson
13. (29) Adam Gray
14. (18) Jeff Fagan
15. (2) Tom Scully, Jr.
16. (55) Cody LeBlanc
17. (77) Jeremy Sorel
18. (48) Larry Gelinas
19. (3) Travis Buzzell
20. (56) Evan Beaulieu
21. (17MA) Eddie MacDonald
22. (88B) Brandon Barker
23. (82) Bobby Baillargeon
24. (88) Kevin Casper