As Derek Griffith’s team pushed their damaged car back onto the trailer after a shortened night in last Sunday’s Oxford 250, they knew they had their work cut out for them to get the car ready for their next race.
But under the lights at Claremont Motorsports Park, the efforts of Griffith and the LCM Motorsports team were well-rewarded.
Griffith led every lap of the Newport Chevrolet 150, the headline event of Sunday’s inaugural Granite State Nationals. And for their efforts, Griffith and team took home a $10,000 check, the largest winner’s purse in the history of the Granite State Pro Stock Series.
Driving a car that had not even been stickered up on the right side in time for practice, Griffith previewed his dominance by setting fast time in time trials, then winning his heat race. And when the 2015 GSPSS champion pulled the pole position in the pre-race redraw, the field’s fate was sealed.
“I don’t think we had a night earlier than 11:30, leaving the shop, all week,” Griffith said of the work involved in restoring the team’s car to race-ready shape. “These guys right here are the reason why I can do this.”
Two early cautions kept Gabe Brown and the rest of the field within reach, but a long green-flag run to the finish allowed Griffith to first build a lead, and then use lapped traffic to defend it.
That same lapped traffic was almost Griffith’s undoing, as late-race contact with Larry Gelinas in turn two sent Griffith drifting sideways off the corner. But Griffith never flinched, powering through the slide and driving off with the victory.
July Claremont winner Angelo Belsito made a bold move to take second place from Gabe Brown on the race’s second restart, bringing Joey Polewarczyk, Jr. along with him. Belsito was fast enough to maintain, but not fast enough to close, and settled for a runner-up finish to counter a disastrous night at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway three weeks ago.
Gabe Brown finished third, getting around Polewarczyk after the veteran slipped up in turn four. Brown, a full-timer on the Pro All Stars Series circuit, recorded his best finish in three GSPSS starts this year a week after finishing tenth in the Oxford 250.
Despite starting outside the top ten, Cory Casagrande came on strong in the final fifty laps, racing his way to a season-best fourth-place finish. Reigning GSPSS champion Joey Doiron, fresh off a podium finish in the Oxford 250, returned to his own family-owned car this week with a fifth-place result.
Joey Pole finished sixth after running in the top five all evening. Local favorite Luke Hinkley started second, but got shuffled back early and finished seventh. Two-time champion Mike O’Sullivan was eighth, with sophomore Jake Matheson ninth. Josh King, who slowed on the backstretch to bring out the night’s first caution, rebounded to finish tenth.
Both Belsito and Polewarczyk had especially good nights due to the struggles of points leader Ray Christian III, who won the season’s first two races at the unique New Hampshire third-mile. Christian was off the pace all night, and a frontstretch spin into the infield grass brought out the night’s second caution flag. “RC III” stumbled to a season-worst sixteenth-place finish, closing a wide gap in the standings and making the championship battle a three-way fight with four races remaining on the schedule.
While Sunday’s race was the inaugural running of the Granite State Nationals, also featuring a 73-lap Street Stock feature and a four-cylinder enduro to close out the night, it was the third running of the anchor event now known as the Newport Chevrolet 150. The first two runnings of the 150-lapper established the long-distance race as a signature event for a series that was more often than not the undercard for a major race weekend. Series president Mike Parks, who has taken great lengths to raise the profile of the series, announced new sponsorship this summer and an enhanced purse to match, making the Newport Chevrolet 150 a legitimate GSPSS crown jewel.
It seems fitting, then, that one of the GSPSS’ success stories would be the one to claim the big check. Griffith won his first career GSPSS race at Claremont in 2015, the first of four wins that paved the way to the season championship. The Hudson, N.H. driver graduated to the Pro All Stars Series full-time in 2016, but continued to make spot starts in GSPSS competition, going winless until last fall’s Oktoberfest feature at Lee (N.H.) USA Speedway.
Griffith’s career arc has taken him well beyond New England, with he and longtime car owner Louie Mechalides fielding a Snowball Derby entry last year and clinching the New Smyrna (Fla.) Speedway World Series championship during this winter’s Speedweeks. His performances in a Super Late Model earned him a partial schedule this season in an ARCA Menards Series car for Chad Bryant Racing, with top-five finishes at New Smyrna and Toledo Speedway.
But Griffith and Mechalides continue to chase Super Late Model glory, with a PASS win at White Mountain Motorsports Park in their limited schedule this year. And in their first GSPSS start this season, they put a convincing win together in the biggest race in series history.
Griffith and Mechalides will go bounty-hunting again Friday night, looking for a win in the inaugural Freedom 300 at Lee USA Speedway. In addition to last fall’s Oktoberfest win, Griffith’s first career PASS victory came at the challenging ⅜-mile oval.
And with Sunday’s win behind him, Griffith looks to be an early favorite for another big payday.
Official Results, GSPSS Newport Chevrolet 150 at Claremont Motorsports Park:
1. (12G) Derek Griffith
2. (8) Angelo Belsito
3. (47) Gabe Brown
4. (7CT) Cory Casagrande
5. (73) Joey Doiron
6. (97) Joey Polewarczyk, Jr.
7. (31NH) Luke Hinkley
8. (08) Mike O’Sullivan
9. (52NH) Jake Matheson
10. (21) Josh King
11. (90NH) Casey Call
12. (10) Ryan Lineham
13. (48) Larry Gelinas
14. (11) Aaron Fellows
15. (55) Cody LeBlanc
16. (93CT) Ray Christian III
17. (27NH) Wayne Helliwell, Jr.
18. (18) Mike Scorzelli
19. (18L) John Lowinski-Loh
20. (29) Barry Gray
21. (76) Jerry Gomarlo