After watching short tracks around the country open their pit gates after a pandemic-prolonged offseason, New England fans finally have a reason of their own to rejoice.
The Granite State Pro Stock Series announced earlier this week that it will be the first of New England’s diverse touring series to return to competition, with its first feature event of the season scheduled for next Friday, June 5 at Claremont Motorsports Park. The aptly-named Let’s Go Racing 100 will kick off the GSPSS’ ninth full season at the series’ home track.
While several of New England’s bullrings have re-opened for testing, the third-mile oval in the heart of New Hampshire’s Upper Valley is the first to earn the green light for a sanctioned race, albeit without fans in attendance.
GSPSS founder and president Mike Parks, also in his first year as promoter for Claremont Motorsports Park, praised local officials for their cooperation in getting the New England racing season off the ground.
“The city of Claremont and the state’s Attorney General office were fantastic to work with,” Parks said. “We basically are following the guidelines set forth by the CDC. There are some social distancing measures we had to put in place for pit parking and so on. Fortunately, [Claremont] has a huge pit area, so we can spread things out pretty easy and still put over a hundred race cars in the pits.”
Formerly known as Claremont Speedway and briefly Twin State Speedway, the track a few miles from the Vermont border was sold early last year to Lee USA Speedway and Monadnock Speedway owner Norm Wrenn and Hudson Speedway owner Ben Bosowski. After a successful 2019 season, it was announced that Parks had leased the venue and would take over promotion in 2020, allowing Wrenn and Bosowski to focus on their other tracks in southern New Hampshire.
Parks’ GSPSS was slated to open the season at Claremont in late April, but response to the global COVID-19 pandemic forced the postponement of the event, plus the next three races on the sixteen-race touring schedule.
“Opening with the GSPSS to begin a brand new venture with no fans is not the way I thought this was going to go at all,” Parks said, acknowledging the challenge of facing the unknown. “We have some great marketing partners involved with this event—Crazy Horse Racing, R&R Public Wholesalers, R.E. Hinkley Oil Company and Speed51. With their help and support, that is the only way [this] could happen.”
While reduced-travel guidelines remain in effect for the state of New Hampshire, the restrictions are not as limiting as neighboring states. Maine, for instance, is requiring visitors to self-quarantine upon arrival, effectively preventing out-of-state teams from visiting for a race. But with New Hampshire’s comparative leniency, the GSPSS was presented an opportunity that was not present for sanctioning groups next door.
In turn, an opportunity arose for teams that regularly race with other sanctions, as they look to the GSPSS opener as a chance to get their seasons started.
Early entries from outside the circle of series regulars include three-time Oxford 250 winner Travis Benjamin and five-time Pro All Stars Series feature winner Garrett Hall. Four-time PASS North champion DJ Shaw and Oxford Super Late Model champion Gabe Brown, who are more familiar to the GSPSS scene, have filed entries as well. Hall and Shaw are former series winners; Hall won in his only GSPSS outing in 2017, while Shaw has eight feature wins and a runner-up finish in the 2016 championship battle. In a press release, Parks cited entries filed from throughout New England and New York.
But star power alone cannot guarantee a win against a deep group of GSPSS regulars. From former champions Joey Doiron, Devin O’Connell, Mike O’Sullivan and Barry Gray to regular challengers Ray Christian III, Jimmy Renfrew, Jr., Jeremy Davis and Cory Casagrande, the region’s youngest touring Late Model circuit has built a strong field of followers. And with regular competitors and the series’ budget-conscious race distances and rules package, the last couple seasons have been as competitive as ever.
Parks is proud of the attention his series has earned. “We always welcome teams from other areas,” he said. “We just do what we do, do the best job we can, and hopefully we always give a team a reason to want to come back.”
And like all regional series, Parks is dependent upon loyalty as the summer months loom ahead. The original GSPSS schedule promises two more races in June, at Riverside Speedway in Groveton, N.H. and New London-Waterford Speedbowl in Connecticut. But with the state-prescribed reopening process out of promoters’ hands, all they can do is prepare.
“We are in a wait and see mode,” Parks said, without speculating on the next race date. “The teams are ready and they will be ready for the next event, where and whenever it takes place.”
Friday’s feature program represents a daunting double audition for the Granite State Pro Stock Series. Within the racing world, it puts the GSPSS on center stage to open not only the touring Late Model season, but New England’s touring racing scene as a whole. Over the last few years, Parks’ efforts have elevated the GSPSS from a support event at some of the region’s biggest seasonal events to a tour that can headline on its own merit. When the GSPSS takes the green at Claremont next week, it will do so not only to loyal supporters and friends and family, but to racing-hungry fans across the country.
“For fans watching our product for the first time…I feel the teams that compete with us on a regular basis are as good as anybody,” Parks says of his teams. “On an equal playing field, I would put up our GSPSS teams up against anybody. Hopefully, the fans get a great show.”
And for both insiders and outsiders to racing, the event is an audition on behalf of the motorsports community in a post-pandemic world. Among competitive sports, auto racing was a natural choice to resume activity in the early stages of recovery. And while many tracks have taken appropriate precautions, others have chosen to throw caution to the wind. The aforementioned Riverside Speedway made local headlines when it opted to hold a feature program with fans in attendance, despite strong encouragement from state officials not to do so. Fans on social media expressed concern that one track’s behavior might paint other tracks in a bad light.
Friday’s race, therefore, is an opportunity to showcase racers’ willingness to work within the lines, staging a thrilling show while complying with strict public health expectations.
For sure, all eyes will be on Claremont this Friday night.
And Mike Parks understands the gravity. “We will be on a national stage with Speed51,” he said. “All the teams as well as our staff understand the importance and what it could do for our future.”
At the same time, Parks is humble about what he and his team have achieved thus far. “We were able to put a program together to help get our teams on the track and not go to the poor house doing it,” he said.
“I’m just glad that when we announced it, all the teams were as excited as we are!”