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.
IN MEMORIAL: No discussion of racing in New England would be complete without a mention of the tragic loss of legendary racer Ted Christopher. The 59-year-old from Plainville, CT was killed in a plane crash Saturday afternoon, while en route to the evening’s NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour race in Riverhead, NY.
While Ted was known mainly for his exploits behind the wheel of a Modified, he had plenty of success in fendered cars as well. Ted raced Pro Stocks at Connecticut’s short tracks, and spent several years racing for owner Ted Marsh in NASCAR’s Busch North Series, with ten wins in the heavier cars. Ted had two wins in the PASS Super Late Models, the most recent at Stafford (CT) Motor Speedway in 2012 for car owner Scott Mulkern. Many times, Ted would race both disciplines in the same afternoon, sprinting from his Busch North car after a hundred laps to jump into a Modified for another hundred.
Ted was perhaps best known for his take-no-prisoners driving style. His aggressive nature behind the wheel likely cost him as many wins as it earned him, and he won plenty. He was a polarizing figure, and often the boos were louder than the cheers in driver introductions. He reveled in his role as the black hat, the driver fans loved to hate. Among his fellow drivers, he was known as one of the first drivers you would want to be friendly with, but the last driver you would want to face in the closing laps. Ted was the driver drivers loved to hate, too, but that hate was tempered with admiration for what the man could do behind the wheel of a race car.
Ted was a working-class racing hero, turning wrenches at his transmission shop by day, going racing at night and on the weekends. He was a regional star, but his reputation and his influence were well-known beyond New England. Unfortunately for him, Ted’s success came at an age where he was not on the radar of big-league teams looking for an up-and-coming driver. But the nation’s loss was certainly the Northeast’s gain.
This week, Ted was posthumously awarded NASCAR’s Whelen All-American Series state championship for Connecticut, clinching the title based on his performance this year at Stafford and Thompson. Next weekend, Stafford will retire Ted’s #13 from SK Modified competition. Other accolades and remembrances will surely follow. Perhaps one of the strongest is the admission from fellow Modified racer Doug Coby that a win in a race without Ted Christopher is a little bit hollow, because you have not beaten the best.
Rest in peace, Ted Christopher. And Godspeed to the other drivers already waiting past the Pearly Gates, because the race in Heaven just got that much more challenging.
PASS NORTH: After a couple weeks off to recover from the Oxford 250, the Pro All Stars Series teams returned to competition at Scarborough, Maine’s Beech Ridge Motor Speedway. The third and last 2017 visit to the third-mile flat oval was a 150-lap event this year, after PASS moved the traditional 300-lap fall event to a spring race. The reasons for the move were twofold: not only would it give PASS teams a marquée event early in the season, but it would allow teams to run the long race when season budgets had not been exhausted. The two-day show included a limited slate of local features and PASS’ own Modified series, with practice Saturday and heats and features Sunday afternoon.
The car count for the feature stood at a healthy 31 cars, with the PASS regulars bolstered by a handful of competitors from both Beech Ridge and Oxford Plains Speedway’s weekly SLM programs. Leading the field to green were PASS veteran Ben Rowe and recently-crowned 2017 Oxford SLM champion Alan Tardiff. Rowe, a four-time PASS champion, was making his 300th start in PASS competition and hoped to celebrate with his first win of the 2017 campaign. In the championship race, Glen Luce entered the race with a slim five-point lead over Travis Benjamin.
Seven laps into the race, the championship contenders looked to have been dealt a death blow. Garrett Hall checked up in turn three while battling inside the top ten, setting off a chain-reaction crash that eliminated Bobby Timmons and sent Benjamin, Luce, DJ Shaw and Dave Farrington, Jr. (among others) to the pits for repairs. On the restart, Rowe continued to battle Alan Tardiff for the race lead. Johnny Clark worked his way up to third, but with only 24 laps on the scoreboard, Clark’s car suddenly lost power, requiring an assist to pit road and a trip behind the guardrail.
As the race resumed, Rowe’s next challengers came from among the Beech Ridge weekly racers, with Garrett Hall and Reid Lanpher racing into the top five and battling Rowe for the lead. DJ Shaw, in an all-black car absent his usual neon graphics, and Travis Benjamin, with significant tape holding the bodywork of his #7 together, worked back inside the top ten. Meanwhile, hard crashes eliminated Beech Ridge regular Brandon Barker, Oxford star TJ Brackett, and Evan Beaulieu, who ended his afternoon with a head-on impact with the frontstretch wall.
At the front of the field, though, it was all Garrett Hall. Hall led over Travis Benjamin (in a wrecked car), Shaw (in a less-wrecked car), Lanpher and Rowe as the final third of the race ticked down. Shaw moved into second with Lanpher, Rowe and Tardiff staying close, but Hall pulled away until a caution for debris (a fender from Benjamin’s car) drew the field back together. On the restart, Corey Bubar and John Peters made contact, but the field stayed green with five laps left. A spin by Tim Brackett brought out another caution, and on the restart, Scott Robbins and Corey Bubar got together to bring out an immediate yellow with two laps of racing to go.
On the restart, Hall lined up alongside DJ Shaw, with Ben Rowe third and Travis Benjamin fourth. Hall took off, with Rowe nearly alongside him as the white flag flew. In turn two, Derek Griffith and Reid Lanpher made contact with Lanpher spinning to the inside. At the front, Rowe stayed alongside Hall through turns three and four. Off the turn, Rowe got into Hall’s door, but the two locked wheels, with Rowe’s car launching over the left front of Hall’s pristine #94 as they crossed the finish line. Hall was given the win and Rowe second as the cars skidded to a stop in turn one. Rowe was able to drive away, but Hall had to call for a tow to get his car back to victory lane.
The win was Hall’s third career win in PASS, but his first of 2017, and his first major win this season. Hall dedicated the victory to his recently-passed grandmother. The young racer split his attention between PASS’ touring schedule and weekly racing at Beech Ridge and Oxford, but he has proven himself as a threat to win in touring competition.
DJ Shaw and Travis Benjamin, despite their crash damage from the early wreck, finished third and fourth, with Alan Tardiff rounding out the top five. Derek Griffith turned a mid-pack day into a sixth-place finish, with Glen Luce finishing seventh in a car made mostly of duct tape. Donny Colpritt finished eighth, and Dan McKeage soldiered back from a heat-race crash to finish ninth over veteran Mike Rowe, another driver with damage from the early pileup.
Wayne Helliwell, Jr. was never a factor and finished thirteenth. Lanpher was scored a lap down in sixteenth after running in the top five at the white flag. Dave Farrington, Jr. finished third in a PASS South event Saturday night at South Boston (VA) Speedway, then flew north, arriving just before final practice Sunday. A repeat performance was not in the cards; he won the consi, but he was swept into the early wreck, suffered suspension damage and had to ride out the rest of the race with an ill-handling car. He finished a lap back in seventeenth.
2017 Oxford 250 winner Curtis Gerry was in the lineup too, battling Beech Ridge rival Reid Lanpher in one of the heats. However, Gerry spun in the lap-seven incident and was unable to refire his car. He was scored dead last in the field. Valenti Modified Racing Series ace Anthony Nocella made his second PASS start in the orange-and-white M32 entry; he parked the car just before halfway.
A number of likely entries were not in attendance. Joey Polewarczyk, Jr., who won PASS’ July visit to Beech Ridge, was not on hand to defend his victory. Beech Ridge veteran Joey Doiron and PASS semi-regular Tracy Gordon were also not in attendance, though Doiron sustained heavy damage in the Oxford 250 and may not have had a car ready.
While many involved in the points race held their collective breath after the early crash, most of the points contenders minimized their losses by the end of the feature. Travis Benjamin will likely retake the points lead from Glen Luce, with DJ Shaw and Ben Rowe making slight gains on the top two contenders.
The PASS teams have a week to turn around their cars and make repairs for Saturday night’s showdown at White Mountain Motorsports Park in North Woodstock, NH.
WEEKLY ACTION: White Mountain Motorsports Park hosted its second-to-last weekend of the year by wrapping up its weekly racing schedule Saturday night. In the Late Model division, a two-car points race boiled down to Jesse Switser and multi-time track champion Quinny Welch. Switser won the weekly feature, but with Welch finishing second, Switser was unable to erase his points deficit. Quinny Welch was awarded the track title, his sixth at the tight quarter-mile track. Welch will likely represent WMMP in this weekend’s ACT Invitational at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
COMING UP: New England’s top late-model series go head-to-head (sort of) on Saturday. The ACT Late Models face off at New Hampshire Motor Speedway Saturday afternoon in the ninth annual ACT Invitational. No points are on the line, but a purse in excess of $70,000 awaits competitors from the ACT Tour, Canada’s Série ACT, and New England’s many ACT partner tracks.
Saturday evening, the PASS North Super Late Models convene for the penultimate race of 2017 at White Mountain Motorsports Park. Glen Luce and Travis Benjamin carry a tight points battle to the Avery family’s quarter-mile oval, with Ben Rowe and DJ Shaw looking to capitalize on any mistakes at the front. Intrepid fans just might be able to make both races, as heats should kick off at WMMP as the ACT teams take the checkered flag if all goes smoothly.