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Granite State Pro Stock Series

New England Notebook: Lanpher ends PASS dry spell at Oxford, RC III wins at Claremont, Doiron crowned GSPSS champ

Lanpher wins Oxford 150 @ PASS 400 Weekend 2019
Reid Lanpher celebrates after winning Saturday's PASS event at Oxford Plains Speedway. Lanpher and GSPSS feature winner Ray Christian III dominated their respective races, leading every lap en route to the checkers. (Jeff Brown photo)

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: CHRISTIAN WINS AT CLAREMONT, DOIRON OFFICIALLY CELEBRATES CHAMPIONSHIP

The Granite State Pro Stock Series brought its 12-race schedule to a close Sunday afternoon, returning to where it all kicked off in May. For the third time in 2019, the GSPSS teams would wage war at Claremont Motorsports Park in western New Hampshire, not far from the Vermont border.

The season-ending tilt was a late replacement on the schedule, with New London-Waterford Speedbowl in Connecticut unable to open in time for the originally-planned season finale. Series president Mike Parks leased the track for a year-ending Fall Challenge weekend, bringing back weekly competitors whose points-paying seasons had ended in mid-September for another shot at victory in a format similar to Lee’s Oktoberfest and Thompson’s Sunoco World Series.

A weekend announcement also made Sunday’s race a sort of homecoming, as Parks revealed his plans to lease and promote Claremont in 2020 for owners Norm Wrenn and Ben Bosowski. Parks’ big plans would give the eighth-year touring circuit a track to call home, as the Pro All Stars Series does with Oxford Plains Speedway and as the American-Canadian Tour does with Thunder Road.

The last race of the season and the last race of a torrid four-week stretch run showed the strains of a busy touring season, with only thirteen teams making the trip to Claremont. Seekonk winner Angelo Belsito, Kevin Folan and Barry Gray had longer trips to the track than local star Guy Caron. After a challenging day at Oxford on Saturday, DJ Shaw and Gabe Brown were at the track with a freshly-repaired #82 Pro Stock from the Dale Shaw Race Cars shop, with Shaw at the wheel and Brown helping in the pits. Joining them for the Oxford-Claremont doubleheader was 2018 North East Mini Stock Tour champ Cody LeBlanc; after running an ACT Flying Tigers entry on Saturday, LeBlanc would make his GSPSS debut in a car purchased from Ricky Bly.

Also making the trip from Oxford to Claremont, though much less of a surprise, was Joey Doiron. A day before, Doiron had taken the wheel of one of Gabe Brown’s cars in the PASS race, driving to a fourth-place finish in his only PASS start of 2019. With a commanding lead in the points over Ray Christian III and only 13 cars at the track, all Doiron had to do was take the green flag to be assured of the championship. Not that Doiron was content to accept that fate; a third win for the season was still in the cards, and Doiron wanted to take that honor as well.

Before cars even headed out for time trials, Kevin Folan packed his hauler, something breaking under the hood during the afternoon’s practice sessions. And as the first cars took to the track, Guy Caron’s car crawled to a stop on the backstretch, necessitating a push back to the pits. With eleven cars remaining to take time, Devin O’Connell put his black #43 at the top of the leader board.

O’Connell and Ray Christian III went on to win the two heats to seed the field, with Christian taking the pole in the redraw and O’Connell drawing the outside of the front row. Joey Doiron would roll off fifth in the feature.

As the day’s feature races wound down, the clouds that had blanketed the speedway turned threatening, with drizzle spitting down at the end of the Sportsman Modified feature. Pre-race activities were scrapped and the GSPSS went into hurry-up mode, with the cars escorted to the track for the 100-lap race, all in hopes of beating the inbound rain.

And apparently, that message was delivered to the drivers as well. Ray Christian shot into the lead at the drop of the green, and the field behind him settled into a patient rhythm. Devin O’Connell, Luke Hinkley and Joey Doiron battled for second, with Doiron ultimately getting the better of Hinkley for the position.

But by then, Christian had checked out to a significant lead, putting the back half of the field a lap down by halfway. Doiron was close to a straightaway behind, with Hinkley riding in third and O’Connell fourth. DJ Shaw and Angelo Belsito had a battle going for fifth, but Christian was breathing down their backs.

All the while, the light drizzle that had started just before the green flag had started to pick up. With Christian comfortably in control and a heavier band of weather moving in, officials opted to call the race early, waving the white and then checkered flag with 15 laps remaining. Ray Christian III was never challenged, winning his second race of the season and the third of his GSPSS career in a shortened caution-free sprint. Christian won last year’s season finale at New London-Waterford Speedbowl, giving him wins in two straight season finales and setting the stage for a do-over of 2019.

READ MORE: Christian dominates, Doiron celebrates in GSPSS Claremont season finale

Joey Doiron crossed the line second, officially able to celebrate the championship he had refused to acknowledge most of the season. Doiron, who narrowly lost last year’s title, had been cautious to talk about points, especially with two bad races right before the end of the year. But Doiron’s season record, with two wins and a ton of fast times in qualifying, spoke for itself. In winning the championship, Doiron became the seventh different GSPSS champion in eight full seasons, and the first from the Pine Tree State. Doiron admitted later that he had hoped for a caution to give him a shot at the win, but the rain and the likelihood of contact would have made it a toss-up.

Luke Hinkley earned his third podium finish of the year, all coming at his home track of Claremont. Devin O’Connell turned in one of his best weekends of the year, ending his championship defense winless but with hope for 2020. DJ Shaw, in the black #82, held on for fifth, with Angelo Belsito ending the afternoon in sixth.

Mike Mitchell raced to a seventh-place finish, a lap down, ahead of Street Stock feature winner Jimmy Renfrew, Jr. Josh King was ninth, with Cody LeBlanc taking the final top-ten spot in his series debut. Barry Gray was 11th.

With wide gaps in the top four in points, the order coming in was the same going out. Ray Christian’s late-season rally and Devin O’Connell’s bad break at Lee left Christian as the runner-up to the title, with O’Connell third. Jimmy Renfrew, Jr. came back from a rough start to 2019 to end the year fourth in points in his first full season. Longtime GSPSS supporter Josh King, who skipped the race at Seekonk, was fifth in the final standings.

After huge fields turned out for some of the fall’s races, the turnout at Claremont for the finale was a bit sobering. The four-week stretch run to the finish is a grueling schedule, and a few teams had tapped out after problems at either Seekonk or Lee, shifting into offseason mode a week or two early. For those not in the championship race, there was little to gain or lose by sitting out the race. The weather and the late addition to the schedule (when many had likely written off the Waterford weekend long ago) were likely factors as well.

But that should not be a blemish on what was a banner year for the Granite State Pro Stock Series. In twelve races, ten different winners visited victory lane, from upsets like Angelo Belsito to veterans like Joey Polewarczyk, Jr. and Derek Griffith. At a few races, teams were nearly sent home thanks to strong turnout. And as the participants became more and more regular, the quality of competition and the on-track product improved as well.

The Granite State Pro Stock Series will reconvene next spring at Claremont Motorsports Park to kick off its ninth full season of fendered competition. Details of the new season will be released in the coming months.

PASS NORTH: LANPHER ENDS YEAR-LONG PASS DRY SPELL WITH OXFORD DOMINATION

For the final time in 2019, the Pro All Stars Series had a shorter trip than usual for a “home race” for the PASS North championship. Borrowing a name from an annual event at nearby Beech Ridge Motor Speedway, Oxford Plains Speedway hosted the PASS 400 Weekend to close out its season. Along with 150 laps for the PASS North Super Late Models, races for the PASS Modifieds, ACT Flying Tigers, and others were on hand to total 400 green-flag laps of competition for the afternoon.

Oxford had a larger-than-usual role in the PASS schedule in 2019, with Saturday’s event the seventh points-paying visit to the legendary track. In the previous six races, five different drivers had gone to victory lane, with one of them winning a non-points event in July. While the track’s own weekly championship was a little more one-dimensional, it seemed like anyone could have the chance to break out in Saturday’s 150-lapper.

And in the pits, “anyone” was a relatively literal term. Perfect fall weather and a two-week layoff from racing had brought nearly anyone with a legal race car to Oxford, with 42 Super Late Models in the pits to qualify for the race. Joey Doiron, who had a championship to wrap up one state over, was on hand to run one of Gabe Brown’s cars for his first PASS attempt of 2019. Doiron would run Brown’s black “Gen-6” car, while Brown ran the ABC-bodied Dale Shaw throwback car. Further down the pits, another new combination had Derek Ramstrom in a former Petit Motorsports car, renumbered #32 with Go Fas Racing and Ford decals all over. NASCAR team owner Archie St. Hilaire had bought the car earlier in the summer, and Peter Petit put St. Hilaire and Ramstrom in touch about the ride.

Doiron and Ramstrom had different rides from their usual mounts, but plenty of other faces were in familiar seats. Garrett Hall, a no-show at the last two PASS events, was back with the black-and-white #94. Ben Ashline was in the #99 Ajay Picard ride, with Jeff Taylor making a final run for the season in his green #88. Brandon Barker was in his own car, a new black #88x. Jeff White and John Peters had made repairs since their Oxford 250 misfortunes. Cole Butcher had towed down from Canada. NASCAR Busch North Series veteran Bill Penfold was in a baby-blue #80 from the family shop. Beech Ridge regular Dan McKeage was shaking down a brand-new “Naughty 40” car from Crazy Horse Racing and Port City Racecars. And Nick Hinkley, Kevin Douglass and Kevin Morse, the top three in points from Wiscasset Speedway, were all on hand to qualify.

Four heats set the stage for the afternoon, with Travis Benjamin, Reid Lanpher, Derek Ramstrom and Curtis Gerry taking the heat wins. Championship drama unfolded early in the second heat, though, with both DJ Shaw and Derek Griffith caught up in an early incident. Griffith was able to continue, but Shaw’s car sustained right-side damage and was ultimately forced to the pits. Shaw returned for the first consi, rocketing to the front of the field and winning easily, while Ben Ashline won the second consi race. With Benjamin and Gerry “awarded” the usual winner’s handicap, Reid Lanpher and Derek Ramstrom would lead the field to the green flag.

With a busy schedule ahead, PASS opted to forego a last-chance qualifier, setting the field at 34 cars. Ryan Robbins had already been sidelined before the heats with car trouble; he was joined by Penfold, McKeage, Patrick Levasseur, Justin Drake and the Wiscasset trio of Hinkley, Douglass and Morse in packing up early.

Rolling off on the front row for the 150-lap feature was a good start for Reid Lanpher, but it was a reminder of one frustrating fact: he and his #59 team had yet to win in 2019. A year and a week ago, Lanpher had topped the PASS field in a rain-delayed Sunday showdown at Oxford. The win was his second PASS win of the year, adding to a GSPSS win at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and a victory in the U.S. Pro Stock/Super Late Model Nationals at Seekonk Speedway in Massachusetts. Along with year-long consistency, Lanpher and team had plenty of reasons to look forward to 2019.

But the reality had been far from the expectations. Lanpher struggled with drivetrain trouble at Richmond Raceway in March’s Commonwealth Classic, and again at Thompson Speedway for the PASS North lidlifter. An early crash at Oxford piled on more frustration. Lanpher won a weekly feature at Oxford, but by midseason his touring high point was a fifth-place finish at Star Speedway despite losing the right side of the car in an early pileup.

Oxford was always a good track for Lanpher, though; two of his four PASS wins had come at the famed track, while the other two came at his home track, the similar Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in Scarborough. And starting at the front of the pack was as good an opportunity to turn it all around.

Lanpher shot out to an early lead, putting distance between himself and Ramstrom in the early laps. As the race went green, Lanpher caught the tail of the field, lapping slower cars and stretching his advantage over Ramstrom. Ramstrom was turning in his best performance of the year in the #32, but as Lanpher drove off into the sunset, the Massachusetts ace could do nothing but work through traffic.

The race’s long green-flag opening stretch came to a close on lap 122, when Nick Sweet and Curtis Gerry made contact in turns three and four racing for a top-five berth. Lanpher’s lead was cut significantly, with Ramstrom and Oxford veteran Scott Robbins now closing in on the bumper of his black #59.

Robbins was able to overpower Ramstrom after the restart, moving to second, but he had no more success in running down Lanpher than Ramstrom did. Another yellow, for an Evan Hallstrom spin with ten laps to go, gave Robbins and Ramstrom another shot, but neither could chase down Lanpher once the green flag waved.

After enduring a challenging and frustrating season, Reid Lanpher buried the year’s demons with a drift across the finish line to lead all 150 laps and win the Honey Badger Bar & Grill 150, wrapping up the day’s PASS 400 program. Lanpher’s win was his fifth in PASS competition, all coming between Oxford Plains Speedway and Beech Ridge Motor Speedway, where he won two track championships before shifting his focus to touring racing.

READ MORE: Lanpher ends year-long dry spell with Oxford PASS 400 victory

Scott Robbins held on for second, surprisingly the first podium finish in PASS competition for the former Oxford 250 champion. Derek Ramstrom was third in his debut for Archie St. Hilaire. Fourth was Joey Doiron, turning in a solid run in a car that had frustrated regular driver Gabe Brown throughout the season. Ben Ashline, continuing a streak of impressive performances in Ajay Picard’s car, drove from 26th at the start to finish fifth.

Brandon Barker was sixth, ahead of Derek Griffith, Scott Moore, Austin Teras and Ben Rowe. John Peters was the final driver on the lead lap in 11th.

Eddie MacDonald was the first car a lap down in 12th. TJ Brackett and Gabe Brown followed, with DJ Shaw struggling under race conditions and finishing 15th. Dan Winter was 16th. Nick Sweet was 17th after his late-race collision. Trevor Sanborn, Calvin Rose, Jr. and Oxford 250 champion Travis Benjamin rounded out the top twenty.

Curtis Gerry, who had patiently worked to the top five before his incident with Sweet, was 24th in the final rundown, two laps behind. Garrett Hall was never in contention, but mechanical issues dropped him from the race in the closing laps. Cole Butcher, Johnny Clark and Mike Hopkins all met with similar fates, finishing deep in the field.

Derek Griffith’s top-ten run and DJ Shaw’s problems throughout the afternoon gave the Hudson, N.H. driver an eight-point advantage in the championship standings with only one race remaining on the schedule. In a day where the entire top-15 in PASS North points was in the field, there were consequences at stake for all, though few positions shifted. Ben Rowe remained third in points, with Gabe Brown just ahead of Nick Sweet for fourth. Travis Benjamin gained some ground on Garrett Hall for sixth, while Reid Lanpher had a significant margin over Bobby Therrien and Johnny Clark for eighth.

The 2019 PASS North season concludes at Seekonk Speedway with the prelude to the Haunted Hundred season finale for the Tri-Track Open Modified Series. The three-feature program, including a 50-lapper for Seekonk’s Late Models, will crown championships in both series at the evening’s end.

NEXT ON THE SCHEDULE

The Pro All Stars Series North schedule concluded this Saturday at Seekonk Speedway, with 150 laps around the Cement Palace determining the season’s champion. A full recap is available on Short Track Scene.

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Jeff Brown is a contributor to Short Track Scene. A native of New Hampshire and a long-time fan of New England racing, Brown provides a fan's perspective as he follows New England's regional Late Model touring series.

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