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.
PASS NORTH: MACDONALD SURPRISES NO ONE IN LOUDON THRILLER
For the first time since 2015, the Pro All Stars Series returned to the biggest track in New England for a decidedly non-short-track race. The PASS North teams departed from their usual bullrings for a special show at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, appearing as part of the New England Short Track Showdown.
The first two years of promoter Bob Guptill’s short track racing showcase had featured the Granite State Pro Stock series as its top fendered class of racing. But after two years of veteran invaders taking the winner’s spoils, the event welcomed the PASS North cars for their second-ever appearance at the “Magic Mile.”
For the majority of the 29-car field, NHMS was hardly uncharted territory. Most of the top runners had raced at NHMS in 2015, and a few had run the GSPSS Showdown feature in 2017 and 2018. Nick Sweet had not run the GSPSS or PASS races at Loudon, but had several starts in the American-Canadian Tour’s ACT Invitational. Some could go back even further; Mike Rowe was sixth in a Busch North race at the track in 1990, before many of his challengers were even born.
Inaugural Showdown winner Eddie MacDonald hoped to add a PASS-sanctioned Showdown to his trophy case. It was not exactly unlikely; MacDonald had won in PASS’ previous visit to NHMS in 2015. Defending Showdown winner Reid Lanpher returned to the series after skipping the race at Speedway 95. GSPSS racers Cory Casagrande and Nick Lascuola, both of whom raced in the GSPSS Showdowns, were in the garage for the big-track event. Lascuola, in a Distance-built entry, was making his first touring start since losing a car at Claremont last fall. Michael Scorzelli also appeared for his second PASS start of the year.
With PASS National Championship points on the line, Mike Hopkins was in the pits, along with GSPSS champ Devin O’Connell, rookie Jake Johnson, and Ray Christian III. Alan Tardiff, who nearly won a NASCAR K&N Pro Series East event at NHMS in 2010, and rookie Evan Hallstrom added NHMS to their part-time schedules.
Nick Lascuola was not the only racer making his PASS debut. Nova Scotia’s King Racing rolled out a familiar white #13 for a rookie racer, Austin MacDonald. The grandson of car owner Rollie MacDonald was in his first season in the full-bodied car. Thompson Speedway racer John Lowinski-Loh was in his first PASS race with a car he had bought from Dale Shaw Race Cars. ACT rookie Ryan Kuhn was entering his #72 Super Late Model for the first time.
And a late arrival Saturday morning was the pink, white and black patchwork #07 entry of Bill Penfold. The journeyman NASCAR Busch North Series competitor had many starts at NHMS, though his last came in 2004.
Saturday’s practice sessions found Eddie MacDonald and Reid Lanpher atop the speed charts, with Derek Griffith and Ray Christian III showing speed on Sunday morning. Christian carried that speed into the first of three qualifying heats; he was flagged the winner, but a technical infraction bumped RC III to the back of the grid. Ryan Kuhn won the second heat, with Eddie Mac defeating Reid Lanpher for the third heat win. The cars were gridded with Lanpher on the pole, lined up alongside former Beech Ridge Motor Speedway rival and PASS North point leader Garrett Hall.
Lanpher took the lead at the start, while Hall fell back behind Eddie MacDonald and Derek Griffith, leaving the opening laps looking a lot like the finish to the 2018 Showdown. MacDonald moved around Lanpher to take the lead, but Griffith closed quickly on the top two, taking second from Lanpher and charging past MacDonald as if he were standing still. A lap-12 caution flag drew the leaders back together, but Griffith distanced himself from the field. The field was racing to a lap-30 pit break, but even so, no one had an answer for Griffith in the short term, with MacDonald running second and Mike Hopkins working past Lanpher for third. The yellow flag flew on lap 30 as planned, with Griffith, MacDonald and Hopkins leading the field to the garage area for tires, fuel and adjustments.
On the restart, Bill Penfold looped his car at the back of the pack, but the flagstand kept the yellow clenched and Eddie Mac claimed the top spot from Griffith. As MacDonald started to put distance on Griffith, the days unraveled for two other competitors. Ray Christian III, who had been sent to the rear at the drop of the green, had clawed through the field by the end of the first thirty laps, but the left door of the car worked its way loose on the restart, forcing the team to the pit area to secure the bodywork. A few laps later, Garrett Hall’s car began smoking, the apparent result of contact. The point leader was forced to the garage area to make repairs, effectively ending his day early in a race with little attrition.
Once again, it looked like Eddie MacDonald had the field covered in a race at NHMS. But behind him, Mike Hopkins moved to second and began carving away at MacDonald’s advantage. Hopkins, the PASS National Championship points leader, had scored a surprise win at Richmond in March’s Commonwealth Classic, his first PASS-sanctioned win since 2016. Hopkins’ black Camaro closed in on MacDonald’s red rear bumper in the closing laps, and on the final lap, he was there. Coming off turn four, Hopkins dove to the inside, with MacDonald throwing a block into Hopkins’ right door. The pair drag-raced to the finish line, with “The Outlaw” keeping Hopkins at bay and beating the hard-charging Mainer by no more than half a car length.
It was a result that could have been engraved on the trophy all week, though no one expected the outcome to be so thrilling. With another lap, Hopkins might have added a second 2019 win. Instead, MacDonald earned his second career PASS North win and his third PASS win overall (the 2015 NHMS race was technically a PASS National race that counted as bonus points for North competitors). Including his NASCAR and ACT triumphs, Eddie Mac has eleven wins at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, breaking a tie with the late Ted Christopher and moving him to second behind only NASCAR star Kyle Busch.
Derek Griffith finished third, with rookie Austin MacDonald turning in a solid result in fourth. Ben Rowe, who had struggled in big-track races recently and even bent up the back end of his #4 in his heat race, finished a promising fifth. Heat winner Ryan Kuhn was sixth, with Alan Tardiff seventh. DJ Shaw, who struggled through the first segment with front-end damage, was eighth. Reid Lanpher, who was concerned at the end of the first segment that his car had little more to give, slipped back to ninth at the checkers. Johnny Clark rounded out the top ten.
Top five runs for Griffith and Ben Rowe were especially significant given the struggles of many of the points contenders. Nick Sweet ran midpack all day, finishing 15th. Gabe Brown was never a threat and came home 20th. Travis Benjamin’s team was a late arrival, showing up Sunday for the race. Benjamin was slow all day and finished 21st. Garrett Hall finished seven laps down after his green-flag pit stop, ending the day in 25th.
Leaving New Hampshire, Hall still sits atop the standings, but with his advantage down to a single point over DJ Shaw. Shaw, who opened the year with four top-two runs, has not finished in the top five since May. Derek Griffith is only seven points back in third, with a small gap back to Gabe Brown and Nick Sweet. Ben Rowe and Travis Benjamin close out the seven full-timers, with Johnny Clark and Reid Lanpher in their own race for eighth. While PASS has not provided updated points for the National Championship, Mike Hopkins’ second-place finish and a no-show for the Southern-based competitors should extend his title lead.
NHMS figured to be one of the tracks where any possible advantages for the Gen-6 body kit would shine. But a surprising number of teams with both options opted for the ABC bodies, possibly for the chassis underneath the skin. After Ray Christian III’s disqualification, all three heats were won by ABC-bodied cars. Eddie Mac’s winning car wore an ABC skin, one of four in the top six. Reid Lanpher’s team took the ABC-bodied car to Loudon, as did Garrett Hall’s. On the flip side, Johnny Clark’s team debuted a new Camaro-bodied #54. Twelve of the 29 starters had Gen-6 cars; however, ten or eleven of those sticking with the ABC body also race in series where the new sheetmetal remains unapproved.
Interestingly, PASS teams did not use pit road for their feature race. The 2015 PASS event at NHMS and the two GSPSS-sanctioned Showdown features had crews lined up on pit road to service the cars, bringing the pit action out of the garage area for the fans. Instead, team members and fans alike used the area behind the inside pit wall as a viewing point for the race. For the mid-race break, the cars were serviced in the garage before returning to the track. By comparison, the Valenti Modified Racing Series teams pitted on the frontstretch (albeit without a scheduled mid-race break). The only real ramifications of this might have been faster green-flag stops for Garrett Hall and Ray Christian III; however, with so few cars caught a lap down, the outcome would likely have been about the same.
The return of PASS to NHMS was about as successful as could be hoped for, with teams avoiding the wrecks and drivetrain problems of past Super Late Model events at the one-mile speedway. The cars look surprisingly at home on the big track, lending to the experience levels of many of the series’ drivers. And with no big crashes or disasters all weekend, the series and the Short Track Showdown promoters should feel encouraged in keeping PASS as part of next year’s Showdown.
The PASS North points contenders have a short break in the schedule with their next race in mid-July at Oxford Plains Speedway. However, a number of local stars will race in the PASS-sanctioned Open 100 this Sunday. The 100-lap race is open to drivers who have not won a PASS race in the last five years, with Oxford 250 provisionals available to the top finishers.
SHORT TRACK SHOWDOWN: FELLOWS WINS SUPER STREET FEATURE
The PASS event of the Showdown was one of four Sunday features for the multi-division event, said to represent the four cornerstones—Late Models, Modifieds, Street Stocks and Mini Stocks—of weekly short track racing. The other three features retained their sanctioning from past seasons, with the Valenti Modified Racing Series, the North East Mini Stock Tour, and the NEMST-backed Street Stock Showdown Series entertaining fans for the rest of the afternoon.
Saturday’s practice day added two feature races of its own this year, though. A feature for “weekly Modifieds” was followed by a 25-lap “Super Street” feature. The Super Street designation appeared to be more of a Late Model open, with quite a bit of diversity in the afternoon’s entries. Of the eleven cars in the field, four were ACT-based Late Models. Lee USA Speedway regular Jimmy Russell had his weekly Late Model Sportsman car, bodied like a Midwestern Outlaw Late Model. George Baldwin was entered in a car he debuted at Lee USA Speedway as part of the GSPSS-sanctioned Steel Sportsman Series. Oxford Street Stock champion Bryce Mains was entered in his red #77 Camaro-bodied Street Stock. One interesting entry came from David “Sandy” Lee; Lee’s #10 looked to be the same car he drove to victory in the Sportsman “exhibition” preamble to the 2015 PASS race at NHMS.
Two ACT Late Models driven by Aaron Fellows and Jimmy Renfrew, Jr. brought the field to the green flag. Fellows jumped the start twice, complaining that the afternoon sun’s glare made him unable to see the flagstand, and the Croydon, N.H. racer was moved to the rear of the field as a result. Renfrew led the field to the green flag, and Fellows set off on a mission. Fellows passed Renfrew for the race lead only three laps into the feature, holding the teenager back to win the feature. Mike Benevides, also in an ACT-style car, finished third, with Allen Fellows fourth in a team car to the winning #29NH. Lee regular Jimmy Russell was fifth. Sandy Lee dropped out early on.
LOCAL RACING: CUSACK WINS PRO 125 BY INCHES, REMICK INHERITS WMMP WIN
Beech Ridge Motor Speedway held its annual Pro Series 125 Saturday night, giving the weekly racers the near-equivalent of a touring feature to work with. With nearby Oxford Plains Speedway off for the night, Ben Tinker and Ivan Kaffel hauled south from Oxford to race with the Beech Ridge regulars. Nick Cusack raced toward the front all night, winning in a close finish over Dave Farrington, Jr. and David Oliver. Corey Bubar was fourth, with the visiting Tinker and Kaffel next. Craig Weinstein from southern Massachusetts was tenth, one spot ahead of Mike Rowe, who hightailed it from Loudon to make the weekly show. David Oliver leads Dave Farrington in the weekly standings ahead of veterans Gary Smith and the legendary Rowe.
A last-lap calamity at White Mountain Motorsports Park resulted in a win by default for track champion Oren Remick. Remick was third on the final lap, but contact between the race leaders that set off a major wreck resulted in penalties for the two, handing the victory to Remick. Quinny Welch inherited a runner-up finish, with Jesse Switser third. The nineteen-car field featured appearances for former ACT regular Ryan Olsen (fifth), current Tour racer Stephen Donahue (sixth), veteran John Donahue (eleventh), and Reilly Lanphear (14th).
Star Speedway’s ACT Late Models returned from a week off with Wayne Helliwell, Jr. stealing his second win of the year. Helliwell’s performance is encouraging for the whole Bernhardt Automotive program, as the ACT Tour returns to Star Speedway next week for the Dream Ride 150.
Seekonk Speedway christened a sixth winner in six Late Model features, with rookie Paul Newcomb taking top honors over Dan Johnson and Bobby Tripp. Tommy Adams, who finished fourth, holds the points lead in the division over Mark Jenison. In the Pro Stocks, Mike Brightman held off “Radical” Rick Martin for forty laps to win a clean-and-green feature race. Kevin Casper was third with points leader Dave Darling fourth. A big crash in the heats between Dylan Estrella and Austin Blais appeared to end both drivers’ nights, but Estrella was able to borrow Bobby Pelland’s car, driving the renumbered #46 to an eleventh-place finish.
Thunder Road International Speedbowl was finally able to get some racing in this Thursday with a double feature for the track’s Late Models. Defending track champion Scott Dragon won his eighth career feature and his second straight to kick off the evening, with Tyler Cahoon and Brooks Clark rounding out the podium. In the second half of the doubleheader, Phil Scott rebounded from a last-place finish in the first feature, running with the leaders before taking the lead himself with fifteen laps to go. The three-time track champion held off Eric Chase to score his first win of 2019 and his second Late Model win since being elected Governor of Vermont. Tour regular Christopher Pelkey was third. Despite finishing outside of the top five in both races, Jason Corliss leads the weekly standings over Trampas Demers and Cody Blake. Dragon sits fourth in points with Scott seventh.
NEXT ON THE SCHEDULE
The American-Canadian Tour has the weekend’s spotlight all to itself, with a return to Star Speedway for the first time since 2013. The Dream Ride 150 kicks off the second half of the season under the lights on Saturday, with heats now starting at 6pm to allow the track to dry after some morning weather.
Oxford Plains Speedway will welcome a subset of the PASS faithful on Sunday evening for the annual Open 100, the non-points race for drivers who have not won under the PASS banner in the last five years. The top finishers Sunday night will earn provisional berths for August’s Oxford 250.