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Granite State Pro Stock Series

New England Notebook: O’Sullivan wins GSPSS return, Griffith triumphs at Thunder Road

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: O’SULLIVAN RETURNS IN STYLE WITH MONADNOCK WIN

The Granite State Pro Stock Series closed the early stretch run of the 2019 season with the O’Reilly Auto Parts Spring Dash at Monadnock Speedway. The Memorial Day weekend was originally slated for a repeat of last year’s unique triple-feature at New London-Waterford (CT) Speedbowl, but with the beleaguered Speedbowl faced with construction delays for its new grandstands, the race weekend was moved north to Monadnock, a track that had faced its own offseason delays.

The month of May was kinder than April had been to contractors, particularly those who weld grandstands together, and so Monadnock Speedway was able to open Saturday for its first oval-track race weekend under the ownership of Norm Wrenn. Fans were treated to a host of renovations and improvements at the western New Hampshire quarter-mile, from the new grandstands to an expanded beer garden. Moreover, fans with a ticket from Saturday’s race at Monadnock would be able to get free admission to Sunday’s racing at nearby Claremont Motorsports Park.

Lee winner Brandon Barker was not planning to race at Monadnock, but nineteen other drivers would compete for the trophy, with GSPSS veteran Mike O’Sullivan back after missing the Lee weekend. DJ Shaw was in the Monadnock pits as a driver; he and his team had prepared an ABC-legal car for a warm-up en route to Sunday’s PASS feature at Thunder Road. Matt Frahm returned to the series after finishing on the podium at Claremont. Kevin Folan, Craig Weinstein and Mike Mitchell took advantage of an off-night at Seekonk Speedway to race with the GSPSS.

O’Sullivan flexed his muscle early in the day, atoning for problems at the Claremont opener by setting a new track record. The two-time GSPSS champion turned his track record into a heat victory, with Joey Doiron winning the second heat. After the redraw, Matt Frahm lined up on the pole alongside veteran Tom Rosati to lead the field to green. Frahm opted not to take the Back of the Pack Challenge. Only eighteen cars would answer the call for the green, with Mike Mitchell withdrawing his entry before the race.

Matt Frahm got out to an early lead before the ringer came calling. DJ Shaw was no stranger to the GSPSS; in 2016 he had run the bulk of the schedule, missing two events due to conflicts with the PASS schedule. Shaw still won three races and narrowly missed the title that year. Shaw had no designs on a doubleheader in 2019, but as he took the lead and ran from the field, it looked like Shaw might be on the way to his seventh GSPSS trophy.

With 29 laps to go, though, Shaw lost pace, spinning on his own to bring out a yellow flag. Shaw limped to the pits to change a flat tire while Mike O’Sullivan assumed the top spot on the track.

Shaw charged back through the field, but O’Sullivan’s fast car was untouchable at the head of the pack. O’Sullivan led the final 29 laps uncontested, crossing the start-finish line for his first victory of 2019 and his sixth career GSPSS win. Interestingly, O’Sullivan has only run the full slate of GSPSS races twice, in 2013 and 2017; both times, the Massachusetts racer won the series championship.

O’Sullivan won the race, but Shaw stole the show, dicing through traffic and climbing back to second at the drop of the checkered flag. Joey Doiron, in a Shaw-built car, rounded out the podium with a third-place performance. Jimmy Renfrew, Jr. closed out the night with a fourth-place finish, one spot ahead of defending champion Devin O’Connell.

Ray Christian III finished sixth, with rookie Jake Matheson finishing on the lead lap in seventh. Josh King, Dennis Spencer, Jr. and veteran Tom Rosati rounded out the top ten. Polesitter Matt Frahm was eleventh. Thirteen cars finished on the lead lap in the 100-lap dash.

Joey Doiron’s third place, a sort of best-in-class result, helped the second-year GSPSS racer build on his points lead over Ray Christian III and Devin O’Connell. Luke Hinkley slipped to fourth in points after a poor finish at Monadnock, with rookie Jake Matheson sitting fifth.

Behind them, the points are a jumble of drivers buoyed by early-season podiums and weighed down by early misfortune. Mike O’Sullivan’s win vaulted him to eleventh in the standings, ahead of two drivers (Rosati and rookie Jacob Perry) who have started all three races so far. By mid-July, the points chase behind Doiron, Christian and O’Connell will surely be clearer.

For the GSPSS teams and drivers, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow might be the two weeks off to prepare for the next race. The GSPSS returns to action on June 15th at Speedway 51 in Groveton, N.H. with another 100-lap feature event.

PASS NORTH: GRIFFITH WINS FIRST OF THE YEAR AT T-ROAD

The Pro All Stars Series North Super Late Models went on a road trip to their fourth state visited in four races so far for the 2019 season. Sunday’s visit to Vermont meant a trip to the legendary Thunder Road International Speedbowl.

Before 2015, a Super Late Model race on the high-banked quarter-mile home of the American-Canadian Tour would have been as unthinkable as stock cars once were at Indianapolis. But the ACT and PASS brass had smoothed out their differences over the years, making the fast SLMs welcome guests on the high banks. Indeed, Sunday’s appearance as part of Thunder Road’s Mekkelsen RV Memorial Day Classic was the first of two visits for PASS to Vermont’s last remaining paved track.

Entering the race, DJ Shaw was riding a streak of three consecutive top-two finishes to open the season, with wins at Thompson and Star and a second-place run at Oxford Plains Speedway. Shaw had outdueled Derek Griffith at Thompson, had been beaten by Garrett Hall at Oxford, then faced several challengers in 150 laps at Star Speedway, but no driver had yet emerged as a clear head-to-head rival in the three races so far.

At Thunder Road, Shaw was an easy favorite in what looked like a rather short field of Super Late Models for a holiday-weekend race. Dan Winter had raced at Oxford the evening before and Johnny Clark was missing from the lineup, leaving only eight of the top ten in the PASS standings in the pits Sunday afternoon. Joining them were Derek Ramstrom and Joey Polewarczyk, Jr., both former PASS winners on part-time schedules. Vermonters Bobby Therrien and Evan Hallstrom, a rookie in his family’s #1VT, added some local color. And that was it. Twelve cars would settle the 150-lap Super Late Model feature.

Shaw and Therrien claimed the two six-car heat races, with Therrien and Ramstrom leading the field to the green flag. As a race winner, Shaw (and Garrett Hall) could start no better than eleventh. If he were to win, he would do so from the “back” of the field.

Derek Ramstrom jumped into the early lead, but Derek Griffith began reeling in the Massachusetts racer in search of his first win of the year. An early exit from the previous race at Star Speedway had left the title challenger in a hole, and a win would reverse some of the pain.

Troubles for Reid Lanpher brought out the first caution of the race at halfway. The yellow drew Ramstrom and Griffith together, but also introduced DJ Shaw to the lead battle. With Shaw’s arrival came Ramstrom’s departure, as he fell to third place while the two title hopefuls dueled for the top spot. Ramstrom soon fell off the pace, drawing another caution flag with 39 laps remaining.

In the closing laps, Derek Griffith took control, using the last restarts of the day to get away from Shaw. After 150 laps, the checkered flag fell for Griffith, who took his first career Thunder Road victory. The win was Griffith’s sixth PASS North victory and his first since last July at Maine’s Spud Speedway.

DJ Shaw held onto second place for his second runner-up finish in 24 hours and his fourth PASS North top-two finish of 2019. Joey Polewarczyk, Jr., another driver whose night at Star Speedway ended far too early, finished third. Travis Benjamin was fourth with Garrett Hall fifth.

Gabe Brown finished sixth in the feature, one lap behind the leaders, with Nick Sweet two laps down in seventh. Ben Rowe was eighth, ahead of Reid Lanpher, who managed a ninth-place run despite bringing out the first yellow. Derek Ramstrom was tenth. Evan Hallstrom, who ran in the top five most of the afternoon, had trouble with five laps to go, finishing eleventh ahead of “Bad Boy” Bobby Therrien.

Shaw’s early run of success finds him atop the standings by a wide margin ahead of Garrett Hall and teammate Gabe Brown. Derek Griffith, despite catastrophe at Star, now sits fourth in the standings ahead of last year’s runner-up Travis Benjamin. Behind them sit Nick Sweet, Ben Rowe and Reid Lanpher, all of whom have contended with miserable early-season luck. Johnny Clark tumbled to ninth in the standings, with Ramstrom sneaking into tenth despite his struggles Sunday.

Griffith’s win came behind the wheel of an ABC-bodied car, as his LCM Racing team seems hesitant to adopt the new “Gen-6” body given their racing schedule outside of PASS. The field at Thunder Road, likely learning from the race at Star a couple weeks ago, was heavy on the old ABC bodies, with only Shaw, Rowe, Sweet and rookie Hallstrom running the new Gen-6 sheetmetal. Interestingly, while Ben Rowe and Richard Moody Racing have fielded Toyota-branded cars for years, they rolled out a new Ford Mustang body at Thunder Road. Gabe Brown’s team fielded the Phoenix Racing throwback car they ran in the GSPSS season opener at Claremont.

After opening the season with solid turnouts in three races, the short field at Thunder Road was surprising. It is fair to acknowledge that Thunder Road is still foreign territory for the Super Late Model. Tracks in Vermont and northern New Hampshire have long favored the ACT-type Late Model, making Thunder Road a trip for all but a handful of teams. With weekly features and the GSPSS race on Saturday night, perhaps teams were less than encouraged to haul out to Vermont on Sunday for a second race, particularly without points on the line. The holiday weekend would seem to make a doubleheader more of an option for some, but not all teams are looking to race straight through one of the few long weekends of the year, either.

In fact, participation in the Memorial Day feature has ebbed since 2017, with the field slipping from 18 entries to 15 (2018) to 12 (2019). Last year’s pre-Milk Bowl feature, despite running on a Friday night, drew over twenty cars, admittedly when most weekly SLM campaigns are done for the year. With luck, PASS can determine what reasons teams have for passing on the Thunder Road trip, in hopes of making this a more attractive venture for teams in 2020.

The next race on the PASS schedule should have no issues with a full field, with a home game at Oxford Plains Speedway this Sunday afternoon. Over twenty entries have already been filed, with a number of teams sure to jump in at the last minute after Saturday night’s weekly feature is over.

LOCAL RACING: ASHLINE WINS SECOND STRAIGHT COASTAL 200, ROBBINS, FARRINGTON TAKE FIRST SLM WINS OF YEAR

Former PASS Modified champion Ryan Robbins won his first weekly feature of 2019 last Saturday at Oxford Plains Speedway. Robbins led all 50 laps on his way to the checkers, with TJ Brackett second and Curtis Gerry a distant third. Visitors from the PASS crowd included Tracy Gordon (eighth) and Dan Winter (ninth), who had started every PASS North race so far. Early standout Jeff Taylor was unable to make the green flag for the feature. Of note, Robbins was the only driver to win multiple weekly features at Oxford in 2018.

Former PASS full-timers filled the podium at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway, with Dave Farrington, Jr. outracing the rain to win the night’s Pro Series feature. Recent winner David Oliver was second with 2015 PASS North champ Mike Rowe third. Brandon Barker, last week’s GSPSS feature winner, was ninth in the 14-car field.

Farrington was among a few familiar faces to take a shot at Sunday’s Coastal 200 at Wiscasset Speedway. The long-distance Late Model Sportsman race is a focal point of the Wiscasset schedule. Farrington won a heat race early in the day, but was swept into a big wreck in the middle of the race that left him fighting from behind. Defending race winner Ben Ashline took the lead on lap 106 and never looked back, earning his second straight victory in the 200-lap event. Andrew McLaughlin finished second with J.R. Robinson third. Farrington was eighth, two laps down. A visiting Bryan Kruczek, racing for Bobby Webber, was tenth. Wyatt Alexander made an appearance as well, but was knocked out of the race early.

A planned 100-lapper for White Mountain Motorsports Park’s Late Models was put on hold after rain cancelled the evening’s features. Instead, the Late Models will run twin 100-lap features on Independence Day weekend, racing both Friday and Saturday nights.

Thunder Road International Speedbowl’s Late Models followed the visiting PASS North cars with their own 100-lap feature as part of the Mekkelsen RV Memorial Day Classic. Jason Corliss turned in another dominating performance for his fourth straight T-Road win going back to 2018. Matt White was second with Marcel J. Gravel third. A few ACT Tour regulars ran the 100-lapper as well, including Christopher Pelkey (seventh), Stephen Donahue (ninth), and Joel Hodgdon (11th). Phil Scott finished sixth in the race, continuing to rack up Thunder Road starts while serving as Governor of the state of Vermont.

NEXT ON THE SCHEDULE

The American-Canadian Tour Late Models are headed north this weekend for a unique Canadian doubleheader. Saturday night, the Tour races for points in the Claude Leclerc 150 at Autodrome Chaudière, honoring the Tour’s septuagenarian “Ironman.” Sunday, the Late Models race for prize money in the Jean-Paul Cabana 125 at Circuit Riverside Speedway Ste-Croix, in honor of another Canadian racing legend.

The PASS North Super Late Models are in action Sunday afternoon at Oxford Plains Speedway for a home race against Oxford’s weekly competitors, with many teams treating the weekend as a doubleheader of their own.

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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