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Granite State Pro Stock Series

New England Notebook: RC III wins Star Classic thriller, Gerry celebrates Oxford championship

RC3 vs Doiron, Star Speedway 2019
Ray Christian III (#93CT) outdueled Joey Doiron in the closing laps of Friday night's GSPSS Vynorius Piledriving 100 at Star Speedway. Doiron finished second but was unimpressed with the winning move. (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: RC III SHAKES OFF BAD LUCK, RATTLES DOIRON WITH STAR CLASSIC WIN

The Granite State Pro Stock Series’ late-season stretch run marched forth with the tour’s annual visit to the quarter-mile Star Speedway in Epping, N.H. The GSPSS Pro Stocks had supported the visiting ISMA Supermodifieds for years as part of the Star Classic, the track’s signature race weekend. For the Classic’s 54th running, track owner Bobby Webber, Jr. had introduced a new two-day format for the weekend. The ISMA Supers, Star’s own 350 Supermodifieds and the NEMA Midgets would compete in an all-open-wheel Saturday-night shootout, with the GSPSS headlining a full “Fender Friday” schedule including Star’s weekly NASCAR-sanctioned divisions.

Star’s pit area just off turn four was a busy place Friday, with sixteen Pro Stocks in the house for the Vynorius Piledriving 100. Claremont Motorsports Park regular Ricky Bly and Wiscasset Speedway regular Jamie Wright were racing with the GSPSS Friday. Traveling all the way from Pennsylvania was occasional racer Chola Shay. Barry Gray’s familiar #29 was in the pits with son Adam Gray at the wheel. Cory Casagrande made a last-minute trip up to Star, and Thompson product John Lowinski-Loh was back on the circuit with his new-to-him #18 entry. A few other drivers were present in support roles; Jake Matheson was helping in the pits with his car sidelined after a wreck at Claremont, Gabe Brown was working with points leader Joey Doiron, and Matt Frahm had answered Cory Casagrande’s call for a spotter.

Along with the sidelined Matheson, a few regular competitors were not in attendance. The Wright Pearson #16 and Tom Rosati were absent. So was Joe Squeglia, a Star veteran and former winner in the prelude to the Star Classic. Monadnock winner Mike O’Sullivan and Jeremy Davis were among those who kept their cars at the shop Friday night as well.

On the track, however, Ray Christian III was making himself quite visible. Christian led the afternoon’s practice sessions, then set fast time in time trials to lead the lineup for the night’s heat races. Christian won a calamitous first heat that was punctuated by multiple yellows for spins. The second heat ran clean and green to the end, with Joey Doiron taking the checkers.

Christian’s team then drew the pole in the top-eight redraw, making the Groton, Conn. racer eligible for the Back Of The Pack Challenge and a $1,000 bonus if he were to forfeit his first-place start. Citing the rough-and-tumble heat race, Christian opted to keep his pole position.

Christian and Jacob Dore brought the field to the green flag, and Christian quickly asserted himself at the front of the pack, with Dore shadowing him in the open laps. The season had been a tough one for “RC III.” Christian had made spot starts both on the PASS tour and at Oxford Plains Speedway in Maine, winning a weekly Oxford feature and showing plenty of promise on the region’s established Super Late Model tour. But after breaking into winner’s circle in the last race of 2019, Christian figured to be a title contender on the GSPSS circuit as well.

And that had not come to fruition. Christian and his team, with the backing and technical assistance of Mickey Green and Crazy Horse Racing, were fast at every track. But the speed did not match the results. Christian was fourth at Claremont, then raced back to 8th at Lee after a spin. Sixth-place runs at Monadnock and Speedway 51 were followed by a deceptive 9th-place run at Lee, where high attrition helped Christian climb back into the top ten after an overheating issue took him out of the race. At Hudson Speedway, an early problem relegated Christian to a last-place finish. Eighth place at Claremont in the Rocky Ridge 150 gave Christian top-ten finishes in six of the seven races thus far, but when points leader Joey Doiron was winning and running in the top three, the back half of the top ten was not good enough for the championship.

For the first half of the race, Christian was clearly in command. Dore was close, but unable to challenge Christian for the top spot. Dore eventually yielded the runner-up spot to Joey Doiron, who had started fifth and needed time to work through traffic. Christian was lapping slower traffic, keeping Doiron at bay, when the race’s first caution flew at lap 51 for an Adam Gray spin.

Doiron restarted alongside Christian, but RC III was able to keep the lead, even stretching his advantage twenty laps into the run. Another yellow at lap 73 returned Doiron to Christian’s door, and on the next couple restarts, Doiron appeared to have the faster car, pressuring Christian for the top spot. Doiron had to fend off pressure of his own, as defending race winner Jimmy Renfrew, Jr. had battled his way to third and was looking for more.

On lap 79, Doiron made the pass at last, becoming the second driver to lead the event. Christian settled into second, and it appeared that despite showing speed in every round thus far, the Connecticut driver was going to have to wait another couple weeks for his first GSPSS win of the year. Renfrew had used his car up getting through the field, and as Doiron and Christian battled for the lead, Renfrew and the rest of the pack faded into the distance.

With four laps remaining, Bobby Pelland spun in turn two, bringing out a yellow flag and erasing the gaps between first and second and third. Christian lined up at Doiron’s door for what would hopefully be the final restart of the evening.

Doiron took the lead at the start, but Ray Christian was there, not giving an inch as he looked for his first win of the season. Doiron was looking for his own first, a first career victory at Star, as he played defense from the front. On the final lap, Christian got down to the inside line, diving in and shoving Doiron up the track in turns three and four. Doiron kept it straight, but Christian gained the advantage coming off turn four, beating Doiron to the line by a car length. Eight tires and sixteen feet were enough to earn Christian his first GSPSS win of 2019, which he celebrated with a brief burnout on the front stretch.

Doiron, who finished second, was unimpressed with the winning move, greeting Christian on the frontstretch to voice his displeasure. The points leader was cordial in his frontstretch interview and in victory lane photos, but he declined any further interviews after the race.

Jimmy Renfrew, Jr. held on in the closing laps for third, coming up just short of a repeat of his win last year. After being spun in his heat, the sixteen-year-old started deep in the pack and wore out his car racing to the front. He admitted after the race that he could have made a three-wide move for the lead in the closing laps, but just as likely would have taken the leaders out and thought better of it.

Cory Casagrande was fourth in his best GSPSS result of the year, after battling fifth-place finisher Luke Hinkley most of the evening. Josh King overcame a spin to finish sixth, with Vermont’s Todd Stone seventh after knocking off a fender in the first heat race. Jacob Dore wound up eighth, with Ricky Bly and John Lowinski-Loh rounding out the top ten.

Adam Gray was 11th in his substitute role, with Jeremy Harclerode finishing 12th. Devin O’Connell suffered through a challenging evening, pitting before the green flag flew and getting together with Lowinski-Loh with 25 laps remaining. He finished 13th. Bobby Pelland was 14th. Chola Shay finished eight laps off the pace in 15th, with Jamie Wright the only car to drop out early.

With only five drivers scoring points in every race, Joey Doiron remains atop the point standings with almost a full race over Devin O’Connell. Ray Christian III’s win keeps him in third, with Jimmy Renfrew fourth and Josh King fifth after his best run of the season. With four races left on the schedule, the title is clearly Doiron’s to lose, but in short track racing, strange things can and do often happen.

The Granite State Pro Stock Series has a couple weeks off before returning to action at Seekonk (Mass.) Speedway, home track of racer Bobby Pelland. For the first time, Seekonk’s annual DAV race in honor of track patriarch D. Anthony Venditti will be sanctioned as a GSPSS event to close out the month of September.

GSPSS: SCHEDULE SWAP YIELDS NEW SEASON-ENDING WEEKEND AT CLAREMONT

Earlier this week, the Granite State Pro Stock Series announced a late change to the season-ending schedule. While details are still to follow, the season will now end with a race at Claremont (N.H.) Motorsports Park in New Hampshire’s Upper Valley. A two-day race weekend has been announced for October 19th and 20th.

Assuming the GSPSS teams will race on Sunday, this does create a tiny window between the GSPSS finale and the PASS 400 weekend at Oxford Plains Speedway. The PASS teams are slated to race Saturday, so barring a rain delay, teams and fans could conceivably split their time between Oxford Saturday and Claremont Sunday.

This does, however, put a few nails in the New London-Waterford Speedbowl coffin. With both of the coastal Connecticut oval’s GSPSS dates cancelled so far, optimism remained that the track would be able to re-open in time for the GSPSS season finale. Instead, it seems more likely that Waterford will remain dormant for the rest of the year, forcing a move to a track that did not already have a year-end program in place. What this means for the greater future of the beleaguered oval remains to be seen.

WEEKLY RACING: GERRY CROWNED OXFORD CHAMPION, BEECH RIDGE FACES DOUBLE-FEATURE CHAMPIONSHIP WEEKEND

Two weeks after the season hit its climax with the Oxford 250, Oxford Plains Speedway wrapped up its Budweiser Championship Series on Saturday evening. Rookie Josh Childs scored his first win of the 2019 season, with Curtis Gerry finishing second and Tim Brackett rounding out the podium. With PASS on a brief post-250 break, the field had a few touring names sprinkled throughout, with Brandon Barker (7th), Oxford 250 winner Travis Benjamin (10th), veteran Kelly Moore (12th) and Reid Lanpher (16th) bolstering the field.

Curtis Gerry, who moved to Oxford after winning the 2016 and 2018 track titles at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway, closed out a dominant season at Oxford by earning his first track championship at the legendary oval. Gerry was the only repeat winner all season at Oxford, with four feature wins propelling the Waterboro, Me. driver to his third track championship in four years.

Despite only being about an hour south of Oxford, Beech Ridge’s evening was cut short by rain after the Wildcat race. The Scarborough, Maine oval will settle its Pro Series championship Saturday evening with double features. A bad night in the first race could bury a team’s chances or elevate a surprise challenger to the title.

White Mountain Motorsports Park joined Beech Ridge in the rainout club, with rain keeping the night’s Late Model feature from running as scheduled. The season-ending event has been rescheduled to the 21st of September, running in support of the weekend’s PASS feature.

On Massachusetts’ South Coast, Seekonk Speedway dodged the weather that plagued tracks to the north. Vinnie Arrenegado earned his second straight and fourth overall feature win of 2019, moving him within 14 points of Tommy Adams for the track championship. Dylan Estrella won his third Pro Stock feature of the year, but with points leader David Darling finishing second, Estrella was unable to make up any real ground in the title chase.

Mark Jenison finished sixth at the Cement Palace, then loaded up for Sunday’s feature racing at Thompson Speedway in Connecticut, where he took his first feature win of the year at the high-banked oval. Derek Gluchacki and Matthew Lowinski-Loh completed the podium, with Woody Pitkat finishing fourth and taking the track points lead over William Wall.

NEXT ON THE SCHEDULE

The American-Canadian Tour returns to Thunder Road International Speedbowl this weekend for the rescheduled Coca-Cola Labor Day Classic. The ACT Late Models and their 200-lap feature will headline the program that was postponed two weeks ago after a heat race crash.

The PASS Super Late Models will race Sunday afternoon at Oxford Plains Speedway, in their first start since the Oxford 250. With weekly racing complete at the track, a strong field of Oxford regulars will surely be on hand to challenge the touring all-stars.

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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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