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New England Notebook: Sweet homecoming in PASS, Belsito breaks through in GSPSS, Therrien kisses the cow

Bobby Therrien, PASS NHMS 2019
Bobby Therrien, pictured here with his PASS car at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in June, earned a convincing win in this year's 57th Vermont Milk Bowl for ACT-type Late Models. (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.

ACT LATE MODELS: THERRIEN’S NEAR-PERFECT WEEKEND NETS MILK BOWL WIN, CHECK, AND KISS

For racers who own an ACT-legal Late Model, the biggest race of the year is an event that pays no points toward the Tour championship. The Vermont Milk Bowl, now in its 37th year, is regarded by many as one of the toughest short track races in the country.

A combination of long-distance endurance and short-distance sprint, the Milk Bowl is three fifty-lap segments, with the starting lineup of the second and third segments dictated by an inversion of the finishing order from the previous segment. The winner is the driver with the fewest points total, one per position. The driver who can manage traffic and avoid incident in all three segments is likely to come away with the win, a $10,000 check, and a kiss from the race’s annual “lady of honor,” one of Vermont’s finest dairy cows.

And to do so means conquering Thunder Road International Speedbowl, a treacherous quarter-mile cut into the hills of central Vermont.

The Milk Bowl naturally draws most of its interest from Thunder Road’s weekly Late Model program. Recent “Kings of the Road” Jason Corliss and Scott Dragon led the local charge, with Brooks Clark, Trampas Demers, Kyle Pembroke and Brendan Moodie among the other regulars towing to the track. With a long break on the touring schedule, ACT Tour point leaders Rich Dubeau, Jimmy Hebert and Scott Payea were in the running as well. Patrick Laperle was one of three Canadians to file an entry, along with Jonathan Bouvrette and Alexendre Tardif.

The Milk Bowl had drawn a number of entries from the area’s ACT-sanctioned tracks as well. Tom Carey III, Jesse Switser, and Mike Benevides had all towed to the track. Veteran Brent Dragon, son of Vermont legend Harmon “Beaver” Dragon and cousin of Scott, was shaking off some rust in a Milk Bowl attempt. Eric Chase had three cars at the track: a PASS car for Nick Sweet, a #88 ACT car for Sweet, and a #40 ACT car for himself.

And, as always, a couple complete outsiders were taking a stab at the race. ARCA champion Mason Mitchell was at the track making his second Milk Bowl attempt, after failing to qualify last year. But most notable was Georgia’s Andrew “Bubba” Pollard, making his first Milk Bowl attempt as a teammate to Joey Polewarczyk, Jr.

Time-trial qualifying for the heat races was held Saturday, with Bobby Therrien awarded the pole after Trampas Demers was disqualified. Matthew Smith, in the #04VT Therrien ran in August’s Tour event at Oxford, was also locked into the field prior to the 50-lap heat races. Therrien flexed some muscle in his heat, leading the first 26 laps before parking his car to save it for Sunday. Brooks Clark beat Tyler Cahoon and Patrick Laperle to win the first heat. In the second heat, Kyle Pembroke took the win over Marcel J. Gravel and Scott Payea.

Four additional drivers were taken on time, with Tom Carey III and Bubba Pollard qualifying through Sunday’s B-feature. Brendan Moodie and Mason Mitchell were added to the 26-car starting field via provisionals. Among the drivers packing up and heading home early were Brent Dragon, Mike Benevides, Boomer Morris, and Quebecer Alexendre Tardif.

For “Bad Boy” Bobby Therrien, the Milk Bowl offered an opportunity for the 2017 “King of the Road” to put aside a challenging season. Therrien kicked off the year with designs of chasing the ACT Tour championship, but a strong run at Oxford ended in disqualification after post-race inspection. Therrien instead put the bulk of his efforts into the PASS North schedule, running most of the events but failing to crack the top five.

In the first segment of the Milk Bowl, though, the polesitter was hooked up, leading every lap and never facing a serious challenge en route to victory. Brooks Clark and Marcel Gravel rounded out the podium with Joey Polewarczyk and Patrick Laperle closing the top five. Bubba Pollard raced up to 15th by the segment’s end.

The full-field inversion put Matt White and Eric Chase on the front row for the second segment of the Milk Bowl, with Kyle Pembroke done for the afternoon after an early crash. Pembroke quickly had company, as a first-lap crash brought out the red flag and ended the afternoon for Mason Mitchell, Nick Sweet and Patrick Laperle.

With the field thinned, Rich Dubeau went to work at the head of the pack, battling Matt White for the lead and going to the front. Dubeau pulled away from the field as Therrien worked his way from the back of the field. Therrien would make it all the way to second, but Dubeau won the segment easily, with defending winner Jason Corliss finishing third. With three points on the board, Therrien’s lead over Joey Polewarczyk was six points entering the third and final segment.

With another inversion, Scott Payea’s repaired car would return to the track to bring the field to green alongside Brendan Moodie. While Payea led laps out front and fended off Bubba Pollard, Therrien, Corliss and Polewarczyk were in their own battle, trying to work traffic and keep distance between themselves and the other contenders.

With ten laps to go, Therrien moved back into the top five, with Corliss and Polewarczyk still mired in traffic. At the front, Tyler Cahoon took the race lead from Payea. Brooks Clark got around Payea for second, with Therrien keeping his eye on Clark as his closest competitor. Tyler Cahoon would cross the finish line first, winning the third segment over Clark and Scott Payea. Jimmy Hebert crossed the line fourth.

But by finishing fifth, Bobby Therrien scored a total of eight points on the afternoon, beating Clark by seven points to win the 57th Vermont Milk Bowl. Therrien’s celebration was capped by a big kiss on the nose of Ayris, an Ayrshire dairy cow. Therrien’s single-digit score at race’s end matched Jason Corliss’ winning effort over Therrien last year; before Corliss, it had been twenty years since another driver had scored under ten points in the Milk Bowl.

Tyler Cahoon’s segment-three victory ranked him third overall, with Joey Pole’s poor third-segment run bumping him to fourth. Jason Corliss was fifth, ahead of Marcel Gravel, Scott Dragon, ACT Tour frontrunner Jimmy Hebert, Rich Dubeau and outside polesitter Matthew Smith.

Scott Payea was 11th overall with top-ten finishes in segments 1 and 3. Bubba Pollard’s Milk Bowl debut came with a seventh-place run in the last segment and a 12th-place overall finish. Stephen Donahue was 13th, Joel Hodgdon 14th and Chip Grenier 15th.

Tour regular Christopher Pelkey, who took over after Lance Allen qualified his car, finished 16th, with Dylan Payea 19th. Patrick Laperle was 20th and Nick Sweet 21st. Mason Mitchell was scored 24th. A few drivers were able to join the race in the third segment, with 30 drivers scoring points at race’s end.

With Thunder Road’s season concluded for 2019, the ACT Tour hopefuls now move on to Thompson Speedway in Connecticut, where their season will conclude next week as part of Saturday’s World Series festivities.

GSPSS: BELSITO BREAKS THROUGH WITH HOME TRACK WIN AT SEEKONK

The Granite State Pro Stock Series late-season stretch run marched on with a visit to Seekonk Speedway. The legendary southern-Massachusetts track, dubbed the “Cement Palace” for its encircling concrete bleachers, remains one of the few tracks in the region to host weekly Pro Stocks, particularly under the Pro Stock name.

For the first time, the GSPSS would sanction Seekonk’s annual D.A.V. Fall Classic, named in memory of track patriarch D. Anthony Venditti. The move was twofold; not only did it align the GSPSS with another historic and iconic annual event, but it would hopefully undo the shock of last year’s D.A.V. Fall Classic, where only 12 cars turned out for a $6,000-to-win major event.

Race organizers got their wish with 27 Pro Stocks in the pits. Joining the GSPSS full-timers were part-time challengers Mike O’Sullivan, Joe Squeglia, and Angelo Belsito, while Jake Matheson had his car repaired from an incident earlier in the month. Visiting from Maine were Reid Lanpher, winner of last year’s U.S. Pro Stock/Super Late Model Nationals at Seekonk, and Dave Farrington, a GSPSS feature winner a couple seasons ago. Nick Lascuola returned for his first GSPSS start since last year’s Rocky Ridge 150 at Claremont Speedway. From the Seekonk weekly ranks, track champion David Darling, Ryan Vanasse, Tom Scully and former Late Model champion Ryan Kuhn would try to bring keep the trophy local. Eddie MacDonald played the role of ringer, bringing his potent #17MA to Seekonk for a rare GSPSS appearance. Missing from the track were Josh King, skipping his first race of the year, and the #16 Wright Pearson team, with occasional driver Brandon Barker up in Vermont with PASS.

Barry Gray withdrew from the race before qualifying, leaving 26 cars to take time during qualifying. Angelo Belsito set fast time in qualifying over Farrington and Kuhn. The field was split into three heats, with Belsito, David Darling and Reid Lanpher each winning a heat. With a field based on 24 entries, two cars were likely to go home, but it appeared that provisions would be made to start all 26 entries. Ultimately, Fred Astle and Ryan Lineham withdrew from the lineup, completing the starting field of 24. Lanpher won the redraw to lead the field to green alongside Seekonk regular Craig Weinstein.

Reid Lanpher was looking for a change of fortune anywhere, but Seekonk was as good a track as any. The two-time Beech Ridge Motor Speedway Pro Series champion had enjoyed a competitive 2018, winning a GSPSS feature at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, a PASS feature at Oxford and the Pro Stock/SLM Nationals at Seekonk. In addition, he had been fast everywhere he had raced. The 2019 season had not been nearly as kind. The consistency Lanpher displayed on the PASS circuit in 2018 was derailed by mechanical failures, crashes and the occasional missed setup. Lanpher was winless on the season, and passed on the PASS trip to Vermont in hopes of finding success at a venue where he had tasted victory before.

And for half the race, Lanpher was in command. But shortly past halfway, Angelo Belsito came calling, giving Lanpher a bump and moving past to take the lead for his own. The former Seekonk regular had run a relatively limited schedule in 2019, with two top-ten runs at Claremont and Hudson to show for his efforts. A top five would be a tremendous night, never mind a win.

The second half of the race was not quite as clean as the first, with a few yellow flags spicing up the closing laps. But Belsito was able to distance himself from the field on the restarts, with Lanpher struggling to hold off a charge from Ryan Vanasse. Vanasse eventually got around Lanpher for the runner-up spot.

But it was too late to chase down Belsito, who admitted in victory lane that he wanted to go early rather than wait until it was too late to make a move. Angelo Belsito held on for the victory, scoring a huge upset at his home track. In his seven previous GSPSS starts, Belsito had finished in the top five three times, but his results in 2019 had been nowhere close.

Ryan Vanasse finished second with Reid Lanpher managing a loose car to come home third. Points leader Joey Doiron was fourth, with recently-crowned track champ David Darling fifth. Eddie MacDonald nursed his car home to sixth with a failing clutch. Ryan Kuhn, who won the afternoon’s Late Model feature, finished seventh. Joe Squeglia, Seekonk regular Mike Brightman, and Bobby Pelland rounded out the top ten.

Dave Farrington was a frustrating 11th after showing speed throughout practice. Jimmy Renfrew, Jr. was 12th after being on the receiving end of some contact from outside polesitter Weinstein. Defending champ Devin O’Connell was 13th and Ray Christian III struggled to a 14th-place run. Nick Lascuola rounded out the top fifteen.

Rookie Jake Matheson was 17th in his return to competition. Monadnock winner Mike O’Sullivan ended the day in 20th, ahead of Vermont’s Todd Stone. Craig Weinstein finished last after being involved in a few incidents through the afternoon.

With three events left on the GSPSS calendar, Joey Doiron has a commanding 64-point lead over Devin O’Connell. Ray Christian sits third in points, with Jimmy Renfrew, Jr. fourth. Josh King is fifth in points after skipping Seekonk, a full race back of Renfrew. Only the top five have competed in every race. As long as Doiron starts the next three races, he should be able to hold the championship lead, with over a race’s worth of points over rival O’Connell.

The GSPSS will race this Sunday at Lee USA Speedway in New Hampshire, once again headlining Oktoberfest festivities with their own afternoon feature. Among the entries promised for the race are defending Oktoberfest winner Brandon Barker and 2015 GSPSS champion Derek Griffith.

PASS NORTH: SWEET HOMECOMING YIELDS A REPEAT WIN AT THUNDER ROAD

The Pro All Stars Series North closed a busy September stretch with a trip back to Vermont. For a second straight season, the series’ second annual visit to Thunder Road International Speedbowl was in conjunction with the track’s storied Milk Bowl weekend. The Super Late Models would tackle the tricky quarter-mile for their own 150-lap run on Saturday along with Milk Bowl qualifying.

Vermont’s only paved oval track sits just outside the usual comfort zone for Super Late Model racers, with the ACT Late Model reigning supreme at nearby tracks. As such, the track has had a hard time drawing the fast straight-rail cars in recent races, with last fall’s prelude to the Milk Bowl a notable exception. But the trend remained alive this time around, with twelve cars showing up for the feature. Missing were Garrett Hall and Travis Benjamin, as well as veteran Johnny Clark. Reid Lanpher was absent, having headed south for the GSPSS-sanctioned D.A.V. feature at Seekonk.

Their absences made room for some different names in the paddock. J.P. Josiasse, the Ontario native who was a fixture in PASS South competition, was at Thunder Road for his first PASS North attempt of the year. Jeremy Davis was in his trademark #09 for a run at the high banks. Bobby Therrien was in his Fast One Motorsports #5x, with a second #5B entry rolled out for Brandon Barker.

Making history in the PASS race was ACT Late Model competitor Phil Scott, who prepared his car for the PASS race this time. Scott’s attempt would be his first in the series, and very likely the first time a state governor had competed in a PASS event.

Two heat races, sans consis, would be plenty to set the field, and teammates DJ Shaw and Gabe Brown each claimed a heat victory. Brown and Bobby Therrien would lead the field to green. Jeremy Sorel would not make the start of the feature, leaving eleven cars to take the green flag.

Driving a red-and-white car styled after the Phoenix Racing Busch Series car Dale Shaw briefly piloted in 1997, Gabe Brown held the point for the opening laps. The youngster had certainly made his mark in Super Late Models in a very short career. After leaping into the big cars midway through 2017, Brown won the 2018 Oxford Plains Speedway track championship while running half the PASS touring schedule. He had taken that experience and carried it to a full-time campaign on the PASS circuit in 2019.

But despite the championship and some great runs at the weekly level, Brown had yet to win in the big cars. Not at Oxford, and not on the touring circuit. A few tough races in the late summer had left the teenager in a hole in the points, last among full-time entrants, and a win would do a lot to build momentum for his sophomore season.

Brown’s time at the front was short-lived, though, as defending race winner Nick Sweet marched his way through traffic and to the bumper and door of the #47. Sweet had been missing in action a week before at White Mountain Motorsports Park, ending his title chase to attend his brother’s wedding. A shot at the season championship was out of grasp, but the ACT Tour and Thunder Road track champion still had a lot at stake in the final few races of the season.

On the Late Model side of the pits, Sweet had struggled to find speed in his ACT entry for Sunday’s Milk Bowl. But he had no problem finding it in the PASS car. Sweet took the lead before 30 laps were on the board. From there, the battle was for second on back. Sweet spent 132 laps at the point en route to a dominating victory at his home track, his second win of the season and his third career PASS North checkered flag.

DJ Shaw, who recorded one of his worst finishes of the year a week before at WMMP, came through the field to finish second, with rookie and former Thunder Road regular Evan Hallstrom capturing his first podium finish at home. Derek Griffith, the May winner at T-Road, was unable to complete a September hat trick, finishing fourth. Gabe Brown was fifth, the final car on the lead lap.

Jeremy Davis was sixth, with Ben Rowe coming home seventh with some damage on the white-and-yellow #4. Bobby Therrien was eighth, two laps back. J.P. Josiasse was ninth, four laps down. Brandon Barker dropped out after 69 laps, while Phil Scott’s PASS debut ended after a crash on lap 41.

Sweet’s Camaro-bodied car led a top-three sweep for the new Gen-6 sheet metal, and marked the first win for the new bodies since his August victory at Oxford. More notably, it was the first win for the body on a quarter-mile track since DJ Shaw’s win at Star Speedway in May, with Derek Griffith dominating the tiny tracks this year. Sweet is the only full-time driver who has run the new bodywork in every start this year.

The Pro All Stars Series made its debut at Thunder Road in 2015, the waning days of a sort of feud between PASS and ACT promoters that started with the purchase of Oxford Plains Speedway. While plenty has changed in Late Model racing in the Northeast since then, the challenges to the sport seem to show themselves in full at Thunder Road. Both of this year’s appearances had 12 cars taking time in qualifying. Last year’s fall race, on a Friday evening, brought over twenty entries, but only 15 took time in May of 2018. This year’s race went head-to-head against Seekonk’s D.A.V. Fall Classic, but only a few of the entrants at Seekonk might have bolstered the field at T-Road.

The differences are stark when compared to how the ACT Tour has drawn away from home. After stepping away from Oxford a couple years ago due to the belief that few local entrants remained to challenge the Tour contenders, the last few ACT Tour events at PASS’ home track have drawn some of the largest starting fields of the year. Hopefully, some off-season conversation can unveil why the challenging quarter-mile continues to be a tough sell to the PASS contenders.

DJ Shaw’s runner-up finish gives him a slim nine-point advantage over Derek Griffith heading back to Oxford Plains Speedway in two weeks. With Ben Rowe and Gabe Brown just out of reach, the title is a two-way race. Nick Sweet sits fifth in the points with one fewer start, but could still snatch fourth from Brown by the season’s end. The gaps are more noticeable from sixth to tenth, but with all those drivers likely to compete in the penultimate race, there seems to be little room for a legitimate shakeup in the standings.

With the September stretch over, teams have a couple weekends off to prepare for a Saturday showdown at Oxford Plains Speedway on October 19th, where the stage will be set for the season finale at Seekonk Speedway a week later.

TRACK NEWS: SPEEDWAY 51 CHANGES HANDS, TO CHANGE NAMES IN 2020

In September, another of New Hampshire’s quarter-mile bullrings found new ownership to solidify the track’s future. Speedway 51, nestled on the banks of the Connecticut River in Groveton, N.H., announced that track owner Joey Laquerre has sold the speedway to brothers Mike and Richard Humphrey of Cornish, Maine. The brothers and their wives will take on the ownership of the state’s northernmost paved oval.

Joey Laquerre, the ageless veteran racer known for his time within the American-Canadian Tour circle, purchased the track formerly named Riverside Speedway back in the fall of 2014. Not long after the track’s sale was in motion, Laquerre’s grandson, 17-year-old Joey M. Laquerre, lost his life in an ATV accident. For the 2015 season and beyond, the track was renamed Speedway 51 to pay tribute to the car number “Li’l Joey” ran in his brief racing career. Most of the track’s long-distance events were also extended by one lap to 151-lap races in Joey’s memory.

In 2020, the track will return to its old identity. The Humphrey brothers look to make Riverside Speedway and Adventure Park a year-round entertainment venue, with ATV racing and other activities adding to the track’s circle-track events.

Speedway 51 hosted the Granite State Pro Stock series this year, with a planned PASS North appearance cancelled in August in the weeks leading up to the Oxford 250. In the past, PASS and the American-Canadian Tour had competed at the track, with ACT-type Late Models anchoring the track’s weekly racing schedule. This summer’s cancelled PASS 151 had been earmarked for next spring, but time will tell if the change of ownership changes anything further.

Under the ownership of the Humphrey family, Speedway 51 will host its annual Fall Brawl this weekend, with a 151-lap Late Model event the featured race of the program. Vermont Milk Bowl winner Bobby Therrien won last year’s Fall Brawl.

NEXT ON THE SCHEDULE

The Granite State Pro Stock Series inches closer to its season championship this weekend as part of the annual Russ Conway’s Oktoberfest at Lee USA Speedway. The GSPSS will be one of Sunday’s featured events in the multi-division year-end spectacular.

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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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