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New England Notebook: Sweet stops Gerry at Oxford, Cassius Clark and Todd Stone score big road wins

Nick Sweet, seen here practicing at NHMS, broke through at Oxford Plains Speedway for his second career PASS North victory, holding off local star Curtis Gerry for his first win of 2019. (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.

SWEET STYMIES GERRY, CLAIMS FIRST WIN OF YEAR AT OXFORD

For two paragraphs, the teams of the Pro All Stars Series appeared to have earned an extra weekend of prep work leading into the Oxford 250. But after postponing an event at Speedway 51, PASS promoter Tom Mayberry quickly added a new event at Oxford Plains Speedway for the same weekend. The new Oxford race, the fourth points race at the track this year, would serve as one last tune-up for the big show in late August.

Last year’s penultimate Oxford battle was well-attended, and this year’s was no different, with 40 teams taking to the flat oval during Sunday’s practice sessions. Travis Benjamin, Reid Lanpher and Johnny Clark were all back with the series after skipping the Spud race. Alan Tardiff and Evan Hallstrom continued their part-time programs, as did Eddie MacDonald. Cassius Clark was in the house after winning the previous night’s Toromont CAT 250 in Nova Scotia, but he had crossed the border solo, with Chad Dow preparing his #39 for Clark to race.

One entry that seemed a bit in doubt was that of Ben Rowe. The four-time PASS North champion finished eighth in Saturday’s Motor Mountain Masters at Jennerstown Speedway, and had to make the long trip from western Pennsylvania to make Sunday’s feature. Come practice time, though, the #4 was in the pit area with Rowe ready to race. In doing so, Rowe kept a streak alive of competing in every PASS North event since 2001. Motor Mountain Masters runner-up Mike Hopkins had a similar drive in hand.

Curtis Gerry was absent from the previous night’s weekly feature, but he was ready to go for the 150-lapper, leading the charge for the Oxford regulars. The Bracketts, Rusty Poland, Austin Teras and Alan Wilson were just some of the regulars in the field. Beech Ridge regulars Trevor Sanborn (in the Petit Motorsports-owned #29) and Bill Rodgers (in the Archie St. Hilaire-owned, Petit-sourced #7NC) were sure to give spotters fits with three nearly-identical cars in the field.

Jeremy Davis and Sammy Gooden, both locals to Speedway 51, came south for the event, while Oxford ACT winner Bryan Kruczek returned with Bobby Webber, Jr.’s #19 SLM. Mike Rowe was in his red #24, while his Beech Ridge car owner Mike Fowler got behind the wheel of a black #66 entry from the weekly stable.

Johnny Clark, Davis, Mike Hopkins and Garrett Hall locked down heat victories, with Austin Teras rolling to victory in the consi. With thirty cars locked into the feature, provisionals added another nine cars to the lineup, with only Ed Trask missing the feature. Clark and Davis lined up on the front row for the start, with Hall, Curtis Gerry and other race winners lining up outside the top ten.

Clark outdueled Davis at the start to take the early lead, pacing the field in his new Camaro. The six-time PASS North champion was winless since 2016, and for the first thirty or so laps, it looked like he was en route to ending that drought at last. With 39 laps complete, though, Nick Sweet made an outside pass to take the race lead away. Sweet’s string of strong performances left fans wondering when he would finally break through for his second career victory.

A multi-car incident bunched the field up with 70 laps complete, though, and suddenly the race had a certain look of inevitability with it. Curtis Gerry, from the 12th spot on the grid, had patiently worked his way past Johnny Clark and into second. With Gerry now on Sweet’s bumper, most folks wrote Gerry’s name into the winner’s slot on the race rundown, just waiting to see how Gerry would make the winning pass.

A rush of mid-race incidents slowed the middle of the race to a crawl, with Sweet holding the lead through each restart. When the field went green, Sweet and Gerry took off, the weekly warrior looking over the touring ace at every turn.

Gerry stalked Sweet in the closing laps, but the opportunity to make the winning move never came. Nick Sweet dominated the second half of the race to earn his first win of 2019 and the second win of his PASS North career. Sweet broke through for his first career win at his native Thunder Road last fall, giving him PASS victories at the home tracks of his two touring destinations.

Behind Curtis Gerry, Ben Rowe finished third for his fifth consecutive top-five run. Scott Robbins was fourth, while Eddie MacDonald was fifth in the final rundown. Derek Griffith had a quiet evening for a solid sixth place, ahead of DJ Shaw, Travis Benjamin, Garrett Hall and John Peters.

Heat winner and road warrior Mike Hopkins followed his runner-up finish at the Motor Mountain Masters with an 11th-place result, the first car a lap down. Johnny Clark faded to 12th at the end, ahead of the unrelated Cassius Clark. Trevor Sanborn was 14th in his Oxford 250 ride, with Jeremy Davis 15th.

The mid-race incidents and the long stretch of green-flag racing at the end were harmful to many, with some big names finishing outside the top twenty and multiple laps down. Mike Rowe (21st), Reid Lanpher (23rd) and Brandon Barker (24th) finished two laps back of the leader. Rookie Evan Hallstrom was three laps back in 26th. Bryan Kruczek was 30th, knocked out in a lap-80 crash. Gabe Brown was 31st, the worst of the PASS full-timers in the field.

Sweet’s victory is the fifth this year for the Gen-6 body, with his team running all the races thus far in their white-and-blue Camaro. For the most part, drivers with a Gen-6 car in the shop ran it; Travis Benjamin, teammate Trevor Sanborn and Garrett Hall were in their ABC cars. Mike Fowler’s #66 was an ABC car, while Mike Rowe has run a Gen-6 car this year at Beech Ridge for the Caruso-Fowler team. All told, 15 teams showed off the new bodies, while four placed in the top ten.

This is the second time in recent history that a scheduled PASS event was outright replaced by another venue. The last time, in 2017, a rainout of a race in Canada resulted in a new Oxford event being added to the calendar when the venue could not find a suitable rain date to work with PASS. This time, the new Oxford event had the benefit of being close to the 250. Based on this year’s car counts, it seems safe to say Speedway 51 would not have drawn 30 cars, never mind 40. That said, Oxford races are always an easy draw for PASS, especially so when the 250 is looming. It still seems like this move turned out to be a win for PASS all around.

With eleven races complete and six (or seven, if a new date for Star Speedway is announced) to go, the points race has become anyone’s game. A 49-point spread separates leader DJ Shaw from fifth-place Ben Rowe, who has marched back into relevance. Garrett Hall and Nick Sweet are tied for second, 15 points back from Shaw, with Derek Griffith a few points ahead of Rowe despite his three wins. Gabe Brown is a distant sixth, having racked up eight top-ten finishes with only one result in the top five.

Behind them, Travis Benjamin has seventh place locked up to match his car number, assuming he runs the remainder of the schedule. Reid Lanpher and Bobby Therrien have a small battle going for eighth, with Johnny Clark secure in tenth. Outside the top ten is a gathering of cars with five and six starts on the season. There are multiple “battles,” but in practice, schedules and fate will dictate the outcome.

The points race, however, comes secondary to next week’s Oxford 250, a race many drivers would readily trade a championship for. The PASS North teams (and Oxford weekly teams) have this weekend off to prepare for next week’s 250-lap war.

AROUND THE REGION: GSPSS’ STONE WINS $10K MOTOR MOUNTAIN MASTERS, CLARK TAKES FIFTH TOROMONT CAT 250

The promise of a big payday drew many New England racers west to the Jennerstown Speedway Complex this weekend. The venerable western-Pennsylvania speedway hosted the second annual Motor Mountain Masters, a two-day event capped by a $10,000-to-win Pro Late Model race. Vermont pavement and dirt double-threat Todd Stone, a semi-regular on the Granite State Pro Stock Series, took home the big check and a red jacket by dominating the second half of the three-stage 150-lap event. PASS veteran Mike Hopkins was second with Ray Christian III third. Cory Casagrande was fourth for a New England sweep of the top spots.

Drivers from the Northeast made a solid showing overall, with Ben Rowe eighth and Jimmy Renfrew, Jr. ninth to make six New England racers in the top ten. Also representing the GSPSS were defending champ Devin O’Connell (14th), GSPSS founder and promoter Mike Parks (17th), and points leader Joey Doiron (22nd).

Meanwhile in Canada, Cassius Clark added to his legacy with a win in Saturday’s Toromont CAT 250 at Scotia Speedworld. Clark’s win, his fifth in the event, marks his second long-distance feature win of 2019 after finding victory in the IWK 250 a few weeks ago. A win in September’s McLaughlin Roof Trusses 250 at Speedway 660 would complete a 2019 sweep of the Canadian Maritimes’ three most prestigious SLM events. For now, Clark and King Racing will focus on their entry for the upcoming Oxford 250.

WEEKLY RACING: BENJAMIN STEALS WEEKLY OXFORD WIN, WELCH AND DARLING BUILD POINTS LEADS

Tyler Cahoon claimed his first feature victory last Thursday at Thunder Road International Speedbowl. Cahoon held off Brooks Clark and ACT Tour regular Christopher Pelkey for his third career win at the high-banked quarter-mile. Jason Corliss, sixth in the feature, assumed the point lead with only a few weeks of racing to go.

Once again, Oxford Plains Speedway’s weekly SLM feature served as an unofficial preamble to Sunday’s PASS event. While not as many PASS teams showed up early for the Saturday show, Travis Benjamin made his appearance count with his first win of the season. Tim Brackett was second with Alan Wilson third in his new Dale Shaw-built ride. Ryan Green, who crashed a new car in a GSPSS event at Lee in July, returned to racing with a 15th-place run. Track points leader Curtis Gerry took the evening off with a scheduling conflict, though his points advantage remains insurmountable nearing the end of the season.

Bill Rodgers, in his own #53, topped the field at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway for his fourth feature win of 2019. David Oliver finished second, closing within two markers of track points leader Trevor Sanborn. Dave Farrington sits four points back from Oliver in a three-way race for the track title (and, in turn, the NASCAR State Championship for Maine).

Quinny Welch moved closer to clinching the White Mountain Motorsports Park track title Saturday with his fifth feature win of the year. Welch, if he holds on, will earn an eighth track championship at WMMP. Matt Morrill and Stacy Cahoon rounded out the podium, with PASS rookie Evan Hallstrom finishing sixth filling in for Mike Bailey. At Star Speedway in Epping, N.H., Joshua Hedges won his second feature of 2019 over Erick Sands and Jeramee Lillie, helping to build his track points lead over Lillie and Charlie Rose.

Mark Hudson finally broke through at Seekonk Speedway for his first Late Model feature win, outracing Ryan Lineham and Bobby Tripp for the win. Mark Jenison continues to lead the points over Tommy Adams and Lineham. There was no such upset in the Pro Stocks, with David Darling winning his sixth feature this year over Tom Scully, Jr. and Ryan Vanasse. Darling has a healthy lead in the Pro Stock standings over Vanasse and Dylan Estrella. Third-place Estrella is the only other driver to win in the Pro Stocks since Mike Brightman’s win in June.

Thompson Speedway followed a weekend off with a midweek feature this Wednesday, with the weekly classes turning out in support of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour’s Budweiser “King Of Beers” 150. Brian Tagg locked down his first career win in the Late Models, with Ryan Morgan and Rick Gentes rounding out the podium. Modified star Woody Pitkat, the Late Model winner the last two times out, was fourth. William Wall leads Pitkat in the Late Model standings, with Ryan Morgan third in the standings.

NEXT ON THE SCHEDULE

The Granite State Pro Stock Series was scheduled to race this evening in the annual JBH 150 at Monadnock Speedway, but incoming rain forced the series to postpone the event before teams had left home. A new race date will be forthcoming.

The American-Canadian Tour is technically off this weekend, but two non-points races await north of the border, for a second try at a Canadian doubleheader in 2019. Saturday night’s second annual Bacon Bowl 200 at Autodrome Chaudière and Sunday’s Jean-Paul Cabana at Circuit Riverside Speedway Ste.-Croix will pit the traveling Tour stars from the States against Late Model and Late Model Sportsman competitors from the province of Quebec.

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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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