Independence Day is the perfect weekend for barbecues and fireworks. That makes it an even better weekend for racing. In New England, two of the region’s premier short-track tours celebrated with marquée events, each with big-picture implications in play.
GSPSS: The Granite State Pro Stock Series made tour history on Saturday with its first visit to New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, NH. GSPSS teams joined the Valenti Modified Racing Series and the North East Mini Stock Tour for the inaugural cross-promoted “Short Track Showdown,” featuring all three divisions in points races at New England’s only superspeedway.
The entry list featured a number of drivers from PASS and other disciplines, many with big-track experience. Still, the odds-on favorite was “The Outlaw” Eddie MacDonald, with nine wins in NASCAR, ACT and PASS competition at the “Magic Mile.” Eddie skipped Friday’s test-and-tune day, but wasted no time jumping to the top of the charts on Saturday morning. A heat victory only stacked the deck further.
And when the fifty-lap feature went green in the afternoon, Eddie and his #17MA SLM set sail. MacDonald looked almost vulnerable in the first half of the race, when the deck lid came loose from his car and he dropped to third. The team made repairs during the mid-race break, and on the restart Eddie took the lead with a decisive three-wide pass to cruise to an easy win. MacDonald’s tenth career victory at NHMS ties him with three other drivers – local stars Ted Christopher and Mike Stefanik and NASCAR phenom Kyle Busch – for the most wins in all divisions at the track.
DJ Shaw, entered in the Dale Shaw Race Cars #90 often driven by Craig Weinstein, parlayed his past experience at NHMS into a second-place run. Matt Swanson, a NASCAR Modified regular, brought the #49 Dale Shaw Race Cars entry home in third. Brothers Mike and Tommy O’Sullivan were best in class among GSPSS regulars, finishing fourth and fifth.
The race was not kind to the top of the points standings. Scott MacMichael started second, but an engine failure in the opening laps set off a multi-car crash that also claimed rookie Devin O’Connell and PASS visitors Ben Rowe and Derek Griffith. Cory Casagrande ran fifth for the first half of the race, but a loose deck lid may have led to his own crash just past halfway. Mike Mitchell, third in points, skipped the event as he could not prepare his car in time. Given the troubles of the other points contenders, staying home may have been the less costly decision.
After a few PASS attempts this year, Fat Head Racing brought two cars for development drivers Eddie Fatscher and Joe Graf, Jr. Both entries were fast, but neither survived the fifty-lap feature. Graf was eliminated in the early multi-car crash. Fatscher ran with the leaders until mechanical gremlins sidelined the teenager’s #51 Ford.
The series’ weekly competitors will have a short week to regroup before they return to competition Friday night at Lee USA Speedway.
PASS NORTH: For the second year, Pro All Stars Series teams were treated to a non-points event on Independence Day weekend. Last year’s event was limited to drivers who had not won a PASS feature in the past five years. By contrast, this year’s “Open” was indeed open to all entries, with Oxford 250 provisionals awarded to the top-two former PASS winners and the top-three non-winners. While some contenders like Travis Benjamin, Ben Rowe and Joey Polewarczyk, Jr. opted to use the event as an off-week to prepare for the remainder of the season, others treated the 100-lap race as another practice session for August’s Oxford 250.
One driver making the most of The Open was Tracy Gordon. The veteran driver, a fixture in NASCAR’s Busch North Series in the late 1990s and early 2000s, returned to PASS competition in 2016 after several years out of the seat. Gordon took an early lead and dominated the middle stage of the feature, leading 49 laps. Wayne Helliwell, Jr., the defending race winner, fought Gordon for the lead in the second half of the race. Helliwell took the race lead as Gordon’s car faded, but his time up front was short-lived as he faced a challenge from DJ Shaw.
Shaw, in the same #90 that he finished second with at NHMS a day before, took the lead late in the going and cruised on to victory over the thirty-car field. Helliwell, in his first PASS event since winning the Oxford 250 last August, finished second, with 2015 Oxford 250 winner Glen Luce third in his #7L. Shaw and Helliwell claimed the two provisionals for former series winners.
Gordon held on to finish fourth, with Adam Polvinen fifth and Dave Farrington, Jr. sixth. Gordon, Polvinen and Farrington each claimed a non-winner’s provisional for the 250. Matt Swanson, third in Saturday’s GSPSS feature, finished eighth. Derek Griffith, rolling out a second car after destroying one at Loudon on Saturday, soldiered home in eleventh.
Two big-league racing crew members were in the field as well. Derek Kneeland, a Maine native who spots for rising NASCAR star Kyle Larson, brought his own #90 to Oxford but finished twenty-third. Former ACT racer Ben Lynch, who served as race engineer for Brad Keselowski Racing’s Truck Series team in 2016, finished 28th. Sarah Cornett-Ching, testing her mettle this year in Super Late Models, was in attendance, but she and the Race101 team were unable to make the green flag.
IN BRIEF: Ricky Roberts broke a long winless streak Monday night as he won a 50-lap ACT late model feature at Barre, VT’s Thunder Road International Speedbowl. Roberts’ last feature win at the tough quarter-mile was in 1996, over twenty years ago.
Thunder Road announced Monday that Kyle Busch will compete at the tough quarter-mile on July 13, the Thursday before the NASCAR big leagues visit New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Rain crept into the headlines this weekend again as storms swept through New England on Friday and Saturday night. Lee USA Speedway was forced to cancel their schedule for the second week in a row. Oxford Plains Speedway and Beech Ridge Motor Speedway were among Saturday evening’s early cancellations, but rescheduled their weekly programs thanks to the holiday weekend. Beech Ridge moved their features to Sunday, with 2016 Pro Series champion Curt Gerry winning his first race of the season. With PASS in town on Sunday, Oxford’s weekly card moved to Monday evening, with Andy Saunders taking a dominant win over a short field.
COMING UP: GSPSS teams return to action Friday evening with a 100-lap feature at Lee USA Speedway. The Série ACT hosts its third event of 2017 Saturday night at Autodrome St.-Eustache just outside Montréal. PASS teams will be at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway Saturday night for their second visit of the season.