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PASS gets season off to a late start with WMMP opener

PASS Seekonk 2020
Ben Ashline (#99) and DJ Shaw (#60) lead a heat to the green flag in the 2019 PASS season finale at Seekonk Speedway last October. After a longer-than-planned offseason, New England's premier Super Late Model tour returns to action today at White Mountain Motorsports Park in New Hampshire. (Jeff Brown photo)

The Pro All Stars Series North season was originally scheduled to start in New Hampshire. And after a seven-week delay, the Granite State will finally host the first race of the Super Late Model touring organization’s twentieth season of competition.

Two days after the Granite State Pro Stock Series opened its season at Claremont Motorsports Park, the stars and cars of PASS will race this afternoon at White Mountain Motorsports Park in North Woodstock.

Like the GSPSS event at Claremont, no fans will be allowed at WMMP, though they will be able to tune in for a pay-per-view live stream hosted by the Northeast Sports Network.

And like the GSPSS event, the new season opener is a last-minute event, with sanctioning bodies, track promoters and support staff simply trying to find a place to race.

The PASS season was slated to open in mid-April with the inaugural Northeast Classic at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The Northeast Classic, co-sanctioned with the Vermont-based American-Canadian Tour, was announced shortly after promoter Bob Guptill opted not to schedule a fourth running of the New England Short Track Showdown for 2020.

But the ACT-PASS doubleheader at New England’s longest oval track was one of the many casualties of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Speed51 kept the event alive in spirit with a simulated version of the SLM feature hosted through iRacing. Ultimately, PASS president Tom Mayberry and ACT managing partner Cris Michaud decided to reschedule the Classic for 2021, with too many unknowns to commit to a new 2020 date.

Since then, PASS officials have largely been at the mercy of local authorities in terms of jump-starting the PASS North schedule.

The Mayberry family owns and operates the legendary Oxford Plains Speedway, PASS’ home track. But Maine’s pandemic-mitigation protocols are some of the most strict in New England. Most pertinent is a mandated fourteen-day self-quarantine for out-of-state visitors, a requirement that would preclude last year’s top title contenders, DJ Shaw and Derek Griffith, from crossing the border to race at Oxford.

A similar hurdle exists for Michaud and the American-Canadian Tour; aside from Vermont’s own phased recovery, the closure of the Canadian border for non-essential travel prevents any of the series’ regular Canadian competitors from taking part.

Instead, the relationship between Mayberry and Michaud opened the door for PASS to race at WMMP, a track Michaud and business partner Pat Malone purchased following the 2018 season. Nestled in New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest, WMMP is in a part of the state that has not seen a significant public health impact from the pandemic.

PASS was initially slated to visit WMMP three times in 2020, with a mid-May stop added to the usual July and September dates at the quarter-mile oval. Griffith, the runner-up for last year’s championship, swept both events in 2019.

The entry list features few surprises, as nine of the top ten drivers in the 2019 season-ending points standings are on the 33-car list. Defending champion DJ Shaw, runner-up Derek Griffith, Oxford 250 winner Travis Benjamin, and multi-time champions Ben Rowe and Johnny Clark are among the PASS faithful making the trip. Northeast eClassic winner Ryan Kuhn, 2019 PASS National champ Mike Hopkins, Eddie MacDonald and Oxford 250 winners Curtis Gerry and Wayne Helliwell, Jr. are a few of the likely contenders to test the series regulars. MacDonald and Helliwell have both won long-distance ACT Late Model events at WMMP in recent years.

Shaw, Benjamin, Garrett Hall, Gabe Brown and Trevor Sanborn were all at Friday night’s GSPSS opener, with Shaw’s runner-up finish the best among those planning for the weekend doubleheader. Griffith made headlines earlier this year, winning the World Series of Asphalt at New Smyrna Speedway and making his ARCA Menards Series East debut during Daytona Speedweeks.

Making the big leap to the PASS Super Late Models is three-time PASS Modified feature winner Kate Re. The Maine teenager, who planned to move to Oxford’s weekly SLMs in 2020, will look to become the first woman to start a PASS North event since Canadian Sarah Cornett-Ching in 2017. Re and ACT veteran Derek Ming are the only drivers on the entry list without a prior PASS SLM start.

PASS competitors and fans alike are hopeful that today’s race, in conjunction with Friday’s GSPSS event, will inspire state authorities to expand pandemic-control policies to include motorsports events on a larger scale.

Coverage of today’s racing begins at 2:00pm, streamed via the Northeast Sports Network. The cost of the pay-per-view event is $25.00.

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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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