A return to New England’s longest and fastest oval, a renewed focus on the series’ home state, and the elimination of a southern schedule were among the immediate takeaways from December’s release of the 2019 Pro All Stars Series schedule.
The Maine-based sanctioning body published its schedule via Twitter a few days before Christmas, the last of New England’s three Late Model touring organizations to do so. The announcement, made without the context of an accompanying press release, revealed both routine schedule adjustments and fundamental changes for PASS as the organization enters its 19th year.
PASS’ flagship tour, the PASS North Super Late Models, will contest a schedule of at least seventeen events from the northern reaches of Maine to the border of Rhode Island. Three additional races in the Southeast, paired with three high-stakes events in New England, will comprise the PASS National Championship. The premier event of the season is August’s Oxford 250, the most prestigious Super Late Model race in New England.
Oxford Plains Speedway, PASS’ de facto home track, will host six points-paying events in 2019. The legendary oval will open the PASS North schedule on April 14 in a doubleheader format with the American-Canadian Tour Late Models. Additional stops at Oxford come in June, July, August, September and October. August’s race is the 46th running of the Oxford 250, the schedule’s crown jewel. Billed as the richest single-day Super Late Model race in the nation, this year’s 250 will feature a Saturday undercard highlighted by the ACT Late Models and the Tri-Track Open Modified Series.
Each of Oxford’s PASS features, save for October’s Saturday-afternoon feature, is scheduled for a Sunday. This move eliminates conflicts not only with Oxford’s own Championship Series racing on Saturdays, but nearby Beech Ridge Motor Speedway’s weekly racing program as well. Weekly drivers from both tracks can opt to race Sunday without jeopardizing a track championship.
A seventh race at Oxford, held on the Sunday before Independence Day, is the PASS Open. The Open, now in its fourth running, is a non-points feature that serves as a qualifier for the Oxford 250. Traditionally, with the exception of the 2017 event, the Open has been a race for PASS non-winners; only those who have not recorded a PASS win in the last five years have been eligible for competition.
Two additional races will be held in the Pine Tree State. Speedway 95 near Bangor will host its usual mid-June event. And Spud Speedway in Caribou, which returned to the PASS schedule with a special July 4th preamble in 2018, will welcome the PASS Super Late Models back in August, the last points-paying race before the 250.
New Hampshire is well-represented on the new schedule, with Star Speedway in Epping hosting the season’s second race in early May. Groveton’s Speedway 51, another track that returned to last year’s schedule after a long absence, will host the third race of the year. White Mountain Motorsports Park in North Woodstock will hold two PASS features, both Saturday-night events scheduled alongside the two NASCAR weekends at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Fans at NHMS can head north after the last checkered flags fly for a bonus feature of short-track action.
Most notably, though, PASS will return to NHMS as a featured division. The PASS North teams will race on the one-mile oval as part of the third annual Short Track Showdown, in conjunction with the Valenti Modified Racing Series, the North East Mini Stock Tour and the Street Stock Showdown Series. The race will be PASS’ first on the big track since 2015.
Thunder Road International Speedbowl, the only paved track in Vermont, will again welcome PASS for two events in 2019. The high-banked quarter-mile will feature the Super Late Models on Memorial Day weekend, and again in September as part of the Vermont Milk Bowl festivities. Seekonk Speedway in Massachusetts, a late addition to last year’s schedule, will serve as the site of the championship-deciding season finale for the second straight season. The late-October feature will run in conjunction with the Tri-Track Open Modified Series’ “Haunted Hundred” finale.
Two additional dates on the calendar have yet to be confirmed. A Sunday race on July 7 and a Wednesday event on July 31 are still waiting for official announcements. While a number of area tracks have yet to release their 2019 schedules, it would be pure speculation to guess which ones might be open to a PASS event. Additionally, PASS will designate selected events as qualifiers for the Oxford 250, with top finishers in those events earning provisional berths in the big race.
Conspicuously absent from the new schedule is Beech Ridge Motor Speedway. The Scarborough, Maine speedplant has been a series staple for years, with three dates on the 2018 schedule. Beech Ridge’s weekly Pro Series, running PASS-compatible rules, would usually bolster the field with a stout lineup. The popular track’s proximity and similarity to Oxford essentially provided PASS with a second set of “home dates” for the region’s established teams.
However, Beech Ridge management opted to change focus in 2019, eschewing all touring events with the exception of one already-scheduled Modified race. The move is intended to facilitate more long-distance weekly features and keep ticket prices lower for fans. For PASS, though, this leaves a void that was nearly impossible to fill without adding events at Oxford.
Connecticut’s legendary Thompson Speedway is off the schedule as well, ending a three-year run as a support division for Thompson’s season-opening Icebreaker weekend. Thompson’s high banks and long straightaways place a premium on equipment, and with NHMS returning to the schedule, two demanding races may be too much to ask of teams going into the season.
Two other tracks, Petty International Raceway in New Brunswick and Lee USA Speedway in New Hampshire, will not return to the PASS schedule this year. Petty, the site of last year’s sole PASS-sanctioned event in Canada, has not been confirmed for 2019. Last year’s event drew only a handful of series regulars across the border. Lee’s Friday-night racing schedule and strict local ordinances have long posed problems in scheduling, with two of Lee’s last three PASS events cancelled due to inclement weather. PASS is not the only touring division bypassing Lee in 2019, with the track also missing from the ACT Late Model Tour schedule unveiled in November.
When the remaining dates are confirmed, New England’s highest echelon of regional Super Late Model competition will once again feature the most extensive touring schedule in the region, matching last year’s eighteen-race title chase.
PASS will also sanction the National Championship schedule, with six confirmed races spread across the Eastern seaboard. The National Championship program kicks off in the Southeast, before most of New England’s tracks have opened for business. Dillon (S.C.) Motor Speedway will open the season in February, with the next event to be the inaugural Commonwealth Classic at Richmond Raceway in Virginia. Originally scheduled for October, the Classic was postponed for heavy rains and rescheduled when a suitable replacement date could not be found. A third race, the annual Easter Bunny 150 at Hickory (N.C.) Motor Speedway, will run in April, the week after Oxford’s PASS North lidlifter.
The National Championship will also include three events from the PASS North schedule. Drivers competing at NHMS in June, in the Oxford 250, and in October’s North finale at Seekonk Speedway will earn points toward the National Championship. A seventh event is planned for early November; the date was originally unclear as to whether it would be a North or National event, but with most tracks in the Northeast closed for the season by mid-October at latest, it seems most likely this will be a race in the Southeast.
Amid the changes in the North and National schedules was the omission, without fanfare, of a PASS South schedule for 2019. PASS first sanctioned a separate Southeast-based schedule in 2006. The Super Late Model monopoly PASS enjoyed in the North was nothing like the Southeast. The body of racers was divided at its core, with many Virginia and North Carolina racers preferring the NASCAR-sanctioned Late Model Stock Car platform. Those opting to race Super Late Models had the choice of multiple tours, or they could cherry-pick the highest-paying races in the region. Most of the rival tours also adhered to the ABC Committee’s Super Late Model rulebook, a rulebook that is not entirely embraced by PASS. Moreover, the number of tours and high-profile SLM races in the Southeast make scheduling and rescheduling a challenge, as evidenced by last year’s attempt at the Commonwealth Classic.
The result was a decline in participation in recent years. Six PASS South races comprised last year’s schedule, with only three teams earning points in all six. The strongest fields were in races where teams from New England made the trip south. While a lack of an established Southeast presence casts doubt on the viability of the National Championship, it may be better long-term for PASS to focus on its strength in New England.
To that end, PASS will sanction the PASS Modified division for a sixteenth year. The budget-friendly support class, an alternative to the familiar Tour-type Modifieds popular in southern New England, will shadow the PASS North schedule for at least twelve races in 2019, with two additional events expected to be added. The PASS Modifieds had a competitive season in 2018, with eight drivers winning features along the series’ 14-race schedule.
PASS met with some fan criticism in December as the last of the region’s sanctioning bodies to release a schedule for 2019. However, given some of the stumbling blocks and decisions that had to be made, it is easy to see why Tom Mayberry’s team took adequate time to pull plans together for next year. The racing ecosystem has faced many changes in recent years, and New England’s own racing scene is no different, with a number of budget-friendly tours becoming viable alternatives in recent years.
Through it all, PASS remains the outlet for top-tier, high-profile competition in New England, attracting many of the established stars and teams. The new schedule maintains the grandeur and profile of the region’s marquée fendered touring series. And while question marks remain about PASS’ commitment beyond the Northeast, there are still opportunities to welcome the wider world of Super Late Model racing to New England’s tracks and fans.
New England has been granted three distinct and diverse tours for Late Model-style racing, and PASS once again will look to showcase itself as the high mark for competition in 2019.