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Griffith Nabs Third PASS Icebreaker Win On Late Restart

A late restart gave Griffith the opportunity he needed to earn his fourth PASS win at Thompson and his third in the season-opening Icebreaker.

Threatening skies and persistent rain showers were not enough to keep Derek Griffith at bay, instead opening the door for the New Hampshire racer to score his first PASS North win since last May. (STS/Jeff Brown photo)

It was anyone’s guess as to whether Saturday’s fickle forecast would help or hinder Derek Griffith’s shot at a Pro All Stars Series win.

But as quickly as the outcome seemed sealed for a dominant Eddie MacDonald, the skies handed Griffith another opportunity.

The New Hampshire phenom seized the lead on a lap-68 restart to pick up his 15th career PASS North victory in the season-opening Icebreaker 75 at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park, and his second PASS-sanctioned win in three starts this year.

For a driver whose escalating presence in the racing world has left little time for local success, victory lane is a comfortable place to be.

Griffith celebrates his 15th career PASS North win, his first since last year, and his fourth at the big Connecticut oval. (STS/Jeff Brown)

This year’s 50th running of the Icebreaker, Thompson’s signature opening weekend, is the fourth to be co-promoted by PASS and the Vermont-based American-Canadian Tour. In the three prior years of the PASS-ACT partnership, weather has wreaked havoc with the schedule each time. This Saturday was no different; while morning practice sessions ran smoothly, threatening skies rolled in just as qualifying action for the day’s racing was set to start.

Indeed, PASS waved off the first qualifying heat as sprinkles dampened the track, but the field regrouped quickly, with D.J. Shaw and Wayne Helliwell, Jr. taking heat wins to set the grid.

Griffith finished sixth in his heat, miring him deep in the 20-car field for the green flag. While Griffith worked through traffic, Helliwell and Shaw pulled away in the opening laps of the feature, gapping third-place Ryan Kuhn before a yellow flew for Mike Scorzelli’s turn-one spin.

Shaw bested Helliwell for the lead on the restart, driving off in search of his third Icebreaker win. In his mirror, 2017 Icebreaker winner Eddie MacDonald cleared Helliwell and set sail. The big-track ace closed the gap to Shaw, dueling for the top spot before another single-car incident slowed up the field on lap 34.

On the restart, MacDonald got the better of Shaw, charging to the point by halfway in time for the weather to roll back in. Another shower brought out the caution on lap 39, forcing the field to pit road. The delay was brief, but after a few laps, contact deep in the pack sent Scorzelli around in turn three, collecting Austin Teras and ending the Mainer’s day early. Johnny Clark barely dodged the fracas.

Eddie MacDonald (#17MA) battles D.J. Shaw and Wayne Helliwell, Jr. early in the Icebreaker 75. (STS/Jeff Brown)

MacDonald and Shaw continued to show the way after the caution, but Griffith had quietly climbed through the field, taking advantage of a restart scramble to run third. Griffith had slipped past Shaw for second when showers forced another caution flag with twenty laps remaining. Garrett Hall sat fourth with early leader Helliwell in fifth.

Once again, the rain cleared quickly, with MacDonald and Griffith settling into first and second on the restart. Behind them, the racing was fast and furious as drivers jockeyed for positions not knowing if weather would bring an early end to the race. Scorzelli was caught up in the commotion yet again, spinning in turn four as Cory Casagrande made contact with the outside wall. Casagrande limped to pit road and Scorzelli soldiered on, avoiding another caution.

But weather was inevitable, as another shower slowed the race with only seven laps to go.

With rain still on the radar, and five more feature races to run, it seemed like PASS might be forced to pull the plug early. But the threat of rain lifted for a moment and MacDonald led the field back to the track for another try at a full-length race.

MacDonald faltered coming to the green flag, though, and Griffith pounced. As Shaw and Helliwell cleared the sluggish MacDonald, Griffith pulled away out front, while all eyes watched the flagstand in case the restart were to be called back.

Eddie MacDonald was slow coming to the lap-68 restart, allowing Griffith to escape with the lead. (STS/Jeff Brown)

It never was, and Griffith cruised unchallenged to the checkered flag.

Griffith’s win is his fourth at Thompson, all under the PASS banner. The Hudson, N.H. racer won the PASS portion of the Icebreaker in 2018 and 2021, adding a World Series win in 2021 to sweep that year’s races. After finishing eighth in his first two Granite State Pro Stock Series starts at the track, Griffith has finished no worse than fifth since then.

Shaw powered home to a second-place finish, showing off big-track speed that was lacking early last season. MacDonald rebounded from his restart issues to finish fourth, edging out Helliwell on the final lap. Ryan Kuhn, the 2022 PASS North titlist, was fifth in only his fifth PASS start since claiming the crown.

Garrett Hall, whose first PASS win came in the 2016 Icebreaker, was sixth at the line, followed by Clark, Joey Doiron, Gabe Brown and Rusty Poland, making his Thompson debut with a tenth-place finish.

Defending Icebreaker winner Trevor Sanborn was used up in one of the early incidents, but soldiered on to a 13th-place finish.

MacDonald was able to get past Helliwell in the closing laps for third, but was left to wonder what could have been on the final restart. (STS/Jeff Brown)

Reigning champion Max Cookson, on the other hand, was not in the lineup. The Palmyra, Me. wunderkind swept PASS’ and Oxford Plains Speedway’s championships in 2023, but sold his championship-winning cars after the season. Cookson was in competition at Hickory Motor Speedway for the PASS Easter Bunny doubleheader weekend, but is expected to run a more diverse schedule in 2024 with a focus on gaining experience outside the Northeast.

The door is open for a different champion in 2024. Whether those spoils fall to one of PASS’ entrenched veterans, seven-time champ Clark or five-time titlist Shaw, or whether they favor a new face like Sanborn or Brown, remains to be seen.

Griffith, who won the Easter Bunny 150 at Hickory three weeks ago, is unlikely to be among those title contenders. Since finishing second in points in 2019, Griffith has not competed full-time in the Northeast, instead chasing success on the road with the hopes of making the leap to racing’s big leagues.

That path has not come without challenges. Back-to-back World Series titles at New Smyrna Speedway in 2020 and 2021 put Griffith on the map, opening the door for opportunities in ARCA, the NASCAR Truck Series and even the Xfinity Series. But testing and practice limitations inspired by the pandemic, along with Griffith’s finite financial backing, were hard hurdles to overcome.

Not even local racing could serve as a respite. In qualifying for the 2022 PASS Northeast Classic at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Griffith was cleaned out in a wreck that cost the team a chassis. Hard wrecks later in the season left the team borrowing a car from fellow Fury racer Kate Re to run the Oxford 250. Griffith ran the first three races of 2023 and won at Thunder Road, but the Oxford 250 in August was his only other PASS start all season. In two seasons, Griffith made only six starts with PASS.

Despite another hard wreck at New Smyrna in February that left Griffith uncharacteristically frustrated with another racer, things were looking up for 2024. Griffith married his longtime partner Emily in the offseason, then turned out with a fast car at PASS’ Hickory doubleheader. Mechanical issues sidelined Griffith in the day’s first feature, but he came out with guns blazing for the second feature, lapping all but the top four cars in a command performance.

Now, Griffith has another trophy to bring back to Louie Mechalides’ shop.

And with a season goal of trophy hunting, a win is exactly what the doctor ordered.

Unofficial Results
Pro All Stars Series North Icebreaker 75
Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park

1. (12G) Derek Griffith
2. (60) D.J. Shaw
3. (17MA) Eddie MacDonald
4. (27NH) Wayne Helliwell, Jr.
5. (72) Ryan Kuhn
6. (94) Garrett Hall
7. (54) Johnny Clark
8. (73D) Joey Doiron
9. (47) Gabe Brown
10. (19) Rusty Poland
11. (18) Mike Scorzelli
12. (40RI) Mike Mitchell
13. (44) Trevor Sanborn
14. (21) Josh King
15. (32MA) Tom Abele, Jr.
16. (32Q) Alex Quarterley
17. (7CT) Cory Casagrande
18. (29T) Austin Teras
19. (17F) Kevin Folan
20. (12) Dennis Spencer, Jr.

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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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