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Griffith Shakes Off Streak Of Misfortune With PASS Thunder Road Triumph

Griffith joins local hero Nick Sweet as the only two drivers to win multiple PASS features at the legendary Vermont bullring.

Derek Griffith races at Thompson Speedway in Connecticut early in the season. The rising star won for the first time in over a year Saturday night at Thunder Road International Speedbowl. (STS/Jeff Brown file photo)

Derek Griffith may have finally shaken the monkey off his back.

The hard-luck New England phenom claimed his first Super Late Model win in over a year in Saturday’s Pro All Stars Series North tilt at Thunder Road International Speedbowl.

And while PASS is only a part of Griffith’s 2023 itinerary, a win anywhere was needed to right the ship.

Saturday’s trip to the legendary Vermont oval was the third event of the 2023 PASS North season, after two consecutive weeks of rain forced a home game at Oxford Plains Speedway to be shifted later in May. And after opening the schedule with the two fastest speedways of the season, teams were looking forward to a return to the familiar bullrings of the Northeast.

One of New England’s hottest racing prospects, Derek Griffith weathered a season of outstanding misfortune in 2022. (STS/Jeff Brown file photo)

Griffith, from Hudson, N.H., won PASS’ last May trip to the “Nation’s Site of Excitement,” making him a hot prospect for a return to victory lane. Starting second alongside polesitter Gabe Brown, Griffith took a few laps to get to the point, with DJ Shaw following along to take the runner-up position.

Evan Hallstrom climbed to third, stalking DJ Shaw for second. On a restart, the two made contact, forcing Shaw up the turn-two banking and into the wall as Hallstrom advanced to second. A caution for a spin behind Shaw kept the five-time PASS North champ from losing too much ground.

Now on Griffith’s tail, Hallstrom turned up the heat, leaning on Griffith and bumping his way past to take the lead on lap 106. Rookie Max Cookson, who nearly won last fall’s tilt at Thunder Road, was running third and closing on the leaders when a tire let go on lap 115, bringing out another caution and forcing Cookson down pit road.

Griffith used the high line on the restart to his advantage, powering past Hallstrom and weathering a few more nudges before closing the door on the lead. Shaw rebounded to third, gifted with a shot at second when Derek Ming glanced off the feared “Widowmaker” in turn four and received a shove into the turn-one concrete to slow the race yet again.

Griffith and Hallstrom checked out on Shaw and Bobby Therrien on the green flag, with Therrien getting the edge on Shaw for third. A nudge off turn four sent Therrien for a skid through turn one, dropping the “Bad Boy” through the field and resulting in another spin that drew the yellow flag.

Hallstrom took another shot at Griffith under green, but Griffith kept his cool and kept the point. Contact deep in the field between Andy Shaw and Trevor Sanborn ended with Sanborn forced into the frontstretch wall, ending the Thompson winner’s night and re-racking the field with thirteen circuits left.

But Griffith escaped on the restart, and Hallstrom fell into the clutches of DJ Shaw, who used a bump to get Hallstrom out of the groove long enough to steal second. Hallstrom fired back, but the battle for second kept Shaw and Hallstrom from running down the leader.

Untouchable in the final laps, Griffith streaked across the finish line by 1.392 seconds to become only the second driver to win multiple PASS features at Thunder Road.

Shaw edged out Hallstrom for second, easily his best PASS North finish of the year after lackluster runs at Thompson and NHMS. Hallstrom finished third at Thunder Road for the third time in his career.

Gabe Brown recovered from his own tire troubles to finish fourth, with powersports ace Brian Whalley finishing fifth.

Cookson finished sixth after his late pit stop, edging out Johnny Clark and Therrien. Joey Doiron was ninth, with Dennis Spencer, Jr. rounding out the top ten.

May dates at Thunder Road have proven a challenge to draw cars, and this year’s race was no different. Thunder Road is the only active paved track in Vermont, and with the American-Canadian Tour rulebook firmly entrenched in the state, Super Late Models are far from a local attraction. Fourteen cars made the trek to Vermont, with NHMS winner Eddie MacDonald and Brandon Barker among those who skipped the trip.

After a tough night for Sanborn and a quiet evening for Johnny Clark, Griffith should assume the points lead entering next week’s race at Oxford Plains Speedway. Whether Griffith will be there to defend his points lead is another story; the young racer has his eyes set on national-level Super Late Model events, and a points championship anywhere seems unlikely to be in the cards.

With finishes of third at Thompson Speedway and eighth at New Hampshire Motor Speedway to open the year, Griffith could be excused for being satisfied with cracking the top ten. The Hudson, N.H. racer’s star was on the rise entering 2022, with national-level NASCAR opportunities on the horizon and a runner-up performance in New Smyrna Speedway’s World Series in February setting expectations high for the year ahead.

But the star came crashing back to earth in April, when Griffith was collected in a heat-race crash at NHMS for PASS’ Northeast Classic. Griffith was fine, but their car was a total loss. Griffith and crew chief Louie Mechalides scrambled to piece another car together, but subsequent wrecks at Jennerstown Speedway and Berlin Raceway forced Griffith to borrow a car to field in August’s Oxford 250. Griffith was back in his own ride by the Snowball Derby, but fortune continued to elude the team; a mechanical failure late in the last-chance qualifier kept Griffith from qualifying for the race.

Undeterred by last year’s twists of fortune, Griffith and Mechalides soldier on, knowing they can win together if all the pieces fall into place.

Saturday’s win was a comforting reminder.

Unofficial Results
Pro All Stars Series North PASS 150
Thunder Road International Speedbowl

1. (12G) Derek Griffith
2. (60) DJ Shaw
3. (1VT) Evan Hallstrom
4. (47) Gabe Brown
5. (02) Brian Whalley
6. (39) Max Cookson
7. (54) Johnny Clark
8. (5X) Bobby Therrien
9. (73D) Joey Doiron
10. (12) Dennis Spencer, Jr.
11. (50) Andy Shaw
12. (44) Trevor Sanborn
13. (45) Derek Ming
14. (14) Scott McDaniel

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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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