With temperatures hovering in the low 70s for the green flag of Saturday’s Pro All Stars Series feature at Thompson Speedway, the Connecticut track’s signature Icebreaker opening weekend was more of a slow melt.
On the track, though, Derek Griffith froze out the field.
The Hudson, N.H. racer led all 75 laps en route to his twelfth career PASS North Super Late Model win, capturing all three PASS-sanctioned events so far in 2021.
“This is probably one of my favorite race tracks,” Griffith said after the race. “So to be that dominant here, and to have a good race car, means the world.”
The 2018 Icebreaker winner entered this year’s event as an early favorite, carrying momentum from sweeping last weekend’s PASS Easter Bunny 150s at Hickory (N.C.) Motor Speedway. Griffith topped the speed charts in Friday’s practice sessions. And Griffith opened Saturday’s racing activities with a heat race win.
Griffith lined up on the outside pole, dusting polesitter Ben Rowe on the start to assert himself as the race favorite.
A multi-car crash on lap three slowed the race momentarily as track workers cleared Garrett Hall’s car from the backstretch. But on the restart, Griffith took off and never looked back. And as the field stretched out, the opportunities for a caution flag slipped away with every lap.
Even the slower traffic Griffith encountered in the race’s second half was not enough to bring Eddie MacDonald within striking distance. MacDonald, the 2017 Icebreaker winner with four more Thompson wins in various divisions, finished 1.620 seconds behind Griffith.
Gabe Brown was an impressive third, earning his third-career PASS podium finish since joining the series in 2017. Brown, still searching for his first Super Late Model win, built on his own momentum from Hickory, with top ten finishes in both Easter Bunny 150s.
Rowe held on for a strong fourth-place finish at a track that had challenged the four-time PASS North champion in recent seasons. Fellow Mainer JR Robinson, in only his fourth PASS start, had a career afternoon with his fifth-place run. The American-Canadian Tour veteran, who had the longest haul from his hometown of Steuben, came on strong in the closing laps to carve his way into the top five.
Reigning PASS North champion DJ Shaw faded to sixth in the final laps, with 2020 Oxford 250 winner Johnny Clark hanging on for seventh. Cory Casagrande, who was spun in the lap-three incident, drove back to an eighth-place finish. New York’s Michael Scorzelli was the final car on the lead lap in ninth. Dan Winter rounded out the top ten with a career-best PASS performance.
Twenty-one cars took the green flag Saturday, with four of last year’s full-time contenders missing from the lineup. Three of those drivers – Travis Benjamin, Ben Ashline and Scott McDaniel – are on the entry list for next week’s Northeast Classic at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The fourth, early-season title threat Nick Sweet, hinted on a recent podcast interview that family work commitments might limit his road tripping in 2021.
That sets the stage for an apparent PASS North championship battle between five-time champion Shaw, resurgent six-time champion Clark, and four-time champion Rowe.
Griffith remains the wild card in the title chase. Second in PASS North points in 2019, Griffith reduced his 2020 schedule for an opportunity in the ARCA Menards Series. With extremely limited practice due to pandemic protocol, Griffith earned three top-five finishes and eight top-tens in ten starts across the ARCA divisions.
Griffith’s next scheduled ARCA race is on an off-weekend for PASS. Whether that opens the door for more races, and how that could impact his short track season, remains to be seen.
In the meantime, Griffith and car owner Louie Mechalides are committed to going out and winning, showcasing their talent and preparation against operations with bigger budgets and flashy operations.
And even after eye-opening performances on big stages – ninth in last year’s Snowball Derby and fourth in this year’s Rattler 250, and a second-straight World Series championship at New Smyrna Speedway in Florida – Griffith values his regional successes equally.
“I tell people all the time about how cool the Icebreaker is, and how big of a weekend it is,” Griffith said. “You know, we travel everywhere, and no one really understands how big of a weekend this is. Maybe not just for PASS, or anything. But to get another one here is pretty cool.”
Unofficial Results, PASS Icebreaker 75 at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park:
1. (12G) Derek Griffith
2. (17MA) Eddie MacDonald
3. (47) Gabe Brown
4. (4) Ben Rowe
5. (20) JR Robinson
6. (60) DJ Shaw
7. (54) Johnny Clark
8. (7CT) Cory Casagrande
9. (18) Michael Scorzelli
10. (81) Dan Winter
11. (21) Josh King
12. (52NH) Jake Matheson
13. (14ME) Anthony Constantino
14. (48) Keith Rocco
15. (10) Kate Re
16. (17X) Brandon Turbush
17. (17) Kevin Folan
18. (88) Brandon Barker
19. (43) Devin O’Connell
20. (15MA) Jake Johnson
21. (94) Garrett Hall