There were times on Saturday in which Eddie MacDonald’s quest for another New Hampshire Motor Speedway trophy seemed in doubt.
But neither an early-race romp nor a closing-laps charge could shake the specter of inevitability.
MacDonald outlasted rookie Max Cookson to capture the checkered flag in the Pro All Stars Series Northeast Classic, earning his fifth career PASS feature win and his first of the PASS North season.
“These guys gave me a great car today,” MacDonald said in victory lane. “Made a few adjustments on that break that really helped it out. It’s just so much fun to race here.”
New England’s longest oval track has been kind to the Rowley, Mass. veteran, who boasted eleven wins at the “Magic Mile” entering Saturday’s showdown. A heat race win landed MacDonald on the front row for the start of the fifty-lap feature, leaving an open path ahead to his twelfth win at the Loudon, N.H. oval.
Cookson edged out MacDonald to lead the first lap, but the veteran MacDonald slipped past and into the lead by lap two. Cookson faded back to third as an unknown factor, Cory Hall, quickly ascended to second. The Jolicure, N.B. native, a multi-time Super Late Model winner in the Canadian Maritimes, only had one PASS-sanctioned start to his name in 2022. But the 24-year-old Hall finished second to MacDonald in his heat and chased down the local favorite as the yellow flew for Corey Bubar with five laps complete.
Hall lined up alongside MacDonald for the restart and powered into the lead, building an advantage over MacDonald as Cookson battled Derek Griffith for third. In a new car prepared by defending team owner King Racing, Hall was calmly in control for the first half of the feature, leading the field to the halfway break.
But coming off the break, MacDonald took charge once again, leaving Hall to fend off the rest of the field. And as Hall’s halftime adjustments sent him backwards through the top five, MacDonald went unchallenged at the point.
Cookson emerged from the pack in second place, then dug in deeper in the final laps, closing the distance to MacDonald with the checkered flag in sight.
But it was not enough to rattle “The Outlaw,” who scored his third PASS-sanctioned win at NHMS and his first since a midsummer 2019 thrill show against Mike Hopkins.
Cookson, the blazing-fast rookie and reigning Oxford Plains Speedway track champion, had never raced at a track larger than Connecticut’s Thompson Speedway until last week. In his first visit to NHMS as a driver, the Maine youngster finished second. “Thompson last week was the biggest thing I’d ever been to, and today we hit it pretty good,” Cookson said. “We definitely were a smidge better than Eddie at the end, but we just ran out of time.”
Seven-time PASS North champion Johnny Clark was in the top-five hunt all day, but made the right moves late to take third at the stripe. Clark won the inaugural Northeast Classic, but sat out last year’s race due to a schedule change.
Thompson Speedway Icebreaker winner Trevor Sanborn surged to fourth in the closing laps, another strong performance for the Richard Moody Racing team after struggling to find speed last year. Justin Larsen, who finished fourth in last year’s Northeast Classic, turned in another strong big-track run with a fifth-place finish.
Early leader Hall faded to sixth. Dennis Spencer, Jr. prevailed in a late-race battle with Griffith for seventh, while Griffith settled for eighth. Brandon Barker was ninth, and reigning PASS North champion Ryan Kuhn finished tenth.
Defending race winner Austin MacDonald drove from the back of the pack to finish eleventh. But with long green-flag runs the order of the day, few drivers were able to make big moves through the field.
Championship hopefuls from the Dale Shaw Race Cars fleet struggled in the final rundown, with Gabe Brown placing 14th and DJ Shaw falling to 19th at the finish. Joey Doiron, in his fourth start for Petit Motorsports, struggled to a 25th-place finish, the last car running.
Last year’s championship runner-up, on the other hand, enjoyed a stellar day as he added to his New Hampshire Motor Speedway resume. MacDonald’s experience at the “Magic Mile” dates back to his early career in what was then known as the NASCAR Busch North Series. One of the last New England stalwarts in what is now the ARCA East Series, MacDonald won two races at NHMS in 2008 and one in 2009, racing against well-funded driver development programs.
The day after his 2009 win, MacDonald triumphed in the inaugural ACT Invitational, the American-Canadian Tour’s NHMS debut. MacDonald went on to win five ACT Invitationals in the event’s nine-year history, the only driver to win more than once. A 2017 Granite State Pro Stock Series win and three PASS wins, including Saturday’s race, round out a dozen feature wins at NHMS for the big-track ace, who also has three NASCAR Cup Series starts at the track in the mid-2010s.
Big-track performance is at a premium in the early weeks of the PASS season. But next week’s visit to Oxford Plains Speedway marks a return to routine for the PASS schedule. The final fourteen races of the sixteen-race slate are on tracks no larger than three-eighths of a mile. And while MacDonald figures to be no less impressive on the bullrings and flat ovals, the woes of title threats like Shaw and Doiron may be a thing of the past within a few weeks.
For now, MacDonald can revel in an early-season win at the most prestigious motorsports venue in New England for oval-track racers.
And while wins at NHMS are nothing new for MacDonald, the celebrations are welcome every time.
Pro All Stars Series North Northeast Classic 50
New Hampshire Motor Speedway
1. (17MA) Eddie MacDonald
2. (39) Max Cookson
3. (54) Johnny Clark
4. (44) Trevor Sanborn
5. (18L) Justin Larsen
6. (83) Cory Hall
7. (12) Dennis Spencer, Jr.
8. (12G) Derek Griffith
9. (88) Brandon Barker
10. (72) Ryan Kuhn
11. (13) Austin MacDonald
12. (39L) Nick Lascuola
13. (9T) Alan Tardiff
14. (47) Gabe Brown
15. (24) Mike Rowe
16. (50) Andy Shaw
17. (7CT) Cory Casagrande
18. (20) Joe Pastore
19. (60) DJ Shaw
20. (18) Michael Scorzelli
21. (38) Garrett Lamb
22. (21) Josh King
23. (24J) JP Josiasse
24. (15) Trevor Krouse
25. (73D) Joey Doiron
26. (5) Ben Rowe
27. (12X) Corey Bubar