Eddie MacDonald knew that he needed to pull out all the stops at New London-Waterford Speedbowl to have a shot at the Pro All Stars Series North championship.
“The Outlaw” did everything he could, but it wasn’t quite enough.
MacDonald led the final 112 laps of Saturday’s season-ending PASS 150 at the coastal Connecticut oval to take his second win of the 2022 season.
And three positions behind him, Ryan Kuhn finished fourth to clinch the PASS North crown in his first full season with New England’s top Super Late Model sanction.
“Rollie [Lachance] and the guys did an awesome job,” MacDonald said. “I couldn’t be happier with PASS.”
Kuhn entered the weekend atop a three-way battle for the championship, with Gabe Brown 26 points back and MacDonald 27 in arrears to the East Bridgewater, Mass. racer. After heat races and the traditional feature-winner handicaps, Kuhn rolled off 15th, third among the three title contenders.
MacDonald started 12th, the best of the three, and began carving his way through traffic as Mike Mitchell led the opening laps. Wayne Helliwell, Jr. took control from Mitchell, who looped his car in turn two trying to take the lead back on lap 20. Mitchell rejoined the field in seventh, but Helliwell was firmly in charge.
When Kevin Folan spun through the frontstretch grass to bring out the first caution of the afternoon, MacDonald had climbed to fourth, with Brown sixth and Kuhn mired in eleventh.
Helliwell and Joey Polewarczyk brought the field back to green, and MacDonald wasted little time getting around Dennis Spencer, Jr. and Polewarczyk to chase the lead. Helliwell’s car began to fade, and “The Outlaw” charged past to take the point on lap 38.
Brown was third and closing in on Polewarczyk for second when Dan Winter spun in turn four, slowing the pace just before halfway. Kuhn had entered the top ten at last, but needed to improve to stop either MacDonald or Brown from stealing the points lead.
But when a handful of drivers pitted under caution, Kuhn found himself fifth for the restart, moving him from offense to defense in an instant.
MacDonald and Brown remained on the offense, with Brown getting around “Joey Pole” on the restart and moving to second. Catching “The Outlaw” was another story entirely, with MacDonald setting a fast pace out front.
A caution flag with 15 laps remaining set up a late-race dash to the checkers, and while Brown gave MacDonald a shot to the bumper on the start, he could not unsettle the veteran.
A runner-up twice at NLWS in American-Canadian Tour competition, MacDonald was untouchable in the final sprint to claim his second PASS North win of 2022 and his first since April in Stafford Motor Speedway’s prelude to the Spring Sizzler.
Brown spotted the field a race all year, having received last-place points at New Hampshire Motor Speedway when a heat-race crash kept him from taking the green flag. But the young racer took strides to polish his reputation in 2022, winning in July at Oxford Plains Speedway and finishing in the top ten in all but two races. Saturday’s second-place finish was his sixth podium appearance of the year.
“I just burned the right front off it when we had that long green-flag run. I thought I could get to him,” Brown said. “I think we had a winning car, but I just burned it up trying to get to him.”
Spencer, who broke into PASS victory lane last fall at Oxford Plains Speedway, struggled to crack the top ten all year while running most of the schedule. The Maine veteran shook off the struggles with a fourth-place run at Oxford two weeks ago, then improved on that at NLWS with a third-place finish.
Kuhn held on for fourth. Polewarczyk was fifth at the wheel of his own car, a car he drove to victory in a Granite State Pro Stock Series race at NLWS in 2020.
Thompson Speedway winner Garrett Hall was sixth. Recently-crowned ACT Tour champion DJ Shaw, who locked up PASS’ New England North bonus program and the PASS National Championship at Oxford two weeks ago, was seventh. Brian Whalley earned a season-best eighth place. Robbie Harrison, in a car normally driven by Brandon Barker, and Seekonk standout David Darling rounded out the top ten.
And after the podium finishers had been interviewed on the frontstretch, it was time to celebrate PASS’ first non-repeat champion since Mike Rowe earned the crown in 2015.
Kuhn opened the season with a sixth-place finish at Thompson, but failed to crack the top ten in his next five starts, with a blown tire at Stafford spoiling a podium run. The results were uncharacteristic of a driver who had finished worse than sixth only once in his five series starts a year before.
But the young racer’s fortunes turned in late June at Seekonk Speedway, where he finished sixth at his home track. Kuhn picked up his first PASS win in July’s Bay State Classic at Seekonk, adding another win this fall at Thunder Road International Speedbowl in Vermont. Four more top-five finishes, and no finishes worse than tenth since June, put Kuhn on the fast track to a championship.
Even as he ran deep in the field while MacDonald and Brown moved forward, Kuhn felt he still had a shot to clinch the crown.
“I was pretty confident there the whole time,” he said. “I knew if I was patient enough, I could get through the field eventually. I just had to be patient, wait for guys to get single-file.”
Kuhn’s patience bore out, which he felt reflected the quality of his competition. “Everyone showed a lot of respect,” he said. “It was awesome. I love to run with these PASS tour guys. These guys are unbelievable to watch. A lot of respect for a lot of these competitors. These guys are awesome.”
Kuhn is the first driver from Massachusetts to win a PASS North title, and only the second not to hail from the state of Maine.
In fact, with reigning champion Johnny Clark reducing his schedule at the end of the season, no drivers from the Pine Tree State were in contention for the title for the first time ever. Clark’s title defense ended early when he was unable to make a rescheduled Northeast Classic on Easter Sunday. Rescheduled races at Seekonk Speedway and White Mountain Motorsports Park created schedule conflicts that eliminated a handful of drivers from the full-time running. A “drop race” had been floated to account for those conflicts, but with so few eligible for the drop race, the idea was quietly shelved late in the year. Clark, who won three times in fourteen starts this year, was the highest-finishing Maine native in the standings, ending the year in fifth.
With rookie Max Cookson anticipated to run full-time in 2022, Maine might have its newest champion in the works.
But that outcome is many laps away.
Unofficial Results, PASS North PASS 150 at New London-Waterford Speedbowl:
1. (17MA) Eddie MacDonald
2. (50) Gabe Brown
3. (12) Dennis Spencer, Jr.
4. (72) Ryan Kuhn
5. (97) Joey Polewarczyk
6. (94) Garrett Hall
7. (60) DJ Shaw
8. (02) Brian Whalley
9. (88) Robbie Harrison
10. (52) David Darling
11. (90) Craig Weinstein
12. (7P) Derek Ramstrom
13. (8) Angelo Belsito
14. (12P) Bobby Pelland III
15. (17RI) Vinnie Arrenegado, Jr.
16. (27NH) Wayne Helliwell, Jr.
17. (81) Dan Winter
18. (48) Derek Gluchacki
19. (24J) J.P. Josiasse
20. (40) Mike Mitchell
21. (17F) Kevin Folan
22. (17X) Brandon Turbush
DNS (36) Dave Silvia