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Granite State Pro Stock Series

New England Notebook: Christian, Sweet kick off holiday weekend with Friday night SLM wins

RC3 vs Joey Pole, Claremont 07-03-2020
Ray Christian III (#93CT) works the outside of Joey Polewarczyk for the win in Friday's GSPSS Independence 100. (Jeff Brown photo)

Each week, Short Track Scene looks back at results and news from northern New England’s Late Model and Super Late Model competition, from the region’s premier tours — the American-Canadian Tour, the Granite State Pro Stock Series, and the Pro All Stars Series — to the tracks and drivers that support them. Thanks to the local journalists and fans who report in from the track each week to keep their fellow fans informed.

GSPSS: RC III WINS THIRD STRAIGHT CLAREMONT FEATURE

It took Ray Christian III the better part of last year to shake the monkey off his back, but since then, the Groton, Conn. driver has been improving his post-race interview routines.

Christian used the outside line to slip past Joey Polewarczyk, Jr. in the closing laps of last Friday’s Independence 100 at Claremont (N.H.) Motorsports Park, earning his second win of the year and his third straight GSPSS win, all at the unique third-mile speedway.

RECAP: Ray Christian III outduels Joey Pole for third consecutive Claremont win

Despite the streak of success, Christian only emerged as a story late in the going, with Luke Hinkley stealing the show early on. The local favorite took the lead from polesitter Mike O’Sullivan and distanced himself from “Joey Pole,” making a case for his first career GSPSS win in front of the home crowd.

But when Pole faltered on a late restart, Angelo Belsito pounced, getting past the former ACT Tour champion and setting his sights on Hinkley’s rear bumper. A little contact got Hinkley out of the groove and put Belsito in the top spot, but Hinkley repaid the favor a lap later, spinning the Massachusetts driver off turn two. Polewarczyk and Christian passed the duo coming to the caution, and with Belsito retiring with an oil leak and Hinkley moved to the rear, their strongest competition had evaporated instantly.

Polewarczyk was strong on restarts, but Christian’s persistence in the outside groove paid off as he made the winning pass only a few laps from the finish.

Joey Doiron, whose team scrambled to get his car to the grid after heats, finished third. Polesitter O’Sullivan was fourth with Cory Casagrande fifth. Jake Matheson, Hinkley, rookies Cody LeBlanc and Casey Call, and Seekonk specialist Ryan Lineham rounded out the top ten.

Eighteen cars, including a strong contingent from the Seekonk Speedway Pro Stock scene, made the trip to Claremont on a night double-booked with the Pro All Stars Series. Jimmy Renfrew, Jr., whose car was wrecked in the Claremont season opener, opted instead to race his Street Stock at Lee (N.H.) USA Speedway, earning a win but likely ending his GSPSS title bid. Devin O’Connell, the 2018 GSPSS champion, was focused instead on an opportunity with the Tri-Track Open Modified Series, ending a streak of starts going back to the start of the 2017 season.

Belsito was fastest in time trials, then backed up his speed with a heat win. Luke Hinkley won the second heat.

Christian’s season-opening sweep has him firmly atop the points standings, with Joey Polewarczyk second and defending champion Joey Doiron third. Cory Casagrande, who led the standings for most of 2018, sits fourth, and a newly-signed sponsor could give the Connecticut driver some encouragement to chase points this season.

The GSPSS season marches on this Sunday afternoon at Hudson Speedway in southern New Hampshire. Late additions to the entry list include teammates DJ Shaw and Gabe Brown from the Pro All Stars Series North ranks, while Joey Pole will look to defend last year’s winning performance only a few miles from his home.

PASS NORTH: SWEET REPEATS AT WMMP FOR THIRD WIN OF 2020

If there were any doubt that Nick Sweet was primed to become one of the PASS North title hopefuls in 2020, the driver’s command performance at White Mountain Motorsports Park likely silenced the critics.

Sweet was dominant in the race’s second half, dodging rain to take a win in Friday night’s 150-lap prelude to the North Woodstock, N.H. track’s first visit by NASCAR’s Whelen Modified Tour.

RECAP: Sweet storms to third PASS North win at WMMP

PASS’ third visit to WMMP in 2020 started much like the last two, with Johnny Clark setting the pace early. But the troubles that befell the six-time champion in the other two races caught up with him early, with Clark dropping out with mechanical trouble only thirty laps in.

Ben Rowe assumed the point, but Sweet overtook the four-time champion on a lap-66 restart and held on to the finish for his sixth career PASS North win, his third of the season, and his second at WMMP.

Gabe Brown drove a brand new car to a second-place run while Scott McDaniel finished third after losing a tire earlier. Both drivers celebrated career-best finishes on the podium. Kelly Moore, in a car borrowed from son Ryan, was fourth ahead of Travis Benjamin. Austin Teras, Evan Hallstrom and Rowe were the only other finishers, with Alan Tardiff pulling off the track in the closing laps.

Much like PASS’ last visit to WMMP, mechanical trouble decimated the sixteen-car field. In addition to Clark, DJ Shaw and Jeremy Davis were among those whose cars could not make the end of the feature.

Friday’s race was the first PASS event on a Friday since September 2018 at Thunder Road, a race won by none other than Nick Sweet. PASS will race on Friday night again at Thunder Road this fall, a date surely circled on the two-time track champion’s calendar.

Shaw’s engine troubles and Sweet’s early hot streak have put the Barre, Vt. driver atop the standings by only five points over Travis Benjamin, who seems to have exorcised last season’s demons. Shaw sits third with top fives in his other three starts, with Tardiff and Johnny Clark tied for fourth. Clark has not run full-time in several years, so his viability for the title is questionable, but his strong runs thus far might inspire him to chase a title yet again.

A number of drivers who had made all three starts thus far were not at WMMP, including Garrett Hall, Derek Ramstrom and Brandon Barker. Curtis Gerry, who had not planned a PASS title assault, skipped the event to regroup for weekly competition at Oxford Plains Speedway.

Meanwhile, Trevor Sanborn, Scott McDaniel, Ben Ashline, Kate Re and Cassius Clark have made all four starts thus far. Sanborn was expected to run some GSPSS events this year rather than chase track points at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway. McDaniel, a regular at Oxford, still seeks his first PASS win. Ashline is continuing a partnership with Ajay Picard that saw him turn in some impressive late-season runs and a win at Lanier (Ga.) Raceway in PASS National Championship competition. Re, a rookie, was slated to run full-time at Oxford, but has added the touring events to her schedule as she looks to gain experience with her Fury-built Super Late Model. Cassius Clark has been racing with Chad Dow’s team; with the Canadian border closed, he and Nova Scotia-based King Racing are unable to unite for races on either side of the border.

Whether all of these drivers stick with the touring program for the long haul, or whether some turn to part-time schedules, remains to be seen.

The next PASS North event is next weekend at Oxford Plains Speedway, where the series will come back to life for a Saturday-night home game.

WEEKLY RACING: GERRY, KRUCZEK, CORLISS REDEEM TOUGH SEASON STARTS WITH FEATURE WINS

The PASS Super Late Models were not the only fendered cars on display at White Mountain Motorsports Park last Friday, as the track’s own Late Models raced 100 laps on Friday to make room for Saturday’s NASCAR Modified Tour program. Jeff Marshall took the win over ACT Tour rookie Alby Ovitt, with Joel Hodgdon finishing third. Track champions Oren Remick and Quinny Welch were fourth and fifth. Ovitt was one of a handful of drivers making the road trip Friday night, with Mike Benevides and Star Speedway regular Jason Ryan finishing deeper in the 21-car field.

Shawn Swallow won Saturday night at Riverside Speedway in Groveton, N.H., with Mike Kenison and a visiting Ryan Kuhn following him to his second win of the year.

At Oxford Plains Speedway, Curtis Gerry topped a twenty-car field Saturday to win his first weekly feature of the year, rebounding from a litany of struggles in PASS touring action this season. Scott Robbins and Josh Childs joined Gerry on the podium. Joey Doiron was sixth in the #21 entry he has secured for the Oxford 250. Garrett Hall and Brandon Barker were in action at Oxford, finishing eighth and 13th. Rookie Kate Re was fifteenth after her team scrambled to rebuild the car after getting caught up in a crash the night before at White Mountain Motorsports Park.

Bryan Kruczek took advantage of a last-minute decision to race at Star Speedway, outracing Ryan Kuhn for the win in Sunday afternoon’s ACT Late Model feature. Kruczek, who drives for Star owner Bobby Webber, Jr., used the race as a shakedown to prepare for the next races on the Tour schedule after a tough start to the season.

Thursday night, Jason Corliss became the latest driver to right some early-season wrongs with a feature win at Thunder Road, beating Matt White and Christopher Pelkey to win his first feature of the year. Bobby Therrien was sixth in the sixteen-car field.

UPCOMING EVENTS

The American-Canadian Tour was scheduled to race this weekend at Riverside Speedway, but an unpleasant forecast forced officials to call off the tour’s visit. A new date for the race has yet to be confirmed.

The Granite State Pro Stock Series teams face off Sunday afternoon at Hudson Speedway in southern New Hampshire for the annual Gate City 100, with a star-studded field set to battle on the high-banked quarter-mile.

The Pro All Stars Series resumes its season next Saturday at Oxford Plains Speedway. The home track of PASS will also run a 100-lap special feature this weekend, rescheduled from the usual Saturday evening because of inclement weather.

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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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