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New England Notebook: Dubeau wins at T-Road to secure title dreams, Griffith eludes Oxford struggles in fourth win of 2019

Derek Griffith, 2019 Oxford 250
Derek Griffith (#12G), who finished third in August's Oxford 250 (pictured), shook off years of frustration last Sunday to win his first PASS feature at Oxford Plains Speedway. (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.

ACT TOUR: DUBEAU WINS HIS SECOND OF THE YEAR, NEARLY LOCKS UP TITLE AT T-ROAD

The American-Canadian Tour Late Models returned home to Thunder Road International Speedbowl for the third time this year, though the scheduled event was only their second race at the Tour’s home track. Saturday’s Coca-Cola Labor Day Classic 200 was the continuation and completion of a race weekend that was halted by injuries to two officials after a heat race crash.

Twenty-nine cars had turned out for the race originally, and after finishing last in his heat, Connecticut’s Michael Wray opted not to make a second trip to T-Road. Two drivers, Nick Sweet and Bobby Therrien, would have to pack up and head east for Oxford for Sunday’s Pro All Stars Series contest after the race. The rest of the field bore few surprises. Chip Grenier returned to Tour action for the first time since May. Scott Dragon, Cody Blake, and Jason Corliss were among the weekly Late Model racers joining the Tour for action. Tour regular Jonathan Bouvrette was not at the track on Labor Day weekend, but his teammate Mathieu Kingsbury had made the trip from Quebec.

Tyler Cahoon, Dylan Payea and Ryan Kuhn were in the books as heat winners, leaving two consis to be contested. Kyle Pembroke won the first consi, with Jason Corliss winning the second. Though T-Road often runs 26-car features, all twenty-eight cars at the track were in the field for the 200-lapper, rather than send two drivers packing. The plus-minus pool and heat results put “Kid Rocket” Josh Masterson on the pole with weekly racer Brendan Moodie alongside. Rich Dubeau would roll off 11th and Scott Payea 12th, with Jimmy Hebert starting back in 19th.

With only two races left on the Tour schedule, Saturday’s race would set the stage for the championship showdown a month later at Thompson Speedway in Connecticut. At the front of the field, though, the weekly Late Model drivers held an early advantage, with their Tour challengers held back by winners’ handicaps. Brooks Clark made an early move for the top spot, taking the early lead over Masterson and 2017 Thunder Road track champion Bobby Therrien.

Twenty-nine laps into the race, the championship picture began to come into focus. Tyler Cahoon and Scott Payea made contact, and as the two wrecked, Jimmy Hebert was swept up in the fracas. Payea and Hebert limped to the pits for repairs. Payea was already a long shot to contend for the title, but even those dim hopes seemed extinguished. Hebert was still within reach of points leader Rich Dubeau, but unless Dubeau had trouble, Hebert was not going to make any ground up from the pit area.

Dubeau, by contrast, had fought his way up to fourth. Nick Sweet assumed the lead for a few laps, but Dubeau grabbed the top spot for his own, driving away from the pack during a long green-flag stretch run. Sweet and Brooks Clark were left to duel for second place as Dubeau cruised away with the lead.

A yellow flag with 49 laps remaining erased Dubeau’s lead, though, and gave Sweet and Jason Corliss an opportunity to pit for tires. Clark and Scott Dragon lined up second and third, with the Thunder Road regulars looking to dethrone the Tour racer at the head of the pack.

But Dubeau was not to be denied, setting sail in the final stretch run and leaving the rest of the field to battle for second. After breaking into the winner’s circle earlier in the season, Rich Dubeau led the final 152 laps en route to his second win of 2019 in the Coca-Cola Labor Day Classic.

Scott Dragon was able to get around Brooks Clark for second place, but the defending King of the Road had to settle for a runner-up finish. Early leader Brooks Clark was third, with Kyle Pembroke finishing fourth. Jason Corliss came back from his pit stop to finish fifth, leaving Dubeau the only Tour regular in the top five.

Chip Grenier was sixth in his return to Tour competition, ahead of Tyler Cahoon and Matt White. Nick Sweet drove back to ninth place, with Marcel J. Gravel rounding out the top ten.

Nine cars finished on the lead lap, with Gravel leading Brendan Moodie and rookie Ryan Kuhn a lap back from the leaders. Bobby Therrien, in the #04VT entry, was two laps back in 13th. Polesitter Josh Masterson and Quebec’s Mathieu Kingsbury rounded out the top five.

Sisters Peyton and Reilly Lanphear qualified for a Thunder Road event for the first time and both had solid days. Younger sister Peyton was 16th for her season best, while Reilly matched her career high mark with a 17th-place run. Trent Goodrow was 5 laps down in 18th. Points challengers Scott Payea and Jimmy Hebert finished the race, but did so several laps behind in 19th and 20th. In finishing 19th, Payea ended a streak of consecutive top-ten finishes dating back to June 2016 at the now-dirt Devil’s Bowl Speedway in Vermont.

Dubeau became the 100th different winner of a Late Model feature at Thunder Road with his convincing win. The problems for Hebert and Scott Payea gave Dubeau an 81-point lead heading into the season’s final event at Thompson (Conn.) Speedway in October, a nearly insurmountable advantage. The top five in points are relatively spread-out, with some room for a shakeup in the back half of the top ten.

The ACT Tour is officially off until mid-October’s World Series season finale at Thompson, but the ACT Late Models are far from finished for the year. Thunder Road’s weekly combatants will settle the track championship this coming weekend, while the following weekend is the famed Vermont Milk Bowl.

PASS NORTH: GRIFFITH FINALLY TAMES OXFORD, TAKES FOURTH WIN OF THE YEAR

After a few weeks off to recover from the traditional Oxford 250 hangover, the Pro All Stars Series was back in action at Oxford Plains Speedway. Of the five races remaining on the 2019 schedule, two were back on home turf at Oxford, giving many teams a healthy dose of familiarity and a short drive in the home stretch.

The post-250 hangover usually finds a few teams on the sidelines having exhausted their energies and budgets, but 34 teams still found their way to Oxford, including some new entries. JR Robinson, a former regular on the American-Canadian Tour, had reworked his familiar #28 ACT entry to conform to PASS rules for the weekend, making his first Super Late Model start. A new two-car team was in the pits, with matching #76 and #77 entries for Patrick Levasseur and Wiscasset Speedway regular Jonathon Emerson. Adam Polvinen and Sammy Gooden were back after only making a few PASS attempts in 2019. Boss Hogg 150 winner Ben Ashline was back for more Oxford fun in Ajay Picard’s #99. Jeff White and Dillon Moltz looked to atone for missing the Oxford 250. Both Tim and TJ Brackett were at the track, but TJ never went out to qualify, focusing instead on his dad’s #60 mount.

Alan Tardiff, Ben Rowe and Derek Griffith each took a heat race win to begin setting the field. Gary Smith, winner of one of the previous night’s double features at Beech Ridge, never got on the track during the heats and withdrew. Bobby Therrien, who only completed three laps in his heat, withdrew from the feature as well. When Jonathon Emerson withdrew, leaving thirty cars to start, the two consis to shape the tail of the grid were scratched, and the race lineup was set, with Tardiff leading Ben Rowe and Alan Wilson to the green flag.

Alan Tardiff’s foray into PASS had not yielded any wins yet, but the former Oxford champion had flexed some muscle in the 250 when he led a good portion of the middle stretch of the long race. This time, starting from the front, Tardiff had the chance to lead early. But before 25 laps were complete, Ben Rowe had made a push to the front. Rowe, still winless in 2019, was looking to erase a big goose-egg on the season’s record, and Oxford was a perfect place to do so.

Mike Hopkins would be next to test Ben Rowe, driving around the multi-time PASS champion on a lap-29 restart. Hopkins had found speed late in the Oxford 250, surging into the top five in the final stretch run, and he had speed to spare early on this time around. But Rowe came up to speed a few laps into the run, and passed Hopkins back. At halfway, Rowe held the lead over Hopkins and Derek Griffith, who was coming off a satisfying run in the Oxford 250.

A spin for Sammy Gooden off the bumper of Dan Winter’s entry brought out a mid-race caution flag, with Hopkins and Griffith closing in on Rowe’s #4. Mike Hopkins took the lead a few laps after the restart, but on lap 85 Derek Griffith made a successful play for the lead. The former Granite State Pro Stock Series champion’s struggles at Oxford had been legendary; either his performance was lacking, or he fell victim to poor fortune. Griffith’s runner-up finish in the Oxford 250 was easily a high-water mark for him at the track.

But here he was, leading at Oxford with 65 laps remaining. Griffith looked at home out front, but Ben Rowe came charging back to take the lead with just under 50 laps to go.

A crash for Ben Ashline brought out the race’s last yellow on lap 112. On the restart, Griffith took the lead back from Rowe, whose car had not been strong on restarts. This time, he never looked back, and Benji never had a chance to close back in. After being stymied for seasons at the legendary track, Derek Griffith led the stretch run to the checkers, taking his fourth PASS win of the season and his first ever at Oxford Plains Speedway.

Ben Rowe held on for second, his second runner-up finish of 2019. DJ Shaw, third in the Oxford 250, repeated that performance Sunday, with Oxford 250 winner Travis Benjamin fourth and Reid Lanpher fifth. Ryan Robbins finished sixth. Jeff White, who was eliminated from the Oxford 250 field by a wreck in qualifying, finished a strong seventh. Curtis Gerry was eighth, having pitted early on while running in the back half of the top ten. Scott Moore was ninth with Mike Hopkins rounding out the top ten.

Nick Sweet, winner of the last 150-lapper at Oxford, was 11th in his second race in two days, ahead of two-time feature winner Garrett Hall. Alan Wilson and Scott Robbins were the last two cars on the lead lap, with Tracy Gordon finishing 15th a lap behind.

Gabe Brown was 16th, with early leader Alan Tardiff dropping to 17th at the checkers. Johnny Clark finished two laps back in 18th. Kyle DeSouza and Adam Polvinen rounded out the top twenty. Brandon Barker and Ben Ashline, both threats to contend for the win, finished multiple laps down and out of the race. Tim Brackett, JR Robinson, Mike Rowe and rookie Patrick Levasseur were all out of the race early on.

For those keeping score, Derek Griffith’s fourth win of the year was the ninth win in 13 PASS races for the trusty ABC body. The new Camaros, Mustangs and Camrys, eye-catching as they were, had yet to become the magic bullet many critics feared early on. Only ten teams showed off the new bodies at Oxford, with Travis Benjamin and Reid Lanpher both bringing their ABC cars instead.

DJ Shaw’s third-place finish kept him atop the points standings, but on the strength of his fourth win of the year, Derek Griffith moved to within 36 points of the lead, the wins erasing some of his early-season misfortune. Nick Sweet sits third in the standings, with Ben Rowe fourth and early contender Garrett Hall slipping to fifth. Gabe Brown is a distant sixth in his first full year on the Tour. Behind Brown, positions seven through eleven are spaced out, though schedule decisions in the next couple weeks will sort out that battle even further.

The next two races for the PASS teams are on high-banked quarter-miles, with the Super Late Models traveling to White Mountain Motorsports Park in North Woodstock, N.H. From there, the PASS North schedule heads to Thunder Road for its second visit of the year in support of the Vermont Milk Bowl, before returning to Maine in mid-October for one last bout at Oxford Plains Speedway.

One driver has to be quite optimistic about the next three races on the schedule. With his win at Oxford, Derek Griffith heads to all three speedways as each track’s most recent PASS feature winner.

WEEKLY RACING: PASS VETS FARRINGTON, OLIVER SHARE BEECH RIDGE CHAMPIONSHIP SPOILS

Rain last weekend forced Beech Ridge Motor Speedway to double up on its final weekend of NASCAR Whelen All-American Series action, with double features for the Pro and Sport Series competitors to decide the track championships. Gary Smith won the first feature of the night, ahead of points contenders David Oliver (third), Dave Farrington, Jr. (fifth) and Trevor Sanborn (seventh). In the second feature, David Oliver held off Farrington and Billy Rodgers to score his second win of 2019. Trevor Sanborn was sixth.

What had been a close points race was decided on the thinnest of margins. Dave Farrington, Jr. finished the season one point ahead of David Oliver and another point ahead of Trevor Sanborn, earning his second Beech Ridge Pro Series championship. Farrington, also the 2014 season champ, returned to Beech Ridge full-time this year after cutting last season short amid a streak of misfortune.

With Beech Ridge the only Maine oval to be sanctioned by NASCAR, the Pro Series champion is usually the NASCAR State Champion for Maine as well. However, since NASCAR does not consider heat-race wins as points toward the state championship, David Oliver was awarded the NASCAR State Championship for Maine instead. Oliver, who ran a heavier touring schedule a few years ago, claimed his only career PASS North win at Beech Ridge in 2015.

At Star Speedway, Erick Sands broke into victory lane at last, taking his first feature win over Joshua Hedges. Hedges’ runner-up finish was enough to clinch Star Speedway’s second Late Model track championship over Jeramee Lillie and defending champ Jay Sands.

Seekonk Speedway’s penultimate evening of weekly racing was interrupted by rain in the late stages of the Late Model feature, with Ryan Lineham handed the feature win. The Pro Stocks were unable to race, with their championship battle being pushed to next weekend’s season closer.

NEXT ON THE SCHEDULE

The PASS North Super Late Models return to White Mountain Motorsports Park for 150 laps on the banked quarter-mile. Qualifying kicks off Saturday evening, not long after the checkered flag falls for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Musket 250 at nearby New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

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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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