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New England Notebook: Griffith surges into PASS title chase with WMMP win, Darling and Welch crowned track champions

Derek Griffith, 2019 Oxford 250
Derek Griffith (#12G) scored his fifth win of the season at White Mountain Motorsports Park Saturday, vaulting him into the thick of the PASS North title chase. (Jeff Brown archive 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.

PASS NORTH: GRIFFITH MAKES IT FIVE WITH WMMP COMEBACK

The Pro All Stars Series North regulars found the Oxford 250 break to be a bit of a tease, as they returned to the full-throttle swing of racing with a Saturday night showdown at White Mountain Motorsports Park. With four events remaining on the 2019 calendar, and the guaranteed good-weather weekends waning, the PASS North circuit was in the midst of three straight weeks of racing after a two-week respite.

With weekly racing wrapping up for most tracks in the region, an eclectic gathering of Super Late Models had assembled in the WMMP pits. Wayne Helliwell, Jr., winner of the ACT Midsummer 250 in August, was back with PASS for the weekend. Beech Ridge Motor Speedway sent a number of regular competitors to WMMP, with 2019 Maine NASCAR champ David Oliver, veteran Mike Rowe (in his weekly Caruso-Fowler #24), Trevor Sanborn, Corey Bubar, Gary Smith and Billy Rodgers making the trip west and a little bit north. From Oxford Plains Speedway, Calvin Rose, Jr. and Legends standout Austin Teras made the drive as well. Andy Saunders jumped into the #80 Cat Scales-sponsored ride for the weekend. GSPSS racer Ray Christian III was in his PASS ride on an off-week for his regular tour. Dillon Moltz, Jeremy Davis, and John Salemi threw their hats into the ring as well. Even the Midwest was represented, with Wes Griffith, Jr. bringing his #33 ARCA/CRA entry from Illinois. Derek Ramstrom was in the pits, but a practice crash ended his evening early, bringing the field to 25 total entries.

Not among those 25 entries were two of the full-time competitors thus far. Nick Sweet had a family wedding to attend, and his #40VT was parked at home. Garrett Hall, twice a winner in 2019 and a threat for the title early in the year, was absent as well, dropping the title-contending lineup to four drivers.

One of those title contenders, Ben Rowe, claimed a heat win, with Johnny Clark and Andy Saunders winning the other two heats. With winner’s handicaps doled out, Clark, Saunders and Rowe would lead the field to green. Travis Benjamin in 11th would lead the season’s previous winners from the second half of the field.

The race in the shadow of New Hampshire’s White Mountains did not start without some drama, with two early wrecks throwing further question marks into the championship battle. Derek Griffith was caught up in the first incident of the evening, soldiering on. But DJ Shaw was caught up in the second, and as the field took the green flag, the points leader remained pitside for repairs. Eight laps into the race, the top two in the standings were in trouble.

Out front, Johnny Clark was free and clear of danger. The six-time champion’s last PASS victory came at WMMP, and Clark was looking for a return to victory for the first time since 2016. Quarter-miles had long been a strong suit for the veteran, and he flexed his muscle early on, leading through the first few yellow flags.

As the 50-lap mark closed in, so did Dillon Moltz, working past Clark for the lead on lap 47. By halfway, the Connecticut native had left Clark and Ben Rowe in the dust as he went looking for his first career PASS win. Derek Griffith, after his early spin, was knocking on the door of the top five. A caution flag drew Clark back to Moltz’s door, and the veteran took back the lead on the restart, leaving Moltz to fend off Griffith for second. Griffith eventually got past Moltz, but with precious few laps to run down Johnny Clark.

A blown tire and a hard crash for Reid Lanpher with 13 laps remaining gave Griffith renewed hopes, though. Griffith got physical with Clark for the lead, but Clark took the top spot back a lap after the restart. Another quick caution kept the two close, and Griffith was able to slip past the veteran one last time. After starting the race deep in a hole, Griffith came back to secure his fifth win of 2019 and the tenth of his PASS North career.

Johnny Clark held on for second, with Dillon Moltz notching his third career podium finish, all of which have come at WMMP. Ray Christian III had a quiet night coming home fourth, with Gabe Brown finishing fifth and earning only his second top-five run of the year in his Dale Shaw “throwback” #47.

Beech Ridge feature winner Corey Bubar was sixth, with Wayne Helliwell, Jr. seventh in his first PASS start since last year’s season finale. Ben Rowe slipped to eighth in the final running order, with Jeremy Davis ninth and Mike Rowe rounding out the top ten and the lead lap.

Recently-crowned NASCAR champion David Oliver was 11th, with the former series winner making only his second PASS start since 2016. Bobby Therrien was 12th, ahead of heat winner Andy Saunders. John Salemi and former GSPSS competitor Michael Scorzelli had solid runs in 14th and 15th.

Reid Lanpher’s crash ended his night in 16th, one spot ahead of DJ Shaw, who returned to the race and finished 23 laps in arrears. Oxford 250 winner Travis Benjamin’s tough season away from the 250 continued, as he was knocked out of the race only 32 laps in.

Through the crashes and the absences, the points standings have a new look. DJ Shaw still leads, but his bad night coupled with Griffith’s recent surge has him nursing a three-point lead over Griffith heading to Thunder Road. Ben Rowe, despite being winless, has closed in on the two of them, making it a three-way race to the season finale. Gabe Brown sits fourth in the standings by merit of running the full schedule; however, Nick Sweet is 51 points back of Brown and could conceivably slip back into fourth, despite skipping the race. Garrett Hall sits sixth with a similar advantage over Travis Benjamin. The gaps are wider back to Reid Lanpher (12 starts), Johnny Clark (11 starts) and Bobby Therrien (10 starts), with no driver outside the top ten making more than nine starts this year.

DJ Shaw will look to rebound this weekend at Thunder Road International Speedbowl, as the PASS Super Late Models return to the high-banked, concrete-walled quarter-mile for their second visit of 2019 and a Saturday prelude to the Vermont Milk Bowl. However, Shaw’s hopes have to be tempered with one chilling fact: the winner of the last visit to Thunder Road in May was none other than title rival Derek Griffith.

WEEKLY RACING: QUINNY WELCH, DAVID DARLING ADD TO TRACK CHAMPIONSHIP LEGACIES

Before the PASS cars went out to do battle at White Mountain Motorsports Park, the track’s ACT Late Models had to settle their own season championship in a rain-delayed 50-lap feature. Stephen Donahue took the win over Mike Bailey and Quinny Welch. The third-place run was more than enough to crown Welch the “King of the Mountains” for 2019.

Seekonk Speedway closed out its 2019 season last Saturday as well, with David Darling taking his eighth Pro Stock feature win of the season to wrap up his seventh Seekonk championship. In the Late Models, Vinnie Arrenegado, Jr. earned his third feature win in the last four races and his fifth of the season. But Tommy Adams, with a third-place run behind Ryan Lineham, was able to hang onto the points lead to clinch the 2019 Late Model championship.

Thunder Road International Speedbowl’s track championship was on the line Sunday afternoon, the season finale postponed a week to accommodate a delayed ACT Tour event. Reigning champion Scott Dragon went out and won the final feature race of 2019 in pursuit of another title for longtime car owner Richard Green. However, Jason Corliss finished sixth to nip Dragon by four points in the standings. For Corliss, a three-time winner on the ACT Tour, this is his first “King of the Road” title.

After missing the previous night’s PASS event at WMMP, Nick Sweet subbed for car owner Eric Chase in the season-ending feature, finishing 10th in the 18-car field.

NEXT ON THE SCHEDULE

The Granite State Pro Stock Series races on Saturday, with the GSPSS sanctioning Seekonk Speedway’s annual D.A.V. Fall Classic in honor of track patriarch D. Anthony Venditti.

The PASS Super Late Models and ACT Late Models are both at Thunder Road International Speedbowl in Vermont this weekend. The PASS SLMs will race Saturday in support of Sunday’s ACT-sanctioned 57th Annual Vermont Milk Bowl. Of note, southern SLM ace Bubba Pollard will attempt to make his first appearance in one of America’s toughest short track races.

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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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