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New England Notebook: Oxford takes center stage with Johnny Clark’s 250 win, Hebert’s ACT victory

Alan Tardiff and Joey Doiron line up in the Oxford Plains Speedway pit area as the moon rises for the start of the 47th Annual Oxford 250. (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: BEFORE THE 250, HEBERT TAKES HIS OWN OXFORD WIN

It may have taken an extra day, but Jimmy Hebert became the first repeat winner of a somewhat-rearranged 2020 American-Canadian Tour season on Sunday, driving to victory in the Oxford Plains 150 at Oxford Plains Speedway.

Heavy rains promised for Saturday, along with the usual round of COVID-19 pandemic mitigation strategies, led Oxford and ACT officials to postpone an action-packed racing card for Saturday evening, moving the events instead to the morning of Sunday’s 47th Annual Oxford 250.

RECAP: Jimmy Hebert shines in Sunday morning’s ACT Oxford 250 prelude

Hebert never saw the lead until past halfway, as a battle unfolded at the front between Jimmy Renfrew, Jr., JR Robinson and Ben Rowe. Rowe had put his still-new Ford Mustang at the front of the field when Robinson spun to bring out the first caution at lap 69. Hebert had picked his way to fifth.

A bold outside move advanced Hebert to second on the restart, after which he was able to drive past Rowe for the lead. Rowe returned the favor a few laps later, but Hebert took the lead back with 57 laps remaining and held it through the race’s final restarts.

Ben Rowe, in only his second ACT Tour start since 2013, finished second, with last year’s Oxford winner Bryan Kruczek charging to third. Dylan Payea, who ran as high as third, finished a career-best fourth in his red Dodge. White Mountain Motorsports Park winner Dillon Moltz fell back to fifth after climbing to second with only sixteen laps remaining.

Sophomore Ryan Kuhn was sixth and DJ Shaw spun across the line in seventh, with early leader Jimmy Renfrew, Jr. eighth. JR Robinson and Derek Gluchacki rounded out the top ten.

Twenty-eight cars attended the race, a drop from last year’s numbers but understandable with the absence of the usual Canadian contingent. Also missing were rookie Alby Ovitt, who stepped out of the seat with a minor health issue, and Rich Dubeau. Joining the ACT Tour for the weekend were veteran Joey Laquerre, Ryan Olsen, Star Speedway Street Stock racer Max Dolliver, recent Star feature winner Connor McDougal and journeyman Jimmy “Scruffy” Linardy.

John Donahue, Olsen, and Kruczek won the heat races, with Gluchacki picking up the consi win. Marcel Gravel and Renfrew led the field to green.

Hebert’s second win of the year, and his first at Oxford despite a string of top-six finishes in his previous eight starts, secures his position in the points standings, with a 39-point lead over DJ Shaw. Ryan Kuhn and Bryan Kruczek are just out of reach with only a few races remaining to catch up. Derek Gluchacki, a distant sixth in points, leads Marcel Gravel and Tom Carey III in the rookie standings.

The next race on the ACT Tour schedule is the annual Labor Day Classic at Thunder Road International Speedbowl this Sunday. Rich Dubeau won last year’s event en route to the championship.

PASS NORTH: JOHNNY CLARK EARNS HIS 250 AT LAST, JEFF TAYLOR KEEPS HUNTING

With the laps winding down in Sunday night’s Oxford 250, and with Johnny Clark and Jeff Taylor at the front of the pack, it seemed like one of the long-time veterans would have to go unfulfilled in his quest for a win in New England’s biggest one-day Super Late Model event.

And with seventy laps left on the board, Jeff Taylor punched his ticket, making a pit miscue that buried him in the field with fresh tires but not a lot of time.

Instead, it was Johnny Clark making his way back to the point, then driving off from the pack to win the race he said he would trade all of his championships for.

RECAP: At long last, Johnny Clark realizes his Oxford 250 dream

Clark, already a winner in the Pro All Stars Series ranks in 2020, emerged as a contender for the win halfway through the race, but the undisputed favorite was Taylor. The nine-time Oxford Plains Speedway track champion carved through lapped traffic early on, his car pinned to the track. Taylor dropped back after a mid-race restart, but charged forward on old tires and overtook Clark and Mike Hopkins for the lead once again. It was Taylor’s race to lose.

But then came the lap-180 caution for a spin, and Taylor led Clark and others onto pit road. As Taylor left pit road, he believed he had run the stop paddle, so he dropped back to the apron and coasted down pit road anticipating a penalty. PASS officials never called for the penalty, though, so Taylor returned to the track, having effectively penalized himself. Clark, by contrast, restarted second to Alan Tardiff with 70 laps remaining.

Taylor once again carved through traffic, with a couple yellow flags assisting him as he got near the top five. But by the time he moved into second, there were not enough laps left to catch Clark, who had checked out on the field. Instead, Clark cruised to victory and Taylor came home a deeply-disappointing second in his nineteenth start in the Oxford 250.

Joey Doiron, in his new #21 ride for the weekend, ran in the top five most of the day and finished third, with Oxford hot-hand Dave Farrington, Jr. finishing fourth, his best career Oxford 250 effort. Mid-race leader Mike Hopkins, racing with a heavy heart after the passing of a crew member earlier in the week, finished fifth.

DJ Shaw was never a factor for the win, but ran at the front all night to finish sixth. Ben Ashline was seventh, with Trevor Sanborn, Garrett Hall and Gabe Brown rounding out the top ten. Only thirteen cars were scored on the lead lap at the end of the night.

Fifty-six cars made the trip to Oxford, though Jake Johnson bowed out on Friday after a struck throttle cost him a car only minutes into the day’s first practice session. With starting positions only numbering into the forties, some big names risked packing up early.

Five heats advanced 25 cars to the lineup, with Alan Tardiff, Joey Doiron, Austin Teras, DJ Shaw and Gabe Brown scoring wins in the heats. With only three positions transferring from each consi, and names like Benjamin, Gerry and Pollard still yet to qualify, the stakes grew considerably higher.

John Peters won the first consi over Bubba Pollard and Travis Benjamin, but Benjamin’s car was too low in technical inspection, moving Joe Pastore, Jr. into the race. Ben Ashline won the second consi, with Kyle DeSouza and Shawn Martin advancing as well. The third consi was a thriller, with young rookie Kate Re starting out front. The sixteen-year-old led laps, and while she could not hold off a hard-charging Curtis Gerry working the outside groove, she was able to keep Ben Rowe at bay to qualify for her first career Oxford 250.

Provisionals were handed to a number of eligible drivers, including Scott McDaniel, Scott Robbins and Wyatt Alexander. The rest, including Ray Christian III, Cassius Clark, and Travis Benjamin, would have to race in via the 25-lap last-chance qualifier. With only one position on the line, and the previous winner’s provisional in his back pocket, Benjamin tapped out and took the provisional. In the consi, Christian edged out Cassius Clark at the line, transferring to the 250 field. Clark and Calvin Rose, Jr. were added as promoter’s options to round out a 44-car field, while Rusty Poland, Kelly Moore, GSPSS regular Kevin Casper, and others would have to pack up early. Poland had frustratingly been one position short of transferring most of the day, in a last-minute bid to make the 250 field.

Indeed, a number of past winners struggled in the 250, with Curtis Gerry finishing 12th on the lead lap. Eddie MacDonald, who shelved his new Dale Shaw Race Cars ride for his big-track Pathfinder car, got lapped early and kept getting free passes, but could never come in for tires until it was too late. MacDonald, a two-time ACT Oxford 250 winner, finished 15th. Son and father Ben and Mike Rowe were 17th and 21st. Travis Benjamin, after starting at the back, was involved in a late-race incident and finished 24th. Bubba Pollard struggled through the first half of the race, and a fire under the car forced him to the pits with just under a hundred laps to go.

At the same time, lower-budget teams like Ben Ashline’s and Garrett Hall’s came away with top ten finishes. Dan Winter was 20th, two laps down. Wyatt Alexander advanced from 37th to 22nd at the finish. Kate Re was scored ten laps down in 27th, having been spun twice, but the teen became only the fourth woman to start the Oxford 250, and the first to advance without a provisional.

While the Oxford 250 is a spectacle unto itself, it remains a PASS North championship event, and that reality could not have hit harder for points leader Nick Sweet. Sweet began fading through the field early, pulling to the pits before 20 laps were complete. Sweet finished last in the season’s deepest field, handing him a dose of bad luck with only a few races remaining in the points race.

DJ Shaw, meanwhile, relished the misfortunes of both Sweet and Benjamin, taking the points lead after Oxford over Benjamin, 250 winner Clark, and Sweet. Ben Rowe remains fifth, several points back from four-time winner Sweet but only two points ahead of Gabe Brown.

The PASS schedule will take a needed break, with the teams returning to action in mid-September at White Mountain Motorsports Park for their fifth and final visit to the track this year. If Nick Sweet can rebound from the Oxford disaster, there will be no better opportunity; the Vermonter has wins in three of this year’s four WMMP visits.

WEEKLY RACING: PITKAT WINS AT THOMPSON IN A QUIET WEEK FOR LOCAL RACING

With so many racers flocking to Maine for the Oxford 250, it was a quiet week for local racing. Most tracks opted not to run Saturday evening, and the rainy weather that passed through all day put a stop to what little action had been scheduled.

The first of two events at Connecticut’s Thompson Speedway cross-promoted by ACT and PASS was impacted by weather as well, as Wednesday rains pushed the mid-week contest to Thursday afternoon and evening instead. In the ACT Late Model feature, Woody Pitkat wheeled the black #91CT Ford to victory over Derek Gluchacki and Mark Jenison. Jake Johnson was fourth with former Granite State Pro Stock Series regular Ryan Lineham fifth. Pitkat would finish a discouraging 21st in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour race later that night.

UPCOMING EVENTS

The American-Canadian Tour Late Models will be in action this afternoon at Thunder Road International Speedbowl for the annual Labor Day Classic, the second visit of the season to the Tour’s home track.

This evening marks the third annual running of the Granite State Pro Stock Series’ Newport Chevrolet 150, part of the inaugural Granite State Nationals. This year’s edition of the race pays $10,000 to the winner.

Maine’s Super Late Models are technically off this weekend, but Johnny Clark, Curtis Gerry and plenty of others will make a bid for Wiscasset Speedway’s annual $5,000-to-win Boss Hogg 150, one of the track’s two crown jewel events.

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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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