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Granite State Pro Stock Series

New England Notebook: Pole takes hometown win, Gerry returns to Oxford form

GSPSS Hudson Speedway 7/2019
Joey Polewarczyk, Jr. (97) battles Jimmy Renfrew, Jr. (00) early in the GSPSS Gate City 100. Pole, who lives a couple miles from Hudson Speedway, went on to win the race, his third win in three GSPSS starts. (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: POLE COMES HOME, STEALS GATE CITY 100 VICTORY AT HUDSON

Sunday evening’s Gate City 100 at Hudson Speedway marked the sixth event of the season for the Granite State Pro Stock Series. The venerable quarter-mile welcomed the GSPSS teams for the second straight year after a few seasons off the schedule. For drivers not named Joey Doiron, the race was an opportunity to jumpstart a championship drive, much as Devin O’Connell had done a year before with his first career win.

Teams and fans arriving at the tiny speedway were greeted with a host of capital improvements made by second-year track owner Ben Bosowski. An expanded, graded and paved pit area, a new concrete wall stretching from turns three and four down the backstretch to turn two, new lighting and a scoreboard were among the improvements Bosowski had put in place since last summer’s visit to the speedway.

The early-evening show had attracted a decent turnout of cars in all divisions, with seventeen Pro Stocks in the pits for the 100-lap main event. The entry list was headlined by Hudson’s own Joey Polewarczyk, Jr., who had recently purchased a house a couple miles from the track. Polewarczyk looked to keep his GSPSS record perfect, with two wins in his only two starts on the tour. Joining Joey Pole was ACT challenger Wayne Helliwell, Jr., who had withdrawn after practice a week before at Lee. Former GSPSS regular Cory Casagrande towed in from Connecticut for his first start of the season. Matt Frahm, Todd Stone, and Angelo Belsito were among the part-timers in attendance.

The events at Lee a week before had claimed at least one casualty, with leading rookie Jake Matheson missing in action. Matheson’s team was unable to get their car repaired in time for the race. Dennis Spencer, Jr., Luke Hinkley and former champion Barry Gray were also absent after poor performances at Lee. Tom Rosati was back in the Wright Pearson #16, with Mike O’Sullivan also returning to action after skipping Lee.

In single-car qualifying, a new electronic scoring system gave Cory Casagrande an unofficial track record (as no official track record existed for years prior). Joey Doiron and Joey Polewarczyk won the two heat races, with Doiron and Mike O’Sullivan advancing to the front row after the top-eight redraw. Given the option during driver introductions to take the Back of the Pack Challenge, Doiron declined, suggesting he would need all the track position he could get.

Armed with track position to start, Doiron pulled out to an early lead, with Devin O’Connell swiftly advancing to second. When the race’s second yellow flag flew at lap 38, Doiron remained in the lead, but O’Connell was closing in. Despite entering the race second in points, O’Connell’s early-season results were average at best, with his second-place finish at Lee his only top-three run of the year so far. A repeat of last year’s winning performance would be a shot in the arm for a team that had been running most of the schedule with their second-favorite car.

O’Connell took the lead shortly after the next restart, but trouble for Matt Frahm drew another yellow flag with 44 laps complete. This time, O’Connell would have to hold off Joey Polewarczyk, who had slipped past Doiron for second.

Polewarczyk has an interesting relationship with Hudson Speedway. Despite growing up near the track, Pole had not turned a competitive lap there since 2002. In fact, the Gate City 100 was Pole’s first visit to the track in a full-sized stock car, as his usual haunts (the ACT Tour and the Pro All Stars Series) did not race there. What Pole lacked in track experience, he was not lacking in competitive experience.

Polewarczyk took the lead on the restart and drove away from O’Connell, leaving Jimmy Renfrew, Jr. and Joey Doiron in a battle for fifth on back. A spin for Tom Rosati gave O’Connell a shot at the lead, but Polewarczyk left the field in the dust on the restart. Another yellow with five to go closed up the lead battle, but O’Connell had nothing for the young veteran in the top spot when the green flag dropped. In his first GSPSS start since 2014, Joey Polewarczyk dominated the second half of the race en route to victory.

Polewarczyk’s win was his third of the year, with two prior victories in an ACT Late Model. Pole’s GSPSS win streak also stayed alive, with victories in his only other series starts in 2013 and 2014. In the race’s final moments, no one else on the track was close.

Devin O’Connell held on for second, his second-straight runner-up finish and his first opportunity to gain points on leader Joey Doiron. Doiron took advantage of late contact to steal third place after slipping as deep as fourth in the field. Jimmy Renfrew, Jr. and Mike O’Sullivan finished fourth and fifth.

Fast qualifier Cory Casagrande was sixth, with Jacob Dore spinning across the line to finish seventh. Mike Mitchell was eighth. Todd Stone dropped out of the top five in the closing laps, limping across the line in ninth with Angelo Belsito tenth.

Wayne Helliwell, Jr. had a frustrating evening, qualifying well but losing ground in the outside groove on restarts. The three-time ACT champion finished a disappointing eleventh. Tom Rosati, Bobby Pelland, Kevin Folan and Josh King rounded out the top fifteen. Matt Frahm was sixteenth. Ray Christian III was a heartbreaking seventeenth, last in the field, after suffering mechanical issues only seven laps into the event.

In the points standings, Joey Doiron’s lead over O’Connell will shrink insignificantly. Behind them exists a gulf back to third, fourth and fifth place. Ray Christian III’s early exit likely ended his title bid, with Josh King closing in slightly. But with no-shows for the next four drivers in the standings, Jimmy Renfrew, Jr. will likely move into the top five after a slow start. The season is still young, but with Doiron nearly a race’s worth of points ahead of RC3 entering the weekend, the battle for the title realistically looks like a two-way fight.

Prior to the race, talk on the PA system surrounded a possibility of a late addition of a second Hudson race to the 2019 schedule. With the next event on the schedule booked at the beleaguered New London-Waterford (Conn.) Speedbowl, the GSPSS was entertaining alternatives for a replacement event. However, the pieces did not fall in place for a quick return to Hudson Speedway in August.

Instead, the GSPSS will pause for a few weeks before reconvening on August 17th for the JBH 150 at Monadnock Speedway in Winchester, N.H. The annual event, extended to 150 laps this year, is dedicated to the memory of GSPSS co-founder John “Boy” Holt. The race weekend will also feature an appearance for the Valenti Modified Racing Series.

PASS NORTH: GERRY RETURNS TO FORM WITH SUNDAY NIGHT OXFORD WIN

With the Oxford 250 looming, the Pro All Stars Series North teams are granted one long-distance shakedown before the big race in August. However, this year’s final opportunity for points-paying prep fell over a month before the 250. PASS’ third stop at Oxford Plains Speedway for the season fell on a weekend once held by nearby Beech Ridge Motor Speedway, and with rain nudging the Open 100 forward one week, many teams got two straight weeks at home shaping up for the big race.

While last year’s feature drew a deep field only a few weeks before the 250, this year’s event had twenty-nine teams in attendance with more than a month of weekly features to go before the big race. Names like Curtis Gerry, Kelly Moore and Mike Rowe gave the race a local look, while names like Eddie MacDonald, Cassius Clark and Cole Butcher hinted at the race’s significance to those prepping for August. One surprise entry came from former ACT rising star Ben Ashline. Ashline, now an employee of Jeff Taylor’s Distance Racing Products, was in a car owned by Wiscasset regular Ajay Picard. Beech Ridge regular Billy Rodgers was in a Petit Motorsports #7NC entry that had reportedly been bought by Go FAS Racing team co-owner Archie St. Hilaire. Veteran Jeff White, GSPSS veteran Michael Scorzelli and Seekonk regular Craig Weinstein rounded out the diverse field.

DJ Shaw, Ben Rowe and Cole Butcher won the three heats to set the starting lineup, with Rowe and Butcher lining up on the front row for the 150-lap tilt. Curtis Gerry, winner of the Open 100 a week before, was fifth on the grid. Garrett Hall, winner of both points races at Oxford in 2019, was lined up in thirteenth.

Ben Rowe, by comparison, had not won at Oxford since 2016. More often, the multi-time PASS champion had struggled at the track, much as he had done the last year and a half. And when the cars were right, bad luck often erased a solid performance. But Rowe and Richard Moody Racing soldiered on, winning a race in 2018 despite the misfortune.

And in the early laps Sunday, Rowe held the point. Behind him, Ben Ashline was working traffic in his borrowed ride, looking like an established veteran in his first PASS start. Ashline briefly took the lead, with Rowe battling back to the top spot just past halfway.

Curtis Gerry, meanwhile, had slipped into the top-three conversation, following Rowe past Ashline and into second. Gerry had suffered the kind of frustration that many drivers would beg for. At the weekly level, the local veteran had earned his second Beech Ridge Pro Series championship in 2018. He and his family-owned team moved to Oxford for the 2019 season, winning three feature wins so far and securing the Oxford Championship Series points lead.

But Gerry’s win in the non-points Open 100 a week before was his first PASS-sanctioned triumph since last year’s early-August prelude to the 250, almost a year ago. A couple good finishes were intertwined with a 250 wreck and a few other disappointments that fell far short of Gerry’s 2017-2018 Oxford winning streak.

Gerry dispatched Ben Rowe only a few laps after Rowe re-established his lead, and set off into the sunset. It was a replay of Gerry’s 2017 and 2018 races at Oxford; once he was in the lead, he was nigh untouchable. In the closing laps, Rowe managed to stay within sight of Gerry, but catching the black Ford was out of the question.

Gerry took the checkers first for his first official PASS win of 2019 and his seventh career victory, all coming since the 2017 Oxford 250. Ben Rowe crossed the line second, his best performance of 2019 and only his third top ten of the season. Nick Sweet was third, with Eddie MacDonald and Reid Lanpher rounding out the top five.

Ben Ashline was sixth in his first PASS start in the Ajay Picard #99. Veteran Johnny Clark was seventh, with early-season Oxford winner Garrett Hall eighth. Travis Benjamin was ninth, and Canada’s Cole Butcher was tenth.

Veterans filled out the top fifteen, with Kelly Moore leading Cassius Clark, Mike Rowe, Tracy Gordon and DJ Shaw. Shaw, who started the season with four straight top-two finishes, has not finished in the top five since then. Shaw’s teammate Gabe Brown, the 2018 Oxford track champion, was 17th. Derek Griffith, the other title hopeful in the back half of the field, had a day to forget, finishing 27th after a mid-race wreck.

Billy Rodgers, in the Archie St. Hilaire-owned #7NC, was 16th. Alan Tardiff, another Oxford track champion, was 18th. Rookie Jake Johnson was 20th. Bobby Therrien was 22nd. GSPSS feature winner Jeremy Davis was 24th, two laps back. Twenty-eight cars took the green flag, with Scott Robbins unable to answer the call for the feature.

Gerry’s win was the second Oxford win and the fifth win of the season for the venerable ABC body, but behind Gerry was a stout fleet of Gen-6 cars, with only Ben Ashline and Travis Benjamin joining him in the top ten. Cole Butcher’s team rolled out a new Camaro-bodied car for the race, surprising since the new sheetmetal has not been approved in the Pro Stock Tour where Butcher usually races. The field was an even split among teams running the new bodies and teams hanging onto the old sheetmetal.

The twenty-eight car field was far short of last year’s equivalent feature, where fifty cars filed entries for a field that started thirty-five of them. Last year’s race, however, was held on the last weekend in July, far closer to the 250 itself. With the big race over a month away, teams still have three weekly features to use as a 250 tune-up. And the GSPSS race at Hudson that evening drew a few likely contestants, like Ray Christian III, Joey Doiron, Joey Polewarczyk and Wayne Helliwell, Jr., all drivers likely to enter the 250 field.

The ninth race on the PASS North schedule is set for Saturday at White Mountain Motorsports Park, a race that positions the touring series not far from the weekend’s big-league NASCAR activity at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

LOCAL RACING: KUHN SCORES HOMECOMING VICTORY, DRAGON AND WELCH KEEP ROLLING

Scott Dragon kicked off the week with a Thursday-night feature win at Thunder Road International Speedbowl. Dragon held off last-minute substitute Nick Sweet for his third feature win of the year.

Oxford Plains Speedway’s regular 50-lap weekly feature went to Calvin Rose, Jr., who won yet another caution-free shootout on the legendary track. Points leader Curtis Gerry rolled off 19th in the 20-car field, but drove to second place by feature’s end, with veteran Tim Brackett finishing third. Dan Winter was fourth with a visiting Cole Butcher in fifth. Butcher was not the only PASS driver making a doubleheader out of the weekend; Reid Lanpher (tenth), Michael Scorzelli (18th) and Cassius Clark (19th) also started the weekly feature. Rose now sits third in track points behind Gerry and Ryan Deane. Multi-time track champion TJ Brackett was not in the field.

At Beech Ridge Motor Speedway, Trevor Sanborn edged out veteran Gary Smith for his first feature win of the season. Dave Farrington, Jr. and David Oliver sit tied atop the weekly points with Corey Bubar only a few markers back for the track title.

White Mountain Motorsports Park ran a double feature Saturday night for the weekly Late Models, with Scott Corey winning the opening event to make up for a rain-delayed feature in June. In the 60-lap main event, Quinny Welch topped Oren Remick and Stacy Cahoon for his third feature win of the year. ACT contenders making a run in the weekly feature included Christopher Pelkey (sixth), Stephen Donahue (eighth), and Reilly Lanphear (15th), while Star Speedway regular Erick Sands was 11th. Back at Star, Jimmy Renfrew, Jr. warmed up for Sunday’s GSPSS feature at Hudson Speedway with his first Late Model win of the year, beating Jay Sands and Matt Anderson for the victory.

With the ACT Tour on break, Ryan Kuhn returned home in style, winning Seekonk Speedway’s weekly Late Model feature over Vinnie Arrenegado and Mark Jenison. In the Pro Stocks, David Darling picked up his fourth feature win of the year, beating Fred Astle in a ten-car main event.

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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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