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New England Notebook: Three tours in action, with Belsito, Clark and Corliss victorious

Angelo Belsito, Hudson Speedway 7-12-2020
Angelo Belsito earned his second Granite State Pro Stock Series win of the year at Claremont Motorsports Park last Friday night, establishing himself as a contender for the 2020 series title. (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.

ACT TOUR: CORLISS MAKES IT THREE STRAIGHT IN “SPRING” T-ROAD 150

It may have taken until July for the American-Canadian Tour to fit in a race at its home track. But for Jason Corliss, it was just like last May, and the May before it, as he bested the ACT Tour regulars to win his third straight Community Bank, N.A. 150 at Thunder Road International Speedbowl.

Corliss, a weekly regular at the Barre, Vt. oval, ran the full Tour schedule in 2017. But in seven Tour starts since the end of 2017, the reigning “King of the Road” has made the most of his part-time schedule, with four wins to show for his efforts. Sunday’s race was a particular beatdown, with Corliss leading all but one lap on his way to the checkered flag.

Brooks Clark poked his nose out front to lead one lap off a restart, but settled for second in the race in his first Tour start of the season. Third was former Thunder Road track champion Scott Dragon, who has podium finishes in his last four Tour starts at Thunder Road dating back to 2018. “Bad Boy” Bobby Therrien was fourth, with Stephen Donahue outdueling Christopher Pelkey for the final position in the top five.

Pelkey’s sixth-place finish was a career-best for the third-year Tour racer. Pro All Stars Series regular DJ Shaw, in the #04VT normally driven by Matthew Smith, was seventh ahead of defending Tour champion Rich Dubeau, Jimmy Hebert, and Derrick O’Donnell.

Sunday’s race had been re-inserted into the schedule in rapid fashion, after struggles with Massachusetts reopening guidelines for sporting venues kept Seekonk Speedway from welcoming a mid-week ACT/PASS doubleheader. PASS quickly scheduled a Friday appearance at Riverside Speedway in New Hampshire, while the Tour found the opportunity to reschedule May’s annual 150-lap tilt for Sunday.

Twenty-five cars turned out for the Sunday showdown, with Oxford winner Wayne Helliwell, Jr. and Joey Polewarczyk, Jr. not among them. Sophomore Trent Goodrow and rookie Jimmy Renfrew, Jr. were absent as well. Peyton and Reilly Lanphear both made the field, the first time the sisters have shared the track in 2020. The two siblings also required medical attention after the race for overheating, with big sister Reilly later learning she had driven at least part of the race with a dislocated shoulder.

With top tens in all three races, DJ Shaw leads the points standings by a single point, though he has only committed to running as much of the schedule as possible. Jimmy Hebert, last year’s runner-up, sits second with Ryan Kuhn third and defending champ Rich Dubeau fourth. Fourteen drivers have made all three starts so far; Marcel Gravel, tied for tenth in points, did not qualify for the season opener. With the weekly programs at Seekonk Speedway and Thompson Speedway still idle, Derek Gluchacki holds the lead in the rookie standings over Tom Carey III and Gravel.

The ACT Tour is off this weekend, but returns to action with next Saturday’s Midsummer Classic at White Mountain Motorsports Park. The New Hampshire oval will host the third, and second Tour-sanctioned, running of its 250-lap Late Model feature, with $10,000 to the winner. Eddie MacDonald and Wayne Helliwell are the previous winners of the big show.

GSPSS: BELSITO MAKES UP FOR CLAREMONT MISSTEPS WITH FRIDAY NIGHT WIN

Angelo Belsito had shown plenty of speed in the first two Granite State Pro Stock Series races of 2020, but the results to match had eluded him in the closing laps. In his next two starts, the Auburn, Mass. driver more than made up for it.

Belsito put on a clinic Friday night, taking his third career GSPSS win and his second straight in 2020 in the GSPSS’ last visit to Claremont Motorsports Park before September’s $10,000-to-win Labor Day event at the series’ home track.

RECAP: Belsito’s Redemption Arc Achieved With GSPSS Claremont 100 Win

Much like his win at Hudson Speedway two weeks before, Belsito found his way around the early race leaders before halfway, pulling away from the field and cruising to an easy win at the quirky New Hampshire third-mile. Luke Hinkley, the local favorite, crossed the line in second, a month after a late-race tangle with Belsito cost both drivers a shot at the win.

Early leader Joey Polewarczyk, Jr. was third, with Ray Christian III fourth and second-year driver Jake Matheson a career-best fifth.

After three strong starting fields to open the season, the car count faltered at Claremont, with only ten cars turning out for the race. Rookie Casey Call was absent as his sister’s high school graduation was the same evening, and Mike Mitchell’s racing schedule fell victim to a work commitment.

But the biggest absence in the pit area was that of reigning champion Joey Doiron. Doiron had made arrangements with team owner Wright Pearson to run the potent #16, a car that had won races in 2018 and 2019 with friend and former teammate Brandon Barker at the wheel. Pearson’s entry would allow Doiron to give his family team a break after a hectic summer. But trouble with the hauler kept the team from making it to Claremont, ending Doiron’s title defense only a few races into the season.

Doiron was not the only driver with a change of seat in mind. Ryan Lineham, who started the year in the Lindblad Racing #48, was at Claremont with his own #10 Pro Stock, with Seekonk Speedway regular Fred Astle in the Lindblad car. Lineham finished a season-best eighth, while Astle finished last in the ten-car field.

It bears mentioning that while the Pro All Stars Series teams were competing a couple hours north of Claremont, none of the cars at Riverside Speedway had chosen the PASS feature over the GSPSS event. More likely, the short field was driven by the challenges of Friday-night racing and the wider range of options available to teams and drivers as more businesses re-open in the wake of the pandemic. For those out of the championship battle, a missed race makes little impact.

Indeed, six drivers have made every race thus far, with Ray Christian III nursing a 14-point lead over Joey Polewarczyk. Angelo Belsito sits third on the strength of his two wins so far, with Jake Matheson fourth and Luke Hinkley fifth despite skipping the third race of the year at Hudson. Christian is an unsurprising points leader, given the momentum he carried from 2019. Christian’s competition is another story; few expected Joey Pole to be running for a championship, and Angelo Belsito has not run a full GSPSS campaign yet. And the most likely challengers for the throne in pre-season conversation have all missed at least one race so far.

The GSPSS returned to action Saturday evening at Monadnock Speedway in Winchester, N.H. A report on the event will be featured in next week’s Notebook.

PASS NORTH: CLARK BREAKS A DRY SPELL AT RIVERSIDE

In three visits to White Mountain Motorsports Park this season, Johnny Clark had been an early favorite, running out front and leading laps. And in three visits to WMMP, Clark’s hopes had been dashed each time.

But Clark’s early-season mishaps and misfortunes were set aside last Friday, as the six-time Pro All Stars Series champion celebrated in victory lane at Riverside Speedway in Groveton, N.H. for his first win of 2020 and the 40th PASS-sanctioned win of his career.

RECAP: Johnny Clark Ends Four-Year Dry Spell At Riverside

Clark started on the front row and led all 150 laps en route to his first PASS win since 2016, ending a long dry spell for the series veteran. Clark’s long-overdue victory adds to a win total that stands as second best in PASS’ twenty-year history, sandwiched between all-time win leader Ben Rowe and Ben’s father Mike.

Nick Sweet, starting deep in the pack, slipped past early challenger Eddie MacDonald to take second at the checkered flag. MacDonald, a former ACT Tour winner at Riverside, held on for third, with Travis Benjamin and DJ Shaw rounding out the top five.

Riverside was a last-minute addition to the ever-evolving 2020 schedule. The track was scheduled to host the PASS SLMs in 2019, but due to circumstances at the time, the event was postponed to 2020, then not scheduled as the track transitioned ownership late last year. DJ Shaw won the last event at the track in 2018, when it was named Speedway 51 in honor of then-owner Joey Laquerre’s late grandson, Joey M. Laquerre. Before that, Trevor Sanborn had won the most recent visit back in 2010.

Sanborn was also in the field, finishing 14th.

Not in the field for the Friday-night showdown was Alan Tardiff, whose consistency had inched him toward the top five in points. Jeremy Davis, who owns a few GSPSS wins at Riverside, made a rare start but was eliminated with a third of the race remaining, finishing 17th and last.

At the top of the standings, Nick Sweet leapfrogged Travis Benjamin to take the lead back by two markers, with DJ Shaw not too far behind. Clark, who has not run full-time since 2017, and sixth-place finisher Ben Rowe are fourth and fifth. Four other drivers have made all six races this year: Gabe Brown, Scott McDaniel, rookie Kate Re, and Ben Ashline.

The PASS North Super Late Models are off this weekend but will be back in action next Sunday, as part of White Mountain Motorsports Park’s second annual Midsummer Classic weekend.

WEEKLY RACING: BRACKETT, BUBAR TAKE MAINE CHECKERS, HODGDON DOUBLES UP AT WMMP

While the grandstand gates remained closed last week at Maine’s short tracks, plenty of action was playing out on the pavement. At Oxford Plains Speedway, veteran Tim Brackett nipped Joey Doiron at the line to win his first weekly feature of the 2020 season. Doiron, who has shown improvement each week in the new #21 ride, shook off the disappointment of Friday’s false start in the GSPSS to lead laps and finish second in preparation for the Oxford 250. Point leader and defending champion Curtis Gerry was third. Dave Farrington, who sits behind Gerry and Josh Childs in the points, was eighth. Father and son Mike and Ben Rowe were in the weekly feature as well, but dragged up the back of the 17-car field.

Beech Ridge Motor Speedway ran its second open-comp Pro Series event of the year, with Corey Bubar coming away with the checkers over Rusty Poland. Bubar dominated the PASS event at Oxford a few weeks ago, playing that success into a strong run in the 75-lap feature. PASS regular Garrett Hall was third, with Wyatt Alexander sixth and Evan Beaulieu seventh. Defending Maine NASCAR Weekly Series champion David Oliver was last in the ten-car field.

At White Mountain Motorsports Park, Joel Hodgdon earned his second win of 2020 in a door-to-door duel with Christian Laflamme, who won his first race a week before. Hodgdon ran the bulk of the ACT Tour schedule in 2020, but a weekly focus has paid dividends thus far. Stephen Donahue rounded out the podium. Quinny Welch succumbed to a rare mechanical failure, ending a top-five streak reaching well into last season and costing him the track points lead to Stacy Cahoon. Laflamme, who sits fifth in the points, is the highest-ranked driver to reach victory lane this year. The night’s racing was capped off by a feature for the North East Mini Stock Tour, won by 2018 NEMST champion and current GSPSS regular Cody Leblanc.

At Thunder Road International Speedbowl, Cody Blake and Christopher Pelkey inherited the top two positions after a late-race wreck at the front of the field Thursday evening, with Blake holding off Pelkey for his first Late Model win of the season. Jason Corliss, an ACT Tour winner Sunday afternoon, came home third. ACT Tour regulars Bobby Therrien and Marcel J. Gravel were sixth and eighth, with PASS star Nick Sweet finishing a disappointing 18th in the 19-car field in a rare weekly start for car owner Eric Chase. Gravel leads the standings over Corliss, who sits second despite a disqualification early in the year.

At long last, Maine’s tracks will be allowed to welcome fans back this weekend, albeit with several restrictions. Tracks are still limited to 200 fans with extreme distancing measures in place. With the new rules, Wiscasset Speedway will welcome cars back to the track, making good on their promise earlier in the season. Oxford will also allow fans back to the track in accordance with the new restrictions, giving fans hope that a fan-free Oxford 250 will not be in the cards.

UPCOMING EVENTS

The American-Canadian Tour and Pro All Stars Series teams will convene upon White Mountain Motorsports Park in North Woodstock, N.H. next weekend for a two-day double feature. The ACT Late Models will headline Saturday with the annual $10,000-to-win Midsummer 250. The PASS Super Late Models will race Sunday in their own 150-lap feature, the fourth of the season at WMMP.

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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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