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New England Notebook: Weekly racing returns, Griffith earns WMMP win with back-to-front drive

Griffith-Clark Oxford 2019
Derek Griffith (#12G) outlasted 28 other Super Late Models, including early leader Johnny Clark (#54), to win his first PASS North race of 2020 last Sunday at White Mountain Motorsports Park. (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 GOES FROM ALMOST-WORST TO FIRST AT WMMP

On a weekend usually reserved on the schedule for a trip to Speedway 95 outside Bangor, Maine, the Pro All Stars Series North schedule made a return trip to White Mountain Motorsports Park for the second race of the 2020 season.

Racing in front of fans for the first time this year, the PASS North cars were primed for another 150-lap battle on the North Woodstock, N.H. quarter-mile that had hosted races for PASS and the American-Canadian Tour so far.

Thirty Super Late Models were in the pits on Sunday, with the entry list looking a lot like it had two weeks before. Not at the track for the season’s second event were Mike Hopkins and Evan Hallstrom, along with part-timers Eddie MacDonald and Wayne Helliwell, Jr. New visitors for the weekend included former PASS feature winner Jeremy Davis, GSPSS star Ray Christian III, and weekly racers Alan Wilson and Corey Bubar from Maine. Tom Scully, Jr. and John Lowinski-Loh had towed up from Massachusetts and Connecticut to give it a shot as well.

RECAP: From worst to first, Griffith outlasts field for PASS WMMP glory

Curtis Gerry, Johnny Clark, Austin Teras and DJ Shaw won the four heats, with Jeremy Davis and Alan Tardiff taking consi wins. Gerry and Clark would lead the field to green over Teras and Shaw, with season-opener winner Nick Sweet mired deep in the field in 19th. Dan McKeage withdrew before the feature, leaving 29 cars to take the green flag to close out the afternoon’s feature racing.

Two weeks before, Johnny Clark had set the early race pace at WMMP. And for the second straight race, the six-time PASS North champion was fast, leaving Curtis Gerry in the dust from the drop of the green and building a lead over DJ Shaw’s #122. Clark’s last PASS North win had come at WMMP in 2016. Since then, the veteran had come close to winning, with runner-up finishes at WMMP last year and at Oxford in 2018.

But the actual checkered flag had been elusive.

As Clark drove away from the field, the rest of the teams were left to battle the elements. An unseasonably-hot June day with temperatures in the nineties put pressure on teams and right front tires, and despite no on-track incidents of note, plenty of teams called it quits on their own terms, reporting to the pits after being lapped. At the front, Ben Rowe and Austin Teras got past Shaw, and both were closing rapidly on Johnny Clark as he tried to lap a stubborn Kelly Moore at halfway.

Clark’s lead had been all but erased when the yellow flew at lap 76 for Nick Sweet losing a tire in turn two. As Sweet came pitside for service, Clark lined up alongside Rowe for a restart with nineteen cars still in the running.

On the start, Rowe jumped out to the lead, with DJ Shaw diving for second place and Johnny Clark now relegated to third. The on-track struggles for the field continued, with Austin Teras peeling off for the pits while running fourth, and Cassius Clark stopping on track a few laps later. When Nick Sweet pulled high for the pits and had to stop for Clark’s disabled car, another caution flag came out on lap 94.

Rowe, whose own last PASS win had come at WMMP in 2018, was leading over DJ Shaw, with Clark in third and Gabe Brown fourth. But battling both Clark and Brown for the third spot was the new fifth-place runner, Derek Griffith. Griffith, who won both PASS visits to WMMP in 2019, had struggled through qualifying. He had started 28th in the field, with only Andy Saunders rolling off behind him. But Griffith had patiently picked his way through traffic and had outlasted half the field already. With just over fifty laps remaining, he was in striking distance.

On the restart, DJ Shaw powered ahead to take the lead, leaving Rowe to fend off Johnny Clark, Gabe Brown, Griffith and Jeremy Davis. Rowe cooled his tires before setting off after Shaw, closing back in on the bumper of the leader with 30 laps to go. A caution for Alan Tardiff brought Rowe alongside Shaw for a restart, and as Rowe slipped ahead into first, Johnny Clark lost a tire, slowing the race once again with Rowe in the lead.

Griffith lined up third for the green flag, and as Ben Rowe moved high to block DJ Shaw, Griffith dove low to get past Shaw, then Rowe, taking the lead with thirteen laps remaining. Garrett Hall spun while racing Shaw for third, drawing the rare caution flag for an incident and giving both Rowe and Shaw a shot at Griffith.

Griffith got the best of both on the next restart, though, and as he pulled away, Shaw made contact with Rowe that sent the #4 spinning in turn four. Jeremy Davis wove through the spin to take second, with Gabe Brown moving up to third.

Once out front, Griffith was in winning form. The race went green to the end, and while Davis gave chase, he could never close in enough to make a move. Griffith led the final thirteen laps en route to his first win of the year. The win was Griffith’s third in his last four visits to WMMP, and his eleventh career PASS North win, all coming in the Louie Mechalides-prepared #12G.

Jeremy Davis’ runner-up finish was well worth celebrating. Davis, at one time a full-time PASS competitor, cut his schedule back after 2016 to focus on his new chassis shop, Davis Chassis Works. Despite plenty of speed at times, the Tamworth, N.H. racer had not finished in the top five in PASS since that 2016 season. Indeed, the second-place result was Davis’ best PASS finish since winning at Autodrome Montmagny in 2015.

Gabe Brown finished a career-best third, with DJ Shaw coming home fourth after the late-race run-in with Ben Rowe. Fifth was Ryan Kuhn, who had pitted mid-race to get some relief from the heat.

Alan Tardiff came back from his flat tire to finish a strong sixth, with Ray Christian III coming home quietly in seventh. Johnny Clark’s own rebound ended with a disappointing eighth-place finish, while Ben Rowe and Garrett Hall finished at the back of the top ten after their late spins.

Travis Benjamin was the last car on the lead lap in eleventh, and the last car on the track. Of the 29 starters, only eleven made it to the end, with Trevor Sanborn dropping out with only a few laps to go. The heat and humidity cooked more than engines and tires; rookie Kate Re, in only her second Super Late Model start and her second long-distance race ever, dropped out early after feeling the effects of the heat. With Re and Kuhn, two of the field’s youngest competitors, affected by the summer weather, surely other drivers were feeling the same stress behind the wheel.

Kelly Moore was scored 13th after falling off the pace late in the going. Derek Ramstrom and Curtis Gerry dropped out in the final third of the race. Cassius Clark, in the Chad Dow #39, was scored sixteenth, one spot ahead of Nick Sweet. Austin Teras, after a strong start to the day, was scored 19th with 82 laps complete. Kate Re was 22nd in her second SLM start. Ben Ashline was 23rd and Brandon Barker 24th.

With two races complete, DJ Shaw sits atop the points, with Alan Tardiff second and Travis Benjamin third. Johnny Clark and Gabe Brown round out the top five in points. Trevor Sanborn sits sixth ahead of Nick Sweet, with Ramstrom eighth, Ryan Kuhn ninth, and Garrett Hall tenth. Derek Griffith’s win moved him to 12th in points. For all the disparities, only fifty points separate the top 15 drivers in the standings.

Among that top fifteen, though, it is hard to speculate who will challenge DJ Shaw as he chases a fifth PASS North championship. Tardiff, a former Oxford Plains Speedway weekly champion, ran a limited schedule last year. Johnny Clark has not run full-time since 2017. Sanborn has not run full-time since 2010. Ramstrom rarely chases championship points, and Kuhn would seem likely to make an American-Canadian Tour title run after winning top rookie honors last year.

And Griffith commented on Twitter that, with his new ARCA opportunity in hand, he will not pursue the PASS title.

All of the above, combined with the wildcard of a schedule that evolves by the week, makes it nearly impossible to guess who will be able to pose the greatest threat to Shaw down the stretch.

This Sunday’s race should provide some clarity as the PASS North teams get their first home game of 2020. Maine has allowed tracks to open without fans, and both PASS and the ACT Tour will convene at Oxford Plains Speedway for a Sunday doubleheader. The Northeast Sports Network will again provide Pay-Per-View live streaming for fans to follow along at home.

SCHEDULE CHANGES: GSPSS CHANGES VENUE FOR INDEPENDENCE DAY EVENT, PASS SOLIDIFIES NEXT RACES

Counting Oxford this weekend, the next two dates on the PASS schedule are set. Teams will race Sunday afternoon, then turn around quickly for a Friday-night show at White Mountain Motorsports Park. The third visit to WMMP will be part of a two-day double feature with PASS headlining Friday and the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour headlining Saturday. The Modifieds have never raced at WMMP.

The Granite State Pro Stock Series has moved Friday’s Firecracker 100 to a home-field race at Claremont Motorsports Park, marking the third-straight series event at the third-mile hillside oval. Lee USA Speedway was set to host the series’ second race of 2020, but changes to the evening’s racing card made accommodating the touring series too challenging.

The next event on the GSPSS calendar, the Gate City 100 at Hudson Speedway, looks to be intact for mid-July, but a further schedule has not been determined. Events at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in Maine and New London-Waterford (Conn.) Speedbowl could be at risk with current restrictions in place, but the allowances for events and fan attendance are a moving target, and both races could become viable in days.

WEEKLY RACING: THUNDER ROAD OPENS, GRAVEL TAKES OPENING-NIGHT CHECKERS

White Mountain Motorsports Park opened its weekly schedule last Sunday, with Derek Ming scoring the season-opening checkered flag over Stephen Donahue and defending champion Quinny Welch. Nineteen cars turned out for the first weekly feature of the year, with Mike Benevides of Rhode Island and Peyton Lanphear the only two touring drivers to bolster the local field.

Trampas Demers finished second at Thunder Road International Speedbowl on Thursday evening, but picked up his 13th career feature win when winner Jason Corliss and third-place finisher Eric Chase were both disqualified in post-race inspection. Bobby Therrien was scored seventh after the disqualifications. Corliss’ disqualification and Scott Dragon’s failure to take the green flag at all could have huge implications in determining this year’s King of the Road.

Star Speedway opened their weekly racing card last week as well, though this year Star is sticking with a Group A/Group B format similar to Maine’s Wiscasset Speedway. Last week featured the 350 Supermodifieds; the track’s ACT-spec Late Models will open their season this weekend.

Maine tracks have the green light to open without fans, though the Jordan family that owns Wiscasset has said they will wait to open until they can have fan attendance. Beech Ridge Motor Speedway, Maine’s only track under the NASCAR umbrella, remains on hold as well. Oxford Plains Speedway hosted testing last weekend, but opened without fans this weekend. Maine still has some of the strictest reopening guidelines in New England.

UPCOMING EVENTS

The American-Canadian Tour and Pro All Stars Series will shine under the mid-day sun today with a doubleheader at Oxford Plains Speedway to continue their seasons. Live streaming Pay-Per-View coverage is available through the Vermont-based Northeast Sports Network.

The Granite State Pro Stock Series will race Friday night at Claremont Motorsports Park with limited fans in attendance. The Pro All Stars Series will race again at WMMP Friday night as well, giving fans their choice of tracks on Independence Day weekend.

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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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