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: CONTROVERSY HANDS WIN TO JOHNSON, THEN WALL, AT THOMPSON; PAYEA EARNS SECOND-STRAIGHT ACT CROWN
One of the tightest championship battles in the Northeast was on display Saturday night at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park, with the American-Canadian Tour Late Models competing in the final event of their ten-race season. Though the Tour had not raced for points since September, teams had occupied themselves during the layover with a number of special events including the annual Vermont Milk Bowl. Like many other regional tours, their season championship would be settled as part of the Sunoco World Series.
Defending ACT Tour champion Scott Payea held the advantage in the title chase heading to Thompson, riding a streak of unparalleled consistency. Payea only needed a top-ten finish to clinch the championship. Behind him, Eddie MacDonald was poised to strike. “The Outlaw” had momentum on his side, with a win in September’s long-distance feature at White Mountain Motorsports Park, and a win the night before in Thompson’s GSPSS feature. Third-place Jimmy Hebert, meanwhile, hoped to play the spoiler. Hebert had enjoyed a season of resurgence despite battling adversity, winning his first two races since 2013 and nipping at the heels of Payea and MacDonald all season.
Thompson’s final weekly Late Model event of the season was part of Friday night’s program, and a number of the Thompson regulars opted to stick around to compete in the 75-lap ACT feature as well. In all, thirty-five cars reported for tech inspection, with 26 spots available on the starting grid. Representing Thompson’s weekly competitors were 2018 feature winners Tom Carey III, Ryan Morgan, William Wall and Mark Jenison. Seekonk Speedway track champion Ryan Kuhn, who had made a few Tour starts through the season, made the trip to Thompson, along with top Seekonk Pro Stock rookie Jake Johnson. Woody Pitkat, who had entries in many of the weekend’s divisions, was entered in the black #07MA Ford. Brooks Clark, a Thunder Road regular, was at Thompson to run a big-track test of the newly-approved GM 602 crate engine. Jean-François Déry, the top winner on the CSCC LMS circuit, accompanied full-timer Claude Leclerc in representing the province of Quebec. NASCAR driver Alex Labbé was slated to race for Larue Motorsports, but the team did not make the trip.
Morning rains that lingered longer than expected ensured that Saturday’s schedule got off to a late start, with cars not taking to the track until the afternoon. Tom Carey III, hours after narrowly missing out on the Thompson track championship, was atop the leaderboard in practice. With Reilly Lanphear under the weather, sister Peyton Lanphear shook down her car before handing the wheel to Thunder Road and White Mountain Motorsports Park regular Stephen Donahue for the evening.
Championship drama kicked off immediately in the heats, as a collision coming to the green flag collected Jimmy Hebert instantly. Hebert’s car was towed back to the pit area; it appeared his championship run was over prematurely. Jean-François Déry, William Wall and Eddie MacDonald split the three heats.
Jimmy Hebert’s team was still working on their car when fifteen cars rolled out for the last-chance qualifier, won by Thompson regular Paul “Buddy” Charette. Six cars transferred from the last-chance race, leaving the officials facing a dilemma. Two provisionals remained for ACT’s full-time drivers. Hebert was eligible for a provisional, but his team was still thrashing to get their car repaired for the feature. With Hebert’s team an uncertainty, officials awarded the provisionals to fellow full-timers Peyton Lanphear and Jimmy Linardy. If Hebert’s team completed repairs, they would be allowed to start shotgun on the field in 27th. Meanwhile, Bryan Mason, C.J. McLaughlin, Matt Anderson and others prepared to load up early.
A crash-plagued ninety-minute feature for the Valenti Modified Racing Series was a frustration for fans and competitors, but likely a godsend for the Hebert team, as they were able to complete repairs in time for the green flag. Rich Dubeau and Tom Carey III, based on their plus-minus scores from the heats, brought the field to green just after 9pm.
While Carey had shown speed in practice, it was Dubeau who asserted himself at the head of the field early on. The New Hampshire racer had come a long way from his first year on the Tour, becoming a bigger factor in the top five with each season. Dubeau was still searching for his first win, though. A coming-out party in the World Series would make Rich Dubeau the second first-time winner of the season.
Dubeau pulled out to a small lead over Carey, and as the race stayed under green, it appeared the fourth-year driver would earn his first victory. Deeper in the pack, Eddie MacDonald carved through traffic, knocking on the door of the top five. With Scott Payea just a few spots behind him, and Jimmy Hebert only halfway through the field after starting last, the title was still Payea’s to lose.
But then Chip Grenier spun to bring out the race’s first caution flag with nine laps remaining, bunching up the field. Friday night feature winner Mark Jenison, running in the top five, spun on the restart to bring out an immediate yellow, followed by another restart spin that included points leader Scott Payea. With MacDonald climbing into the top three, Payea had to finish eighth or better, and with a couple more quick cautions, the veteran was back to thirteenth.
With four laps remaining, Carey and Dubeau brought the field to green once again. Carey held the slightest advantage on the inside, with Dubeau outside as they raced through the turns. But off turn two, the leaders made slight contact, and both cars spun from the lead pack down the backstretch. Neither car was seriously damaged, but the drivers saw their hopes for a career-first victory slip away.
Eddie MacDonald had been in third, and briefly assumed the top spot, but race control black-flagged MacDonald for his apparent role in the incident. Video would later exonerate MacDonald, but without evidence, “The Outlaw” accepted the penalty, falling to the rear of the field and watching his championship hopes disappear in an instant.
Nick Sweet assumed the lead in the fracas, with rookie Jake Johnson alongside the former Tour champion. On the restart, Johnson took off, rocketing into the lead for the first time all night. Nick Sweet was forced to battle with Thompson regular William Wall while Johnson held the advantage for the final four laps. At the checkered flag, it was fifteen-year-old Jake Johnson, in his first career ACT Tour start, taking the win over William Wall and Nick Sweet.
Johnson’s frontstretch celebration, however, was yet another moment of short-lived glory in a night that had been replete with them. Post-race inspection found a chassis violation on the #15MA Late Model, and Johnson was disqualified, consigned to the final position in the field.
Instead, the win was handed to second-place finisher William Wall. Wall, the 2016 Thompson Speedway Late Model champ and a feature winner in April, only had five Tour starts to his credit before Saturday’s race. His best finish, sixth, came in last year’s World Series 75. While the laps had been split among three other drivers seeking a first career win, it was Wall who ultimately took the trophy.
Nick Sweet, stymied on the restart by rear-end damage to his #40VT, was credited with second, with Jean-François Déry finishing third. Woody Pitkat, perhaps the busiest driver at the World Series, finished fourth after clinching the Valenti Modified Racing Series title just over an hour earlier. Ryan Morgan, a three-time Thompson feature winner in 2018, finished fifth for a career-best Tour performance.
Seekonk Speedway track champion Ryan Kuhn finished sixth, ahead of Scott Payea, who rebounded from his late-race spin to finish seventh. Mark Jenison earned a career-best eighth-place finish. Jimmy Hebert, after doubting whether he would make the starting grid, soldiered on to finish ninth. Rich Dubeau, after leading 68 laps, finished a discouraging tenth, with Tom Carey III eleventh.
Scott Payea’s seventh-place finish, best in class among the championship contenders even before Johnson’s disqualification, was more than enough to secure the championship for himself and RPM Motorsports. The championship is Payea’s second and a tenth for car owner Rick Paya, who won titles with drivers Brian Hoar and Jean-Paul Cyr. Hoar famously scored a walk-off win in the World Series in 2015, announcing his retirement in victory lane. Rick Paya called upon Payea, who came out of his own retirement to become a champion. Though Payea only won two races compared to last year’s five, the Milton, Vermont racer never finished out of the top ten, with top-five results in eight of the ten races this year.
Eddie MacDonald finished a frustrating twelfth after the late-race penalty. MacDonald felt that he had been incorrectly penalized, costing his team not only a possible win, but likely the championship as well. In fairness to the officials, calling penalties in a short-track environment, with limited access to replays and alternate angles, is often a challenge. With a championship on the line, though, the pressure is there to make the right call. An apology does little to soften the blow of what a team feels was a $12,000 mistake, but could be critical to building bridges as teams begin to plan for the 2019 season.
MacDonald still ranked second in the season-ending standings, ahead of Jimmy Hebert, who turned in a stout season despite a mid-season crash that threatened to derail their title bid. Rich Dubeau finished fourth in points, with Corey Mason fifth in his first full year on the Tour. Dylan Payea, younger cousin of champion Scott, was sixth in points in his first season, earning ACT Rookie of the Year honors. Canadian veteran Claude Leclerc, who turned 77 last week, ended the year seventh in the standings. Brian Tagg, Bryan Mason and Chip Grenier, who each missed races this year, rounded out the top ten in points.
With the ACT season over, attention now turns to next year and what changes could be in store in the rulebook, on the schedule, and among the teams competing for the championship.
GSPSS: MACDONALD SCORES THOMPSON VICTORY, DOIRON’S TITLE HOPES CRASH
Thompson Speedway’s Sunoco World Series program kicked off with a Friday-night racing card that featured the Granite State Pro Stock Series as its top event. Unlike most of the tours racing at Thompson through the weekend, the GSPSS was not slated to decide its points championship at the World Series. Rather, the fifty-lap tilt was the penultimate event on the calendar, with one more race the following Saturday at New London-Waterford (CT) Speedbowl.
Barring any surprises, the title race had been pared down to two drivers. Devin O’Connell held a twenty-point advantage over Joey Doiron, with Doiron spotting O’Connell one win and a fair bit of misfortune. The gap behind Doiron was more of a chasm, with three of the season’s top challengers dropping out of the race in recent weeks.
The nineteen-car field brought a host of heavy hitters to challenge for a GSPSS win. Seekonk Speedway Pro Stock champion David Darling, PASS and Modified wheelman Derek Ramstrom, and 1996 Oxford 250 winner “Lightning” Larry Gelinas were among the veteran visitors looking to dethrone the GSPSS regulars. Eddie MacDonald, in the hunt for the ACT Tour championship to be settled Saturday, was performing double-duty with Dave Lemieux’s #17MA Super Late Model. Mainers Brad Babb and Dave Farrington, Jr. added to a deep field that included young Jimmy Renfrew, Jr., who finished in the top ten in April’s PASS North race at Thompson. Missing in action were Jeremy Davis, victim of a crash at Lee, and the Bob Labine-owned #72 usually driven by Guy Caron.
MacDonald and Farrington won the two heats to set the grid, with Tommy O’Sullivan leading the field to green alongside Vermont’s Todd Stone. Farrington was gridded fourth and MacDonald fifth after the redraw. Devin O’Connell would roll off 12th; Doiron would start deep in the field in 17th.
Drama found the points leaders early on, with Larry Gelinas losing control seven laps into the race and veering into Devin O’Connell’s path. O’Connell tried to dodge the wreck, but clipped Gelinas’ car and reported to the pits for repairs. Gelinas’ day was over, but O’Connell could soldier on. Only a few laps later, Joey Doiron broke loose off turn four, spinning in front of O’Connell. When the smoke cleared, Doiron’s left rear tire and hub rested a few feet away on the track. An axle failure had ended Doiron’s day early, and with O’Connell still running, possibly any lingering championship hopes as well.
At the front of the field, early leader Todd Stone hoped to improve on two consecutive second-place finishes at Monadnock and Lee. Eddie MacDonald, however, had other ideas. MacDonald seized the lead from Stone just before Doiron’s spin. After the restart, MacDonald diced for the lead with Stone and Tommy O’Sullivan, but as the field stretched out under green, “The Outlaw” began building a lead over his closest challengers.
Lapped traffic in the final laps of the feature gave Stone a reprieve as he was able to run down MacDonald, but as soon as they had cleared the slower cars, MacDonald set off again, with Stone left to hold off Tommy O’Sullivan. With five to go, Stone and O’Sullivan made contact, losing touch with MacDonald as they held onto the podium.
If MacDonald had hoped for the GSPSS race to serve as a practice session for Saturday’s ACT feature, the mission was accomplished. MacDonald coasted to the checkers for his second career GSPSS win in only four starts. Thompson’s victory lane was not unfamiliar to the big-track veteran; MacDonald won in both PASS and ACT competition in 2017.
Todd Stone held onto second place for his third straight runner-up finish, with Tommy O’Sullivan finishing third despite his nearly-off-track excursion. Ray Christian III finished fourth with Mike O’Sullivan rounding out the top five. Brad Babb in the red #42, Dave Farrington, Jr., Scott MacMichael, Jimmy Renfrew, Jr. and Josh King completed the top ten.
Devin O’Connell finished eleventh. Paired with Joey Doiron’s 16th-place DNF, O’Connell now leads the standings by thirty points. Ray Christian III, after missing a race earlier this year, now sits a distant third in the standings, with Mike O’Sullivan poised to move past Cory Casagrande as long as he starts the final race of the season. Josh King could also move into the top five with a win in the season finale.
The GSPSS title chase comes to a close Saturday at New London-Waterford Speedbowl in coastal Connecticut. Devin O’Connell should only need to take the green flag and avoid on-track catastrophe to secure his first GSPSS championship in his second year on the circuit.
PASS NORTH: CLARK DOMINATES BUT LANPHER WINS AT OXFORD
With most of the weekend’s racing action centered upon the World Series at Thompson, the Pro All Stars Series had a venue all to itself. Oxford Plains Speedway was the scene for the final PASS North race of the season in the state of Maine, with Saturday’s feature racing part of a weekend that included a year-ending Motor Mayhem event on Sunday.
The series’ fifth points-counting race at Oxford was originally slated to be the season finale when the schedule was drafted. However, the mid-season addition of a season-ending PASS North event at Seekonk Speedway shifted the Oxford event to the penultimate race in the eighteen-stop schedule. And yet for many teams based in Maine, particularly those not in the running for championship honors, the Oxford race would serve as their season finale, a final opportunity for victory on home soil.
With all that at stake, 42 teams were in the pits Saturday to prepare for 150 laps at Oxford. Many of the usual suspects were on hand: Reid Lanpher and Curtis Gerry were hoping to add to their season win totals, while Johnny Clark, Tracy Gordon and Glen Luce hoped to redeem part-time schedules with a victory. Brandon Barker, Corey Bubar and Bill Rodgers were among the Beech Ridge regulars in the lineup, while Gabe Brown, Tim and TJ Brackett and Alan Tardiff represented the Oxford regulars. Scott Mulkern, whose car had been idle all year, returned to action in his white #84.
Some new names were in the pits as well. Josh Childs, a weekly competitor at Oxford, had a brand-new Distance Racing Products car in the pits as he looked to move to Super Late Models in 2019. Bryce Mains, who made the jump from Street Stocks to SLMs in 2018 on a part-time basis, was looking to make his first PASS start in his #77 entry. A day after his GSPSS title hopes went up in smoke, Joey Doiron was back in action with the PASS teams, but in a new seat; Doiron was behind the wheel of car owner Bob Labine’s #72 GSPSS car, with Guy Caron’s name still atop the door.
The forecast for Saturday originally called for rain that would clear out in the morning, but a shift in the clouds kept the track damp into the early afternoon. Track-drying efforts had the oval ready for competition by mid-afternoon, but another burst of rain as heats were kicking off forced officials to nudge the program to Sunday morning, with the PASS teams racing before the year-ending Armageddon of Destruction. Three teams were unable to return for Sunday; Mike Hopkins headed home to compete at Speedway 95 near Bangor, while Mulkern and Trevor Sanborn had other commitments.
Johnny Clark, Travis Benjamin, Garrett Hall and Ryan Robbins won the qualifying heats, with Alan Tardiff and Chad Dow the only two drivers not to advance to the 36-car starting grid. Clark and Hall would lead the field to the green flag, with Robbins, Rusty Poland and a surprising Josh Childs rounding out the top five. Travis Benjamin would roll off 11th and DJ Shaw 15th, both hoping to take the advantage in the championship battle. Curtis Gerry, winner of three of the Oxford races so far, would have to come from 25th at the start to win his fourth.
From the drop of the green flag, Johnny Clark took control of the field. The long-time PASS racer and six-time PASS North champion took a step back in 2018, running closer to home with a limited schedule for the first time since a work injury took him out of the seat in 2015. In eight starts, Clark had top-ten finishes in half of them. None were trips to victory lane; Clark had not done that since 2016.
But championship drivers rarely forget how to win. And on Sunday afternoon, Johnny Clark looked like he remembered all too well. Through several cautions in a rough race, Clark held the top spot, fending off all challengers.
As the laps wound down, though, Reid Lanpher emerged in second place. Lanpher’s car had not been the rocketship he unloaded earlier in the year at Beech Ridge, when he dominated for a home-track victory. Lanpher’s win had relegated him to 12th at the start. His team had replaced the nose of the car after sustaining damage in his heat. The car had not been perfect all day. But it was perfect at the right time, as he caught Clark for the race lead. An outside move with twelve laps to go gave Lanpher the top spot.
And while a couple late yellows kept Clark within reach of the lead, Reid Lanpher was able to hold off the veteran for his second PASS win of 2018. Lanpher, who led the points early in the season before cutting back his schedule, has four wins in a Super Late Model on the season, with a GSPSS victory at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and a win in the U.S. Pro Stock/SLM Nationals at Seekonk Speedway.
Johnny Clark held on to second place for his best run of the year, with title hopeful DJ Shaw defending his points lead with a third-place finish. Travis Benjamin finished fourth, minimizing Shaw’s gains but not cutting into the two-time champion’s lead. Ryan Robbins, the only weekly feature winner at Oxford to win twice in 2018, earned his first top-five finish in PASS competition.
Joey Doiron soothed the disappointments of Friday night with a sixth-place finish in his first ride in the #72 car. Ben Rowe was seventh, with Bill Rodgers eighth, Mike Rowe ninth, and Rusty Poland tenth.
Garrett Hall finished eleventh, while title contender Derek Griffith saw his championship hopes end with a 29th-place finish after only completing 122 laps. Rookie Bryce Mains was 17th, while recent GSPSS winner Brandon Barker finished 18th. Oxford’s title contenders struggled, with both Bracketts and Gabe Brown finishing outside the top twenty. Josh Childs ran strong early in his first SLM start, but dropped out with mechanical failure and finished 30th.
Curtis Gerry, in a repeat of many of his past Oxford wins, clawed through the field and into the top ten. However, Gerry was docked two laps for an unapproved tire change, relegating him to 26th at the feature’s end.
With one race remaining on the schedule, DJ Shaw holds a not-insurmountable lead in the standings over defending champion Travis Benjamin. With Derek Griffith’s struggles Sunday, Garrett Hall should sit third in points, though well out of reach of the leaders barring absolute catastrophe. Behind fifth-place Ben Rowe, the rest of the top ten is falling into place; Reid Lanpher is securely in sixth place with Glen Luce seventh. Based on early entries for the season finale in Seekonk, ninth and tenth could be up for grabs.
The PASS teams have one weekend off before their 150-lap season finale at Seekonk Speedway in southern Massachusetts, where Shaw and Benjamin will each be seeking their third PASS North championship trophy.
SHORT TRACK SHOWDOWN: PASS REPLACES GSPSS FOR EXPANDED NHMS WEEKEND IN 2019
After two successful outings, New Hampshire Motor Speedway’s Short Track Showdown has been confirmed for a third year in 2019. The co-sanctioned event, backed by North East Mini Stock Tour founder Bob Guptill and Valenti Modified Racing Series founder Jack Bateman, will be a larger event next season, with six featured divisions racing on the “Magic Mile.” Two support divisions will run Saturday with the four main divisions, representative of the cornerstones of weekly short-track racing, to race Sunday.
One of those cornerstones, however, will change series next year. The Pro All Stars Series Super Late Models will replace the Granite State Pro Stock Series as the top fendered class of the weekend.
This race will mark the second appearance for PASS at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The series ran a standalone event at the one-mile oval in 2015, sanctioned under PASS’ National Championship program. Eddie MacDonald won the race over David Garbo and Georgia’s Spencer Davis, with other entries coming from NASCAR Truck Series racer Dalton Sargeant and rising star Christopher Bell, who ran a car for Kyle Busch Motorsports.
In a sense, this seems like an affront to the GSPSS, in the sense that the GSPSS was an integral part of the first two Short Track Showdowns. Moreover, the Showdown provided the GSPSS with a marquée event it did not have at the time. The Showdown effectively served as a showcase for the region’s junior Pro Stock/SLM tour.
However, racing at the big track incurs multiple costs, one of those being anonymity. The first two GSPSS events were dominated by ringers, with Eddie MacDonald winning the inaugural and Reid Lanpher taking the checkers this June. The tour regulars, meanwhile, were left to race for fourth on back, incurring all of the expenses of big-track racing without a legitimate shot at the big prize at the end. Many teams may welcome not having to contest a championship race at a one-mile track where engines are king.
PASS also boasts some of the region’s biggest star power in the Super Late Model and Pro Stock ranks, which is a marketing boost for the event as a whole. With the success of NHMS’ NASCAR-backed Full Throttle Fall Weekend this September, all eyes will be on the cooperative efforts of Guptill and Bateman as they look to draw even bigger crowds to this year’s Short Track Showdown.
EXTRACURRICULAR EVENTS: RE WINS PASS MODS FINALE, CHAMP TINKER TEASES SLM MOVE
Sunday’s PASS action at Oxford Plains Speedway also marked the season finale for the PASS Modifieds, the budget-friendly companion tour of the Super Late Model series. Rookie Kate Re started out front and led wire-to-wire, holding off veteran Gary Shackford to capture her first career PASS Modified victory. In doing so, the fourteen-year-old racer earned Rookie of the Year honors as well as a place in the top five in points. Re is the first woman to win a feature race in PASS’ Modified division.
As Re was too young to race at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway this year, Super Late Model racers Trevor Sanborn, Austin Teras and Derek Kneeland wheeled the #10 entry in her stead.
While Re celebrated her first win, series stalwart Ben Tinker locked up his second straight championship with a sixth-place run. Tinker, a former Beech Ridge regular, has been one of the series’ top drivers and biggest advocates the last two years, praising the division as a budget-friendly touring series option. Tinker suggested that a move to Super Late Models in 2019 may be in the cards. With Tinker’s primary car destroyed at Beech Ridge two weeks ago, and with little left to prove in the open-wheel division, the timing seems right for the champion to make the step up.
WEEKLY RACING: NICK JOHNSON SEALS UP THOMPSON LATE MODEL CROWN AS JENISON WINS RACE
The Granite State Pro Stock Series was far from the only division on Friday night’s Sunoco World Series schedule at Thompson Speedway. The track’s Late Model division had their own feature to settle their seven-race championship. Mark Jenison took advantage of hard racing behind him to win his second feature of 2018, topping Paul Charette and Tom Carey III. However, it was winless Nick Johnson, with top fives in every race this season, claiming his first Thompson Speedway Late Model championship. Tom Carey III was second in the standings with one win this season, with two-time feature winner Jenison third.
Speedway 95 in Bangor, Maine closed its season with the Paul Bunyan 250 Speed Weekend, featuring a 150-lap Late Model feature on Sunday. Kris Matchett came out on top after 150 laps, with Brenton Parritt and JR Robinson rounding out the podium. Mike Hopkins left Oxford Plains Speedway’s PASS event Saturday night to race at Speedway 95; his home-track loyalty was not rewarded as he finished 12th, a DNF after completing only 90 laps.
NEXT ON THE SCHEDULE
The Granite State Pro Stock Series puts the finishing touches on their big 2018 season with a Saturday-night finale at New London-Waterford Speedbowl. Connecticut racer Devin O’Connell will look to secure his first GSPSS championship at his home track.