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McKennedy Unstoppable Again In ISMA Star Classic

The Massachusetts open-wheel phenom notched his eighth straight ISMA victory dating back to 2019.

Jon McKennedy takes his eighth consecutive ISMA Supermodified win in Sunday morning's rain-delayed Star Classic. (Jeff Brown photo)

Jon McKennedy skipped a NASCAR Modified Tour race this weekend, but he certainly made it worthwhile.

The open-wheel ace cruised to victory Sunday morning in the Bob Webber, Sr. Memorial Star Classic 125 at Star Speedway, taking his fourth win in the Epping, N.H. oval’s signature race.

For McKennedy, a proud graduate of Star Speedway, coming back home was a priority.

Since teaming up with car owner Tim Lepine, McKennedy is perfect in his seven ISMA starts for the team. (Jeff Brown photo)

“I’ve raced a lot of tracks over the years, a lot of forms of race cars,” McKennedy said in victory lane. “The Star Classic, man, still number one. Just feels great to be at home.”

Sunday morning’s action was the cornerstone of the 56th Star Classic Weekend, an event that has grown into a three-day showcase of the diversity of short track racing. The International Supermodified Association has long sanctioned the main event of the weekend.

McKennedy’s command performance, though, may have been the sole sign of normalcy in a Star Classic that was marked by oddity even before the setting of the Saturday sun.

An afternoon practice crash eliminated Dan Bowes from contention, while Mike Ordway, Jr. encountered terminal trouble in the scuff session prior to qualifying. Ben Seitz encountered his own mechanical issues in time trials. McKennedy timed in second to ISMA points leader Otto Sitterly. Upon his return to the pits, McKennedy and team thrashed on their car to make improvements before the feature.

Seventeen laps into the evening’s 350 Supermodified feature, rain dampened the track enough to halt racing. The small-block Supers were pushed back to the track after an hour’s work, but rain began picking back up. Facing a fast-approaching curfew, racing was called for the evening, rescheduled for Sunday morning.

More lineup changes after dawn, with third-fastest qualifier Mike Muldoon bowing out of the feature to head home. Seitz, with his Howie Lane ride sidelined, was tapped to replace Rob Summers for the feature. And while the 350 Supermodifieds were slated to open the morning’s racing, the ISMA cars were moved to the top of the schedule instead.

Dan Connors brought the field to green, but a spin by veteran Russ Wood slowed the race only six laps in. Fluid around the track forced officials to red-flag the race for a thorough cleanup. Sitterly retired to the pits under the red flag; the delay risked keeping him from his son’s wedding out of state, and Sitterly opted to head back to New York. Jeffrey Battle was asked to take Sitterly’s place, but he could not get comfortable in the car, leaving the black #7 on the sidelines.

Ryan Locke (#37) and Chris Perley (#11) gave chase, with Perley ultimately finishing second. (Jeff Brown photo)

Connors pulled away from Ryan Locke on the restart, with McKennedy working his way through traffic to run third. On lap 29, Connors was working through lapped traffic when he clipped Wood’s slower car in turn three. Connors came to a stop to bring out the yellow flag. McKennedy, who had just slipped past Locke for second, inherited the lead.

Once out front, it was McKennedy’s race to lose. While Locke and Christopher Perley struggled to clear lapped traffic, McKennedy drove away from the second-place battle, lapping fifth-place Mike Netishen and nearly catching the other top-five cars. Dave Helliwell’s stalled car on lap 80 froze the field, but Seitz’ borrowed ride began leaking fluids under yellow, prompting a second red flag to clean the track again.

With a full afternoon card of racing still on the schedule, officials shortened the race to 100 laps, allowing crew members on the track to top off fuel. Perley lined up second behind McKennedy, but with lapped traffic separating the leaders, the “Rowley Rocket” was unable to capitalize. McKennedy had pulled away by nearly half a lap when the caution flew again on lap 91.

Perley got another shot at McKennedy on the restart, but McKennedy would not be denied.

Ryan Locke and Christopher Perley flank race winner Jon McKennedy. (Jeff Brown photo)

McKennedy teamed up with car owner and sponsor Tim Lepine in 2020 after the retirement of longtime car owners Lee and Pam Vinal. Building a part-time schedule around his NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour ride with Tommy Baldwin, Jr., McKennedy has run a limited slate of ISMA Supermodified events for Lepine, as well as select Tour-type events in the Northeast.

Since teaming with Lepine, McKennedy has been perfect in the winged car, winning all seven races they have entered. McKennedy has actually won eight ISMA events in a row, going back to his last start for the Vinals in 2019.

Perley, a multi-time Classic winner, held on for second. “We didn’t know what we were gonna have,” he said. “I think we had a better car if we ran it last night. But we’re happy. Second’s good. Jonathan was better than us today, but we’ve got a piece we can work on.”

Locke was third, a career-best finish for the 2019 Northeastern Midget Association (NEMA) Lites champion. Anthony Nocella was fourth, the final car on the lead lap, with Mike Netishen a lap down in fifth.

Seitz rebounded from his mechanical troubles to finish sixth, while Dave Helliwell limped home seventh. Jamie Timmons was several laps down in eighth. Local racers Kenny White, Jr. and Mike Collins were scored ninth and tenth in a race plagued by early attrition.

Jon McKennedy poses with 350 Supermodified Dennis McKennedy Memorial 60 winner Jeffrey Battle. This is the first year the annual 350 Super contest is named for McKennedy’s father, who passed away in 2019. (Jeff Brown photo)

Star’s own 350 Supermodifieds were next on the track to conclude the inaugural running of the Dennis McKennedy Memorial 60. Previously named for 350 Supermodified pioneer Randy Witkum, the event was rechristened to honor McKennedy, Jon’s father, who passed away in 2019.

Jeffrey Battle, the winner of last year’s 21st and final Randy Witkum Memorial, held off uncle Eddie Witkum, Jr. to win the first edition of the feature under its new name. Helliwell, one of several drivers pulling double duty, was third, with White and Brad Babb rounding out the top five.

Jon McKennedy was in victory lane to congratulate Battle. Before the race, he acknowledged the significance of the track’s tribute to his father.

“Big thanks to my dad,” he said. “He was a huge part of my racing career, getting me to this point. My biggest supporter, my biggest fan. I miss him. I love him.”

Prior to Saturday’s rain, Paul Scally and Avery Stoehr won features for the NEMA Midgets and NEMA Lites. Reagan Parent was credited with a win in an abbreviated Legends feature.

Nocella would pick up a win later in the day Sunday, capturing the Modified Racing Series’ 100-lap feature. The MRS Tour-type Modifieds anchored Sunday afternoon’s program, also featuring a number of Star’s weekly classes.

In the last few years, the Star Classic has risen in profile, perhaps not matching the grandeur of Thompson’s World Series but certainly commanding attention and respect. At the heart of that is the focus on the Supermodifieds. At their other New England stops, the Supermodifieds are merely a visiting tour. Not so at Star, one of only a few tracks remaining in the Northeast that campaign 350 Supermodifieds as a weekly division.

At Star Speedway, Supermodifieds remain a religious experience.

Unofficial Results, ISMA Bob Webber, Sr. Memorial Star Classic at Star Speedway:
1. (79) Jon McKennedy
2. (11) Christopher Perley
3. (37) Ryan Locke
4. (9) Anthony Nocella
5. (55) Mike Netishen
6. (5) Ben Seitz
7. (07) Dave Helliwell
8. (27) Jamie Timmons
9. (77) Kenny White, Jr.
10. (33) Mike Collins
11. (01) Dan Connors, Jr.
12. (41) Russ Wood
13. (52) Dave Danzer
14. (7) Otto Sitterly
15. (00) Joe Gosek
16. (98T) Tyler Thompson
DNS (15) Mike Muldoon
DNS (12) Eric Emhoff
DNS (61) Mike Ordway, Jr.
DNS (25) Dan Bowes

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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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