When the Pro All Stars Series took the wraps off an expansive 2021 schedule in December, the Super Late Model sanctioning organization promised “some twists yet to be announced.”
Last Sunday’s release of the 2021 PASS National Championship schedule included one of those twists: a preliminary breakdown of a new loyalty program centered around the PASS North Super Late Models, New England’s premier fendered short-track touring series.
And while some details remain unclear, the loyalty program’s goal is obvious: Super Late Model drivers in New England can count on multiple ways to cash in under the PASS banner in 2021.
The preview of the PASS loyalty program divided the 19-race PASS North schedule into two geographic divisions, designating races as New England North (or Northern) and New England South (or Southern) events. Thirteen events will comprise the Northern Series; ten events will make up the Southern Series.
The Northern Series will include all the events at White Mountain Motorsports Park in New Hampshire and Oxford Plains Speedway in Maine, as well as PASS’ sole visit to Vermont’s Thunder Road International Speedbowl. The Southern Series includes the three races at Seekonk (Mass.) Speedway and both visits to Thompson Speedway in Connecticut, as well as July’s event at WMMP, now part of the PASS National Championship.
The three races at Hudson Speedway, Monadnock Speedway and Lee USA Speedway in New Hampshire, along with the Northeast Classic at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and August’s Oxford 250, will count toward both divisions.
While the full 19-race schedule will still determine the overall PASS Super Late Model champion, drivers who run the full slate of races in either division will be eligible for a season-ending loyalty purse payout of up to $2,500 for the top ten drivers in each division. A further “overall” loyalty purse of up to $5,000 was referenced without context; presumably this will be a loyalty purse for the full schedule, though the release lists only the Northeast Classic and Oxford 250 as “overall” events specifically.
In a press release published Wednesday on Facebook, PASS president Tom Mayberry acknowledged that the deep schedule prompted officials to “give our drivers some choices about how they race with PASS.”
“This way,” Mayberry said, “drivers who want to race 20-plus races still can, but drivers who budget for [fewer] races can still race loyally on a smaller schedule.”
Seven drivers contested the full PASS North schedule in 2020, with two more drivers missing rescheduled end-of-year events once they had fallen out of title contention. Nine drivers committed to the full grind is notable, particularly when only five drivers had run a full schedule in 2018 and 2019.
But part of that depth was due to a schedule heavily modified by the COVID-19 pandemic, with eleven of the season’s fourteen events at two tracks close to PASS’ western Maine home base. Teams that may have focused on part-time or weekly schedules instead were able to race the full PASS North itinerary without a lot of travel.
With eight of thirteen events at either Oxford and WMMP, the Northern Series looks a lot like last year’s PASS North schedule. A team based near Oxford could entertain the prospect of adding only a few road trips to the year’s itinerary and contend for the Northern Series bounty. Similarly, the Southern Series presents an attractive alternative for the few PASS teams based in southern New England, or weekly racers at Seekonk looking for a touring option beyond the Granite State Pro Stock Series.
The new loyalty program closely resembles the PASS Northeast Challenge introduced in 2015. With four of the year’s sixteen events held in Canada, PASS awarded a loyalty bonus for teams that ran all of the stateside events, allowing them to earn some measure of recognition. While Mike Rowe clinched both the season championship and the Northeast Challenge fund, Jeremy Davis leapfrogged three competitors to take third-place honors in the Northeast Challenge after skipping two of the international road trips.
A similar situation could play out, with a full-season stalwart like DJ Shaw or Ben Rowe reaping two or all three loyalty bonuses. However, four of last year’s six Oxford events were won by either Curtis Gerry or Dave Farrington, Jr., Oxford regulars with a limited touring presence. A similar performance next year could put a different face in contention for either the Northern or Southern Series bounty.
The question remains whether the lower tiers of the loyalty program will be enough to encourage part-time teams to add to their schedule. A few hundred dollars may sway a team to run an additional race; it may not be enough to convince a team to run three races to collect the payout.
However, it bears consideration that PASS’ Northeast Challenge was implemented when the series had a season-long presenting sponsor, something PASS has not marketed since then. To that end, any effort to pay out more money to the drivers, particularly when grandstand attendance is limited or restricted entirely, needs to be recognized and appreciated.
With the announcement of the revised National Championship and the introduction of the new loyalty program, PASS racers in New England now have two paths to a championship, and four ways to collect a season-long bonus to reward their efforts.
And in this region, in this time, more opportunity for racers is better for everyone.