Nick Sweet hasn’t received a whole lot of attention in this column this year, but it’s time to change that.
The Barre driver — known since the start of his career as a Thunder Road homeboy — could very well win one of the top short track championship titles in North America this year: The Pro All Stars Series Super Late Model crown.
Sweet has been a serious contender in his first year chasing the full PASS schedule. Driving the Eric Chase-owned Mad Dog Motorsports car, Sweet ran to the win at Maine’s Oxford Plains Speedway last Sunday, topping a field of 39 cars — the highest car count of the PASS season — and is tied with Garrett Hall for second place in the point standings, just 15 points behind leader D.J. Shaw. In addition to his victory, Sweet has finished second three times and third twice.
There are six races remaining on the 2019 PASS schedule, encompassing the Saturday portion of September’s Vermont Milk Bowl at Thunder Road, three more stops at Oxford — including the famous Oxford 250 next weekend — and one race each at White Mountain Motorsports Park and Seekonk Speedway.
A PASS championship won by Sweet would strengthen the bridge over the gap that was carved through New England almost 20 years ago and bring closer two regional groups of racers and fans that have sometimes resembled the Hatfields and McCoys.
PASS was created by former racer Tom Mayberry in 2001, six years after the demise of the late Tom Curley’s original American-Canadian Tour Pro Stocks, and built from pieces of the languishing and short-lived NEPSA and IPSC tours. After the Pro Stocks left Curley’s Vermont-based fold, the present-day ACT Late Model Tour staked most of its territory in Vermont, New Hampshire, New York and Québec, while the PASS foundation was poured in Maine, New Hampshire and the Canadian Maritimes.
Every PASS champion in 18 years has been from Maine, other than three-time title winner Shaw, who lives in Center Conway, New Hampshire, 3 miles from the Maine border. Similarly, every ACT Late Model Tour champion in 27 years of racing has been from Vermont, except for New Hampshire’s Joey Polewarczyk and Wayne Helliwell, and Canadian Patrick Laperle.
The tours — and specifically Mayberry and Curley — were bitter rivals for many years, and many drivers felt forced into choosing an allegiance. The contention softened in Curley’s final years and a better relationship began to blossom, and that relationship has been carried along by new ACT head Cris Michaud.
The divide still exists with the fanbase, though: For the most part, you’re either an ACT fan or a PASS fan. Sweet can help to erase some of that; he is the only full-timer with PASS (Bobby Therrien and Evan Hallstrom have also raced on occasion), while there aren’t any Mainers on the ACT trail in 2019. It wasn’t always that way, of course, back when lobster fisherman Dick McCabe was winning here in the west and Robbie Crouch was solid down east. More recently, Austin Theriault and Glen Luce kept Maine drivers relevant, and Graniteville’s John Donahue was a threat every time he raced at Oxford.
Even if he doesn’t win the championship, Sweet can help to tie fans back together by remaining a key player in the PASS ranks. Should he do well in the Oxford 250, for example, his stock would rise considerably not only in Maine but around the country’s short track fanbase.
If Sweet does well and more Vermonters begin paying attention to PASS, then that means that drivers like Hall, Gabe Brown and Derek Griffith will become better known around here, and fans will rediscover drivers like Shaw, Ben Rowe and Travis Benjamin. Conversely, Maine fans will probably start watching ACT results closer for Sweet’s name to appear when he makes an occasional start.
Racing in this region — especially asphalt racing — needs something like that to happen.
One driver who did his part in making people pay more attention last weekend was Todd Stone. The Middlebury veteran hauled to the famed Jennerstown Speedway in Pennsylvania on Saturday night and won a 150-lap Late Model open event to pocket $10,000. The “Motor Mountain Masters” race drew entries from 11 states including Kentucky, Iowa and Indiana, and included big names Ben Rowe, Gary St. Amant and Matt Wallace.
To make things even sweeter, though, while Stone was leading the race at Jennerstown, his son, Justin, was standing in Victory Lane 580 miles north after his second victory of the season in the Novice Sportsman division at Plattsburgh Airborne Speedway.
Devil’s Bowl Speedway hosted one of its biggest events on Sunday with the “Battle at the Bowl” Big Block/Small Block Modified Challenge, temporarily moving the town of West Haven up into the top 75 most heavily populated locales in Vermont (a big leap, considering it’s usually among the 20 smallest).
Super DIRTcar Series dominator Matt Sheppard took the lion’s share of the loot by winning both the 25-lap preliminary feature for the Big Block cars and the 50-lap main event, pocketing $11,500 in total. Brett Hearn won the 25-lap Small Block race, and Kenny Tremont Jr. took his sixth Devil’s Bowl win of the year in the Leon Gonyo Memorial for the King of Dirt Racing Crate Modified Series.
The most peculiar part of the event, though, might have been the “pole shuffle” tournament to determine the starting order of the top 12 drivers for the main event. The best six finishers in each of the preliminary features squared off one-on-one in two-lap, single-elimination, bracket-style match races: Think NCAA March Madness on dirt. A few drivers had surprisingly good outings in the pole shuffle, with Travis Billington, Brian Berger and Rocky Warner making wild moves and getting big reactions from the crowd.
Bear Ridge Speedway — Bradford
LAST WEEK: Bradford’s Richie Simmons inherited his second-straight DIRTcar Sportsman Modified feature on Saturday and Plainfield’s Will Hull won the USAC Dirt Midget Association race. Tanner Siemons won the Sportsman Coupe race, Ryan Christian took the Limited Late Model win and Morrisville’s Zach Audet was a first-time Four Cylinder winner. Kyle Belliveau and Orange’s Tom Chaffee split the Granite State Mini Sprint wins. THIS WEEK: Racing is Saturday at 6 p.m. with four weekly divisions, the Sprint Cars of New England and the New England Antique Racers.
Devil’s Bowl Speedway — West Haven
LAST WEEK: Matt Sheppard took Sunday’s $10,000-to-win “Battle at the Bowl” Big Block/Small Block Modified Challenge. Sheppard also won the 25-lap Big Block preliminary feature and Brett Hearn won the Small Block race. Kenny Tremont Jr. won the Leon Gonyo Memorial race for the King of Dirt Racing Crate Modified Series. THIS WEEK: Racing is Sunday at 7 p.m., with five weekly divisions and the Can-Am Mod Lite Series.
Thunder Road Int’l Speedbowl — Barre
LAST WEEK: Grand Isle’s Mike Billado won Thursday’s Myers Container Services Flying Tiger Triple Crown Series finale and Waterbury Center’s Jason Woodard was named the Triple Crown champion. Danville’s Tyler Cahoon won the Late Model feature and Graniteville’s Justin Blakely was a first-time Street Stock winner. THIS WEEK: Racing is Thursday at 7 p.m. with four weekly divisions and the Marvin Johnson Memorial race for the Street Stock division.
Albany-Saratoga Speedway — Malta, N.Y.
LAST WEEK: Peter Britten inherited Friday’s DIRTcar Modified feature after inspection and Tim Hartman Jr. won the Sportsman Modified race. THIS WEEK: Racing is Friday at 7 p.m. with five weekly divisions and the USAC Dirt Midget Association.
THIS WEEK: The ACT Late Models head to Québec for a doubleheader with the Bacon Bowl 200 at Autodrome Chaudière on Saturday at 5 p.m. and the rescheduled Jean-Paul Cabana 125 at Circuit Ste-Croix Riverside Speedway at 1 p.m.
Claremont Speedway — Claremont, N.H.
LAST WEEK: Kyle Welch won Friday’s NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Sportsman Modified feature and Aaron Fellows won his 12th consecutive Late Model Sportsman race. THIS WEEK: No racing scheduled.
Fonda Speedway — Fonda, N.Y.
LAST WEEK: Danny Varin won Saturday’s Modified feature and Rocky Warner won the championship. Adam McAuliffe was the Sportsman Modified winner and Tim Hartman Jr. won the title. THIS WEEK: Fonda is off until Sept. 14.
Glen Ridge Motorsports Park — Fultonville, N.Y.
LAST WEEK: Andrew Buff won Sunday’s Crate Modified feature. THIS WEEK: Racing is Sunday at 5 p.m. with eight weekly divisions, the “Vengeance 50” Modified race, and the NY6A 600 Sprint Tour.
Lebanon Valley Speedway — West Lebanon, N.Y.
LAST WEEK: L.J. Lombardo won Saturday’s Big Block Modified feature and Brian Peterson won the Small Block Modified race. THIS WEEK: Racing is Saturday at 5 p.m. with five weekly divisions.
Monadnock Speedway — Winchester, N.H.
LAST WEEK: Todd Patnode won Saturday’s NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Sportsman Modified double features and Vernon’s Solomon Brow made it 10-straight Late Model Sportsman wins. THIS WEEK: Racing is Saturday at 5 p.m. with the JBH Classic featuring the Granite State Pro Stock Series and the Valenti Modified Racing Series and five weekly divisions.
Plattsburgh Airborne Speedway — Plattsburgh, N.Y.
LAST WEEK: François Bernier won Saturday’s DIRTcar 358 Modified race in his first start of the year, Connor Cleveland took the Sportsman Modified win, and Middlebury’s Justin Stone won the Novice Sportsman race. THIS WEEK: Racing is Saturday at 7 p.m. with four weekly divisions and the Can-Am Mod Lite Series.
RumTown Speedway — Rumney, N.H.
LAST WEEK: Nick Comeau won Saturday’s Wingless Sprint Car race, Ricky Sanville won the Sportsman Modified feature, and Rutland’s Shawn McPhee won the EX Mini Sprint race. THIS WEEK: Racing is Saturday at 4 p.m. with weekly divisions and the Granite State Mini Sprints.
Speedway 51 — Groveton, N.H.
LAST WEEK: Nick Gilcris won Sunday’s Tiger Sportsman race, East Thetford’s Brandon Gray won the Street Stock feature, and Shelburne’s Kaiden Fisher took the Daredevil win. Dave Helliwell won the SMAC 350 Supermodified race. THIS WEEK: Racing is Saturday at 6 p.m. with Late Models and weekly divisions.
White Mountain Motorsports Park — North Woodstock, N.H.
LAST WEEK: Anthony Nocella won Saturday’s Bullring Bash Modified race and Casey Call took the Legends portion of the event. Quinny Welch won the Late Model feature and Barton’s Shane Sicard won the Flying Tiger race. THIS WEEK: Racing is Saturday at 6:30 p.m. with five weekly divisions including the Flying Tiger Triple Crown Series finale.
Justin St. Louis is a motorsports journalist, publicist, broadcaster, historian and former driver. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org / Twitter: @Justin_StLouis