Alan Ward Photo
Loudon, NH — Well over 120 drivers got their New Hampshire Motor Speedway race weekend off to an early start at Northeast Classic Practice Day on Saturday, April 18. Although time was precious to ongoing weather issues, several notable contenders emerged in each division as they prepared for Sunday’s big-money showdowns.
After practice started a little late due to track-drying efforts from Friday’s snow, and despite a couple brief showers, each division was able to get in two rotations. Shortly after 3:00pm, though, more steady rain moved in. Faced with the prospect of needing at least two hours to re-dry the 1.058-mile oval, officials elected to call the day short. Sunday’s forecast is much more favorable with partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the high 50s.
A total of 26 American-Canadian Tour (ACT) Late Models and 27 Pro All Stars Series (PASS) Super Late Models took advantage of the time they had to dial in their cars. Double-duty racer D.J. Shaw of Center Conway, NH ended up topping the ACT charts. Shaw, a five-time PASS champion and last year’s ACT Late Model Tour runner-up, set the day’s fast time at 31.689 seconds in a brand-new car from the Arny Hill Racing stable.
East Bridgewater, MA’s Ryan Kuhn and reigning ACT champion Jimmy Hebert of Williamstown, VT were the other Late Model drivers to crack the 32-second barrier. Hebert did so in his first outing after converting his title-winning car to a Ford engine and sheet metal over the winter. Stephen Donahue, Woody Pitkat, Tom Carey III, and Derek Gluchacki also looked string throughout the afternoon.
The only ACT driver to encounter significant trouble was Lancaster, NH’s Shawn Swallow. For the second time in as many events this year, the veteran developed engine valve trouble in the first practice session of the day. His team reportedly had finished patching up the car by early evening and is ready to race in tomorrow’s point-counting opener.
On the Super Late Model side, it was 2019 PASS National Champion Mike Hopkins of Hermon, ME showing the way. Hopkins followed up third-place finishes in the first two PASS National events of the year with a lightning-fast 29.534-second time in an abbreviated second session.
To no one’s surprise, Rowley, MA’s Eddie “The Outlaw” MacDonald wasn’t far behind. Even though MacDonald was “only” second-fastest on the PASS time sheet at 29.609 seconds, the 11-time New Hampshire Motor Speedway winner has to be considered the Northeast Classic favorite. Shaw, Brandon Barker, Johnny Clark, and NASCAR Xfinity Series regular Alex Labbe looked like potential threats to dethrone him.
The North East Mini Stock Tour (NEMST) and Open Street Stocks also had solid turnouts, with car counts unofficially reaching the mid-20s by day’s end. Multi-time NEMST champion Emerson Cayer of Contoocook, NH was the fastest 4-cylinder racer by a longshot on Saturday. His quick time of 35.189 second was nearly half a second faster than Oxford, MA’s Nick Anderson. Defending NEMST champion Desmond Skillings of Antrim, NH also looked strong. On the 8-cylinder side, Jimmy Renfrew Jr., Devon McConologue, and Jordan Russell were among the drivers to watch.
The Tour-type Modifieds got a chance to tune up for their $5,000-to-win, 50-lap Sunday sprint. Major Modified stars such as Bobby Santos III, Mike Christopher Jr., Anthony Nocella, and Eric Goodale were in attendance for practice. However, it was Harvard, MA’s Matt Swanson topping them all with a 29.253-second lap.
That blazing time, equal to 130.202 MPH, came in a rules package that sees the Modifieds racing at “The Magic Mile” without a restrictor plate for the first time in nearly 30 years. Ronnie Williams, Andy Shaw, Sam Rameau, and Chase Dowling were some of the other drivers enjoying some high-speed action.
Last but not least, the EXIT Realty Pro Truck Challenge turned their first laps at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. By day’s end, Lowell, MA’s Jason Ferreria was the only trucker who came in below the 34-second mark. Gerard Giordano, Jr., the winner of the season-opening thriller at Thompson Speedway, was in a near dead-heat with Andy Lindeman for second on the charts.
By unofficial count, at least four racers will do double-duty on Sunday. Ben Rowe and D.J. Shaw running both the PASS and ACT features. Renfrew will pilot both an ACT Late Model and a Street Stock, while Giordano has his Late Model and Pro Truck in the pits. All of them are legitimate contenders in at least one of those events, adding another interesting foil to the day ahead.
The Northeast Classic at Loudon’s New Hampshire Motor Speedway goes green this Sunday, April 18. A six-division card features $5,000-to-win events for the ACT Late Model Tour, PASS Super Late Models, and Tour-type Modifieds. The EXIT Realty Pro Truck Challenge, 8-Cylinder Street Stocks, and North East Mini Stock Tour are also on the card.
Qualifying begins at 11:00am with features at 1:30pm. General admission is $30 for adults and $10 for kids ages 12 and under. Tickets will be sold at the track on race day. A live pay-per-view is available on Speed51.TV for $29.99.
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