Johnny Clark had the 2021 Pro All Stars Series North championship virtually locked up after last weekend. The season finale, however, was still up for grabs.
All the way to the last turn.
Clark made a late move to punctuate his record seventh PASS North championship with his third win of the year in Saturday’s Haunted Hundred at Seekonk Speedway.
“We had a really phenomenal car here, the last time we were here,” the Farmingdale, Me. veteran said in victory lane. “We only went four laps … this is the same car.”
PASS’ third 2021 trip to the “Cement Palace” had the makings of a home-track rout most of the way. Dylan Estrella’s heat win put him on the pole, and the Seekonk Pro Stock regular showed the way in the early stages. Ryan Vanasse tailed Estrella early, but lost the second-place battle to Ryan Kuhn, who brought Angelo Belsito along on his way to the front.
Estrella held his ground, but the former Seekonk Late Model champion was unable to get too far away, with the leaders running nose-to-tail under a long green-flag stretch. Clark, whose two feature wins forced him to start outside the top ten, had quietly picked off traffic to run just behind the leaders in fourth.
Belsito, who finished fifth in September’s PASS-sanctioned D.A.V. Fall Classic, got past Kuhn for second, then set his sights on Estrella as the leaders worked past slower cars. With under forty laps remaining, Belsito made his move in lapped traffic, taking the lead from Estrella.
Clark followed Belsito past Estrella and into second.
A lap-76 spin for Derek Griffith erased the rest of Clark’s deficit, staging the soon-to-be-crowned champion alongside the capable Seekonk graduate for the restart. Belsito never flinched, pulling ahead of Clark at the green flag and countering Clark’s moves over the final laps.
With two laps to go, Clark turned up the pressure, getting around Belsito and holding off the Massachusetts racer for his third win of 2021.
“I didn’t think I had it against [Belsito] on that restart,” Clark said. “He was doing everything just right at Seekonk … The track brings it out in you, and you’ve got to do it.”
Belsito, who opened the season with a Granite State Pro Stock Series win at Monadnock Speedway before reducing his summer schedule, earned his best career finish in a PASS Super Late Model in his eleventh start. “We love this place, love the facility and everyone here,” Belsito said. “We love coming back. We’ve had a rough year with this car.”
Seekonk has been important for Belsito’s touring career as well; his first touring win came in the 2019 GSPSS-sanctioned edition of the D.A.V. Fall Classic.
DJ Shaw ended a quiet afternoon with a late surge to third. The reigning PASS North champion opted not to chase full-season points in 2021, but unofficially clinched the PASS New England North loyalty program over Clark with his podium finish.
Early leader Estrella held on to finish fourth, with Kuhn coming home in fifth.
Thunder Road winner Trevor Sanborn was sixth in the final rundown. Brandon Barker finished seventh, one position ahead of eight-time Seekonk track champion David Darling. Two-time 2021 winner Joey Polewarczyk was ninth, with Rhode Island native Kyle DeSouza rounding out the top ten.
Derek Griffith limped to an 18th-place finish, but the Hudson, N.H. phenom was still able to clinch the PASS National Championship. Griffith, who won back-to-back Easter Bunny 150 features at Hickory Motor Speedway and added a third National win at Thompson in October, also won the National Championship in 2018.
The big prize of the day, though, was the one that had already been decided.
Johnny Clark’s last PASS North title came in 2011. Only four of the racers in the top ten in points that season recorded PASS starts in 2021. Drivers like DJ Shaw and Joey Polewarczyk were barely coming into their own. Derek Griffith was not old enough to have a driver’s license.
Clark remained a force in the years to follow, finishing second in points to Shaw in 2014 and 2016. Not that there were not challenges for the veteran; a midseason injury cost Clark a few starts in 2015, and after a winless season in 2017, Clark cut his schedule back.
Last year’s pandemic-influenced closer-to-home schedule was friendlier to Clark, who returned to full-time competition. Clark also returned to victory lane, picking up a summer short-track win and a long-awaited victory in the Oxford 250, en route to another second-place finish to Shaw in the standings.
Clark rode that momentum to a win early in the season at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, his first ever at the “Magic Mile.” A second win came in July’s inaugural Bay State Classic at Seekonk, with Clark taking the $10,000 payday. All the while, Clark’s 2021 challengers differed from 2020 as much as they differed from 2011. Most of Clark’s closest title rivals ran only selected events, making way for a new cast of full-timers. And among the six who ran every race, only series ironman Ben Rowe and sophomore Kate Re had run a full PASS season before this year.
With a 169-point advantage over Dan Winter leaving Oxford Plains Speedway last weekend, Clark needed far less than a nice finish Saturday to secure his seventh PASS North title. He essentially had to take the green flag.
Clark took the green flag, but he brought home the checkered.
And with his 42nd birthday approaching in December, the seven-time champion has plenty of time to collect more checkered flags.
-Story by: Jeff Brown – Twitter: @JeffBrown781
-Photo credit: Speed51 Photo
Unofficial Results, PASS Haunted Hundred at Seekonk Speedway:
1. (54) Johnny Clark
2. (8) Angelo Belsito
3. (60) DJ Shaw
4. (46) Dylan Estrella
5. (72) Ryan Kuhn
6. (29) Trevor Sanborn
7. (88) Brandon Barker
8. (52D) David Darling
9. (97) Joey Polewarczyk
10. (1) Kyle DeSouza
11. (27NH) Wayne Helliwell, Jr.
12. (73) Joey Doiron
13. (20) JR Robinson
14. (14) Scott McDaniel
15. (52M) Jake Matheson
16. (81) Dan Winter
17. (11) Ryan Vanasse
18. (12G) Derek Griffith
19. (10) Kate Re
20. (27) Mike Brightman
21. (7G) Gary Drew
22. (02) Brian Whalley
23. (4) Ben Rowe
24. (14ME) Anthony Constantino
25. (36) Ryan Robbins
26. (0) Kenny Spencer
27. (2S) Tom Scully, Jr.