It was a great day for Connecticut drivers in the Granite State Pro Stock Series season finale at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl on Saturday night. Local driver Ray Christian III claimed his first career GSPSS victory in a thrilling race of attrition, while another Connecticut native, Devin O’Connell, sealed his first Pro touring series championship.
Christian, who lives just one exit up the road from the track in Montville, started in sixth and ran inside the top five the entire night. He hounded the back of leader Rowe for the majority of the race, and at one point was door-to-door with the Maine driver for five straight laps. Christian eventually took the lead from Rowe with just 20 laps to go and never looked back.
“I fought [Rowe] pretty hard in the beginning. I thought if I could get by him and set my own pace that’s fine, but he was just good enough on exit to clear me,” Christian explained. “I just saved my stuff, and with thirty to go I got back down underneath him and just had to get it done that time.
“I could not write a better story. I mean, not only is this at home, but everybody’s here. I had to race one of the best out there, Ben Rowe, to get it done, and you just can’t write it up any better than that.”
RCIII was not originally planning to run this race. He and his team had been set to run the Commonwealth Classic at Richmond Raceway in Virginia, but when that race was rained out, they decided to race right down the road at Waterford.
“We were pretty disappointed about Richmond, but we were just fine coming here,” Christian said. “We said that if there’s a rain-out that we had the car ready just in case, and sure enough, it got rained out and here we are now, and we won the race and I can’t believe it.”
Christian was understandably excited about scoring his first Granite State Pro Stock Series win at his hometown track.
“It’s just a great feeling to be at home and win in front of all my friends and family, and I can’t believe how many people have come up to me and congratulated me. It’s been really awesome, a true honor.”
For newly crowned GSPSS champion Devin O’Connell, however, the night went far less smoothly. O’Connell, who lives just twenty minutes from the track, came into the race needing only a 14th-place finish to wrap up the title. The young driver was riding around in eighth when Joey Doiron, who was second in points, and polesitter William Wall came together and spun on Lap 10. O’Connell slammed into the side of another car, severely damaging the front end of his own car. He was able to continue, but his team had to remove all of the bodywork from the nose, leaving the radiator and engine exposed at the front of the car.
O’Connell spent the rest of the race just trying to run laps and make it to the end. A handful of other incidents, including a seven-car wreck on Lap 30 that put several cars out of the race, were enough for O’Connell to secure a 16th-place finish, and with that, the 2018 Granite State Pro Stock Series championship.
“We worked our rear ends off. It was a championship effort from all of us, and I’m just so blessed to be with everybody that I am, this is unbelievable,” O’Connell said. “We’re here, we’re your champions. It’s an unbelievable thing, this isn’t going to sink in for a while.
“We did it! We’re the 2018 Granite State Pro Stock Series champion, and it is unbelievable!”
2018 Oxford Plains Speedway (ME) Super Late Model champion Gabe Brown made a late pass on Ben Rowe to finish second, while Rowe completed the podium. Joey Doiron and 2017 series champion Mike O’Sullivan rounded out the top five.
Race fans can find on-demand coverage of Saturday’s race – including lap-by-lap updates, photos and more – by visiting Speed51.com’s Trackside Now.
-Story by: Ian Pettigrew, Speed51.com Northeast Correspondent
-Photo credit: Speed51.com / Rick Ibsen