The late winter has wreaked havoc on many touring series and race tracks across the northern United States and Canada, delaying the start of many seasons while only firing up both competitors and fans alike. This is especially true of the northern half of the Pro All Stars Series (PASS), which has seen a selection of drivers truck south to satisfy their racing appetite. Many teams have chosen to stick close to home and save their equipment for the PASS North championship, which after an extra week of waiting following yet another snow fall, is set to go green this coming Sunday at Connecticut’s Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park.
The full-time cast for PASS North is impressive once again for 2017, with two-time and defending champion D.J. Shaw one of the preseason favorite as he looks for title number three. While the consistency was with the Dale Shaw No. 60 squad throughout 2016, they came away with only one race-winning trophy early on in the year at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway (ME). Shaw looks to change that going forward.
“It’s the goal every year (to win more races.). “It didn’t pan out last year, but we had the consistency to make up for it, but we want some more trophies,” Shaw told Speed51.com powered by JEGS.
While the team has a new “big track car” in the shop, they plan to attack the North with what they had a year ago, while also planning a Southern assault or two.
“We have a new car for Thompson,” Shaw stated. “I don’t know if we’ll use it up here after that, might try a few South races with it, see what we can do. I really just want to use it at South Boston with the new pavement, when PASS goes there in the summer. It will have a big motor in it, probably won’t need it, but we’ll have it as a backup and maybe it will see some action.”
The team is also planning to end the season with the Mason-Dixon Mega Meltdown at Hickory Motor Speedway (NC) in November and will look at other races down South when the schedule allows. Even with 16 points-counting races on the northern schedule, Shaw is not backing down from doing all they can.
“I’m excited it’s that many races. We like to race, it’s why we do it. I’m glad we’re going back to Canada, Montmagny is not my favorite track, but we definitely need a variety of tracks, and I like 660, so I’m excited to return there and everywhere else. We had a pretty good season on the flat tracks last year, looking forward to getting to Oxford and Beech Ridge after Thompson has come and gone.”
Shaw will also be taking the time to help groom one of the sport’s newest talents. Matt Swanson made his debut for the team at Seekonk Speedway (MA) last October in the DAV Fall Classic, and will sprinkle in multiple starts for the Dale Shaw team in around his busy Modified schedule.
“It should be pretty cool, it’s a neat little deal there to have him on board,” Shaw said. “He’s got a bright future, it shows with the strong runs and everything he’s had going in Modifieds. It’ll be nice to have some fresh young talent and see what we can do with him.”
Swanson is looking forward to continuing a long family relationship with the Shaw’s during the season.
“I’ve been involved with the Shaw’s in racing since I was born; my dad raced with Dale in the Busch North days. They’ve been around each other a long time,” Swanson explained. “We had a really good finish at the DAV for my first time in full-fender car. Looking forward to it and the Oxford 250.”
While PASS North welcomes some new faces, it also welcomes back some familiar ones to its full-time roster. Joey Doiron was set for a full year in 2016, but an at-work accident sidelined him for much of the season. He eventually returned for the Oxford 250 in August, but now the injuries are well behind him, and the team hopes that they can go the distance in 2017.
“I feel pretty good. I’ve been building a house all winter long, which has taken a lot of time. But, leg is good and I’m looking forward to racing all year,” Doiron said eagerly. “Plan right now is to do the first four races, see where we are, then make plans from there.”
The 73 team is also planning to use tried and true equipment throughout the season duration.
“We had a brand-new car last year, so that one will run most of the time. We’ve got another car that we’ll run at Thompson, White Mountain and a couple other places depending on how things go.”
Travis Benjamin is another familiar competitor and former champion who is looking for early success (and better luck) this coming season. While adjusting to his new ride at Petit Motorsports at the beginning of 2016, the team struggled to get a scrap of luck, despite fast race cars.
“In the beginning of the year we didn’t have it at all, ran the first four races without finishing in the top 20. We were always fast, just no luck,” Benjamin stated. “Once we finally got a little on our side, the last half of the season we got two wins and a lot of good finishes. We were also starting new; I didn’t know the crew chief and he didn’t know me. Once we got some chemistry, we had a really fast race car.”
The No. 7 team is also starting with familiar technology, but looks to phase in a new ride as the season gets warmer.
“We have a brand-new car which is just about ready, but we’re going to stick with what we know, see how the season goes and hopefully a few races in we’ll try the new car out. Jeff Taylor builds all of our cars and they’ve been fast everywhere we’ve been. I’m excited to check it out.”
While Benjamin’s feelings on the capacity of the schedule is a little mixed, the 2012 champion is pumped about the combination of familiarity and variety.
“I like the schedule, personally I’d like a few less races, 15 max, a shorter summer. We have long summers racing every weekend, but I love every track we are going to. We’ve had a ton of success at Oxford and Beech Ridge, Thunder Road we were close at last year, Thompson is always a good time. We get to go back to Montmagmy, which is one of my better tracks, so is 660 Speedway. Bangor (Speedway 95) is another good track for me. I like them all.”
Four-time PASS National Championship Series champion Ben Rowe, six-time PASS North champion Johnny Clark, 2015 Oxford 250 winner Glen Luce, DAV Fall Classic winner Derek Griffith and former ACT champion Joey Polewarczyk, Jr. are among others expected to run a heavy PASS North schedule.
The 2017 PASS North season begins with Icebreaker 2017 at Thompson this weekend, with qualifying heats on Saturday and the 75-lap feature on Sunday with both North and National points on the line. Be sure to keep up with Speed51’s Trackside Now coverage and watch full race highlights on the Speed51 Network powered by JEGS early next week.
-By Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com CT, MA & Long Island Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo Credit: Alan Ward