After two seasons of struggling to get his footing in Late Model racing, Devin O’Connell found the stability he had enjoyed as a Legends Car driver during the 2018 season. The Southern Connecticut driver not only took down his first two wins in a Late Model, but his first touring title, winning the Granite State Pro Stock Series championship.
Now, O’Connell is back to expand his success in 2019, with a winter of both celebration and team improvement ending at one of the nation’s grandest short track destinations: Richmond Raceway (VA) and the inaugural Pro All Stars Series Commonwealth Classic.
O’Connell will take on the “Crate” portion of the PASS National Championship opener, running the same car which carried him to a GSPSS title in 2018.
“It’s been crazy. We had a little change around with some crew members, but we’ve done a lot of work to the car, a new body, new interior, and just making sure this thing is 100%,” O’Connell told Speed51.com. “Our biggest struggle last year was big race tracks, a little bit of it was motor, and another was aero. We rebuilt the motor, new body, this thing is sharp, and hopefully it’ll be as fast as it looks.”
Like all of his competitors, the chance to run Richmond under the PASS sanction is too tempting an opportunity to turn down. With Richmond being the latest track on the NASCAR Cup schedule to open its gates for Super Late Model racing, O’Connell feels it’s a can’t-miss opportunity.
“Going to Richmond to start the year is such a cool opportunity. I’m pumped for it, it’s a perfect track for Late Models even. You had the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown there a few years ago, I’ve been looking at in-cars to get a better idea of what it’ll be like. I can’t wait, I love how we have all these Cup tracks now throwing Late Models out there. We got Richmond now and Loudon later in the year, and hopefully we can do more in the future if funding permits.”
The Commonwealth Classic is just the beginning of a busy early spring for the No. 43 camp, with the next PASS National round just one week later back in Connecticut at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park’s Icebreaker. After that, it’s back south to Tennessee and Nashville’s Fairgrounds Speedway for the make-up of the 2018 All-American 400, with O’Connell planning to run his newly acquired built-engine Super Late Model for the first time.
With PASS offering teams with crate engines a chance to run in their own 75-lap race with full National points and payout, O’Connell is seizing on the chance, knowing that it fits best with his plans and gives him the best chance at winning.
“I like that they’re doing it, but even if they didn’t, I would’ve taken our new car for Nashville. But I’m definitely thankful because it makes things a lot easier for us. We can keep that car to the All-American rules, at the same time we can get laps on the championship car. We thought about running the Open race too, which you can with a Crate motor, we just chose not to because even with the rules and weight break, the built motors will probably be a little quicker than the Crates. But it was nice they gave us that option.”
After mulling over different options for expanding their 2019 schedule, O’Connell and his family and friends team settled on going for the entire PASS National campaign, which includes both road trips down south, but also races close to home.
“This year, just looking at the roster it’s going to be even tougher than last year with all of the drivers coming in. But, we wanted to take a challenge and go for the PASS National Championship. It works right into our schedule, so we figured, why not? We get to expand on the tracks with these southern races and get more seat time. We’re going to keep learning, keep bettering ourselves, and see how it goes.”
After running both Legends Cars and Allison Legacy in the Southeast as a youngster, the now 21-year-old O’Connell is thankful to have the chance to get back down there. But there is one track and one race on the PASS schedule in the Northeast that is firmly in his mind: Oxford Plains Speedway (ME) and the 46th Annual Oxford 250.
“The Oxford 250 is the one I’m really excited for. We tried to qualify for it back in 2017 and I didn’t know much about the track, which put us behind. We’re going in much more prepared this year, we got a little better idea of what we need to do, and we’ll ask from the resources I got to try and points us in a better direction.”
Despite the plans to run the All-American make-up and PASS National, O’Connell and the No. 43 will be back on the Granite State Pro Stock Series, ready to defend his title starting in May.
“We’ll be back in Granite State too. It’s nice having some tracks closer to us being a southern New England based team. So, we decided to stick with it and defend our title. Again, the schedules fit well, so we can go for both Granite State and PASS National. It’s going to be a lot of fun, I can’t wait to see everyone again, you can go race at the track, and afterwards have a beer with those guys.”
Speed51.com will be on site at Richmond Raceway this Friday and Saturday for the PASS Commonwealth Classic. Subscribe to the Speed51 Network to watch all of our on-demand video content from the weekend.
-Story by: Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com Northeast Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo credit: Speed51.com photo