It is a season that being billed as the biggest yet by founder Mike Parks as the Granite State Pro Stock Series returns for its sixth full year in operation. New events and new tracks will be on the horizon with news faces joining old faces for a run at the season-long championship. While the rising stars are garnering attention, it’s the series veterans that lead the way heading into the season opener at Lee USA Speedway (NH) this Sunday.
Despite not winning a race last year, 58-year-old Barry Gray of Belchertown, MA was the champion in 2016, barely beating out DJ Shaw for his first title in a touring series. Gray was ready to hang the helmet up early last year, but after drafting in some help soon after and getting the champion’s check, Gray is ready for title defense and a return to victory lane in 2017.
“We’re all excited. We didn’t lay down on the job; we did some work over the winter to see if we can get it a little better so we can finish up better. We’re raring to go. We sent the car to Jeremy Davis Motorsports, he made some changes to the car, went through it all,” Gray told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “We went up to Monadnock and tested, the cars seemed to be good; I’m excited. Last year, I went from being ready to retire after three or four races because we sucked, to having somebody else help with the car and I was like, ‘Yeah, okay, this is better.’”
While Gray is ready for 2017 as a whole, he has his eyes set on the beginning of July as the GSPSS makes its first ever appearance at New Hampshire Motor Speedway as part of the New England Short Track Showdown.
“I’ve never been on a track near that size, but I’m looking forward to going up and testing. We went up with the kid (son Adam) last year in the ACT car and got it together pretty good and he enjoyed it,” Gray explained. “I’m looking forward to that one. But we’ll have to see, at Loudon you’ll have a couple ringers coming in that have raced Loudon. I know Eddie MacDonald is running, I know Teddy Christopher wants to run it, a lot of guys with experience want to, so we’ll see what happens, but we’ll do the best we can.”
Gray knows that winning both at the “Magic Mile” and at any other event will be a tough chore.
“We got a pretty good roster, lot of good cars. That’s the thing about this division, anytime you show up somewhere there’s a lot of cars that can win it,” Gray stated. “You got twenty cars in a race, fifteen can win. Winning the championship, I did get lucky on a few things, but I’d rather be lucky than good, especially in racing.”
Fellow Massachusetts veteran driver and former GSPSS champion Mike O’Sullivan echoed Gray’s sentiments, and noted that things will get tougher as the season goes on, especially at Loudon.
“You can see the handwriting on the wall, as soon as the series starts the competition level is good to begin with, as the season goes on other guys become attracted and the competition level goes up,” O’Sullivan predicted. “You get guys that come in from PASS, some guys from weekly tracks and generally there’s five or six track champions mixed in. Competition has also grown as the series grows and this year is no different.”
After running a partial schedule with a new car in 2016, O’Sullivan now has a piece that’s still fresh, but has all the kinks straightened out.
“It only has seven races from when it came off the jig last year, didn’t have a whole lot of time on it. As far as that part goes we didn’t have a ton to do with the car, so it’s still pretty new. Motor has gotten freshened up, got a new body on it, new bearings and hubs, just the typical winter stuff.”
O’Sullivan plans to go the distance in 2017 and is excited for another large track, Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park (CT), which returns to the series after a two-year absence.
“We plan on running them all, as long as there are no family issues there as far as the kids go. But the way the schedule works out we’ll be able to run them all,” he stated. “It’s laid out nice, I like the tracks we’re going to. Thompson, very excited that we’re going back, haven’t been there in a couple years, that was my home track forever. Of course, Loudon, and Seekonk, I’ve only been to Seekonk one time.”
Another driver excited for the series debut at the “Cement Palace” on June 24, is Rhode Island’s Mike Mitchell who calls Seekonk’s Pro Stock division home. After running the series full time for the first time in 2016, Mitchell plans to do the same in 2017.
“That’s the plan, but we’ll take it race by race. I’m very excited (for Seekonk), I was actually doing some work this week with my business, got a chance to talk with David Auburn,” said Mitchell happily. “I love the track, it’s my home track, know it like the back of my hand, it’s a lot of fun. Very up on the wheel, no time to relax in the car unlike a lot of tracks where you have a straightaway.”
Mitchell plans to give his current race car a chance early in the year. He explained how his team has spent a lot of time on the car, but has yet to see the desired results the past couple seasons.
“I’ve had this car for four years and I’ve worked with different people with this car, Jeremy Davis recently. If the car doesn’t go this year or isn’t consistent as I want it to be, I’m getting rid of it,” Mitchell stated. “I’ve had a lot of people who are experts work on it and it it’s not performing, then there’s an issue with it. But, we sent that car up to Jeremy Davis in Maine, and we spent a good 12 to 14 hours on that car ourselves and I’m hoping it pays off.”
More names such as Josh King, Glen Martel, Matt Frahm, Cory Casagrande, George Bessette, and Zig Geno will mix it up with new comers Devin O’Connell, Nick Lascuola, Angelo Belsito, and Wyatt Alexander.
The 11-race Granite State Pro Stock Series is slated to visit ten venues this year, with Lee USA Speedway the only track hosting two dates, the first to open the season this Sunday and the second July 7.
The series will be in its home state five other times; June 2 at Claremont Speedway, the aforementioned New England Short Track Showdown at New Hampshire Motor Speedway July 1, White Mountain Motorsports Park on July 22, Monadnock Speedway August 12, and Star Speedway along with the ISMA Supermodifieds for the Star Classic September 12.
The GSPSS also heads out of state four times in 2017, the first for take two at Riverhead Raceway (NY) on Long Island on May 20 after a rain out in 2016. They will also make their way to Massachusetts’ Seekonk Speedway on June 24. The series will close out the season with the final two rounds in Connecticut, starting the Sunoco World Series October 13 and finishing at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl October 21.
Be sure to follow the Granite State Pro Stock Series all season long on Speed51.com.
-By: Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com CT, MA & Long Island Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com