Although, he is only 25 years old, 2014 might be the season when Joey Polewarczyk, Jr. – affectionately known to the racing world as Joey Pole, takes the step from standout to cagey veteran in the short track world.
New England short track fans have seen him progress through a few stages of his career already. At first, he was a somewhat wild youngster who showed plenty of speed but ripped off a few of his own fenders along the way. Then the kid became a winner – having endured what seemed like an endless string of podium finishes before finally breaking through to victory lane in an American-Canadian Tour Late Model race at Seekonk Speedway in 2007. More touring victories followed before some really big trophies came his way. Winning the 2010 New Hampshire Motor Speedway ACT Invitational, 2012 Oxford 250 and the 2013 International 500 put him in the category of standout, while building up the stats that will probably earn him the title of “great” decades from now when he hangs up his helmet.
This year, Pole is playing the role of veteran well. He’s been quietly consistent. He has built up what might be an insurmountable point lead in ACT Late Models as he searches for his first major touring championship. In a half dozen ACT races, he has yet to finish outside the top five. In three PASS North races, he’s only finished outside the top five once.
Up until Friday night’s Seacoast 100 Granite State Pro Stock Series race at Lee USA Speedway (NH) though, he had been without a victory this season. Until there were just two laps to go in that event, it looked like that fact wasn’t going to change either.
Up to that point, Larry Gelinas had been in command of the show. Pole hadn’t been far behind and the two former Oxford 250 winners built up a straightaway lead from the rest of the field at one point. They were never more than a car length or two apart though. Their equality made it hard for Pole to do anything to take the lead though. On a few restarts, Pole would try a sweet crossover move out of turn two, but Gelinas is no rookie. He was prepared for the move and didn’t let Pole get by. The two continued to run close as laps clicked down. Gelinas wouldn’t block and Pole wouldn’t bump.
But then on lap 98, Brad Babb took a hard hit into the walls of first the frontstretch and then turn one, that was bad news for Babb – his car was possibly destroyed in the incident. It wasn’t good news for Gelinas either. On the restart, he got a little bit loose out of turn four and Pole got the advantage. He then kept his #97 out front for the final two laps and won his first feature of the season.
“Let’s be honest, if it wasn’t for that caution, he would have won that race,” said Pole. “We were pretty equal. We were close, but you know, I think for the first two laps after a restart we were a little bit better than him. It worked out for us.”
Pole acknowledged that his crossover attempts out of turn two probably weren’t going to work on a veteran like Gelinas.
“In turns one and two, he was tight and I was tight,” said Pole. “So I tried to work with that. On a couple of restarts, he would drive it in there and I tried to go where he wasn’t. He was expecting it. I tried to make it interesting at least.”
“The cautions hurt,” said Gelinas. “On that last one, I just spun the tires. I gave it too much, too early and that’s all it took.”
Winning his first race of the year was big for Pole. Winning it at his hometrack of Lee was huge as Joe Polewarcyk, Sr. was a regular Friday night competitor there as young Joey Pole was growing up.
“This is pretty special,” said Pole. “All year, we have been close. We’ve had seconds and thirds, but no wins. So it feels really good to get this off our back. It’s pretty special to win here. It’s Friday night, so now we have the whole weekend to celebrate. I used to come here as a kid in the stands and watch my Dad. After the race, I’d get to run right down onto the track. Now, I’m standing here after winning. It’s special.”
Derrick Griffith finished third and was very thankful to his Louie Mechalides-led team for giving him the opportunity for a podium run.
“I can’t complain at all,” said Griffith, while turning towards his crew members. “Louie set up a rocketship and I wouldn’t be here without those guys right over there.”
Matt Frahm and Dillon Moltz rounded out the top five finishers.
The Granite State Pro Stock Series returns to action for the JBH 100 at Monadnock Speedway on August 8th.
Hard Hit Ends a Rough Night for Babb
Sometimes it just isn’t your night. Friday at Lee was definitely not an evening that Brad Babb probably wants to remember.
Babb was running in the top five for much of the race, but he also had a role in the two biggest hits of the night. He was on the giving end of a hard wreck that took out Steven Dickey. Then he was on the receiving end of a wreck that ended his night, and quite possibly his racecar’s useful night.
On lap 75, Babb was inside of Dickey going into turn one. The two made contact and Dickey hit the wall hard. Dickey still managed to drive away and putter around the bottom of the track under caution. When Babb went by, Dickey hit the gas and turned right – taking both cars into the turn three wall.
“I was getting so loose and I got into him,” admitted Babb. “It was my fault and I apologize for that. Then he ran into me under caution. I really don’t blame him. That really screwed up my front end.”
Still, Babb held on to a top five running position until there were only two laps to go when he got pinched into the frontstretch wall, got up on two wheels, rode the wall, landed and finally slid up hard into the turn one wall. The hit was hard enough that it was felt by everyone up in the turn one tower.
Babb was not injured
“That was pretty hard, but stuff happens,” said Babb. I wasn’t quite outside of Derrick (Griffith) and we got together. It was kind of a racing deal. I should have known better than to go there and it wasn’t really his fault.”
Moltz Passes Plenty on Way to Fifth
Dillon Moltz might have made the slickest move of the night. In his heat race, he started near the rear of the field but worked his way up to battle Gelinas for the lead. Each lap, Moltz tried to put his fender under Gelinas’ quarter panel in turn three. So on the final lap, it was unexpected when Moltz turned hard right on the backstretch and then rocketed by Gelinas on the outside for the lead. The pass tuck and Moltz won his heat race.
A repeat performance wasn’t going to be possible though as Moltz got caught up as the innocent victim of an early race multi-car wreck in turn three.
Still, Moltz rebounded to finish fifth
Car owner Mark Brackett joked to Speed51.com that it seemed like Moltz passed about 90 cars between working back through the field after the wreck and resulting pit stops. Brackett also told 51 that the car was fairly heavily damaged. The car’s front ductwork was ripped out and something in the front end seemed to be bent.
Nadeau Flexes Muscle Early On
Beech Ridge Motor Speedway driver Bobby Nadeau led the early laps of the Seacoast 100. The young driver put his #35, a former Richie Dearborn machine, out front after starting on the pole, but was then caught in an early wreck that ended his night early with heavy front end damage.
Stone Makes GSPSS Debut
Vermonter Todd Stone made his Granite State Pro Stock Series debut by finishing ????. Stone is a former ACT Late Model competitor who know races a Modified weekly at Devil’s Bowl Speedway (VT). Since Devil’s Bowl had the week off for a midsummer break, it made sense for Stone to enter the Seacoast 100 with his #1X machine.
Faces in the Crowd
A few of the people spotted at Lee USA Speedway for the Seacoast 100 were former Oxford Plains Speedway champion and ACT regular Rolfe Rolfe, who was coaching Dillon Moltz. Beech Ridge Motor Speedway Pro Series (Super Late Model) drivers Bobby Timmons and Evan Beaulieu were there as well helping out Brad Babb and Wyatt Alexander respectively.
Veteran motorsports photographers Howie and Mary Hodge, who are known mostly for their Modified photos but are frequent visitors to tracks everywhere, were also on hand at Lee with cameras in hand.
– Story and Photo By: Mike Twist, Speed51.com Correspondent