Story By: JUSTIN ST. LOUIS / SPRINT CARS OF NEW ENGLAND – BRIDPORT, VT – The Sprint Cars of New England (SCoNE) tour celebrated its 20th season of competition in 2023, and it was a special year in many ways.
SCoNE saw many benchmark moments during the year including a pre-season shift in management, an influx of new sponsors including the McGee Automotive Family of dealerships, a record high for participating race teams, the first visit (and victory) by a national-level driver, the addition of a new track, a permanent change in ownership, and a promising view of the future with an exciting 2024 schedule.
Victory lanes were mostly dominated by Chris Donnelly and Matt Tanner, though it was proven on many occasions that they were not invincible. Donnelly won four races at Bear Ridge Speedway and reigned as the tour’s champion for the eighth time, and Tanner continued his dominance at Devil’s Bowl Speedway, but Clay Dow, Caleb Lamson, Jake Williams, and NASCAR driver Chase Briscoe were also winners, and many others were serious contenders who fell just short of a checkered flag.
New management was installed just before the season started, with longtime racing official Justin St. Louis being voted in as President and former SCoNE champion Dan Douville being named Director of Competition. Douville’s father, Dennis “Pep” Douville, and Al Maynard were also brought in as race day officials.
On the eve of the new year comes a race-by-race look in the rear-view mirror at an important 2023 season for the “winged, wild, and wicked fast” McGee Automotive Family Sprint Cars of New England tour:
Race 1 – May 13 – Devil’s Bowl Speedway
· Travis Billington set the early pace before Matt Tanner took control and sped away to the sixth SCoNE win of his career – his fifth at the Devil’s Bowl half-mile. Empire Super Sprints (ESS) champion Jordan Poirier drove from 14th starting position to take the runner-up finish in a rare SCoNE appearance, and young newcomer Chase Moran finished an impressive third. The race was presented by Mike Rivers Automotive of Franklin, N.H.
Race 2 – May 27 – Bear Ridge Speedway
· Chris Donnelly spoiled what had been a dominant party for Jake Williams with a pass for the lead with eight laps left, picking up his first win of the season. The father-son duo of Floyd and Travis Billington came up to battle for second, with the younger Travis taking the spot. The race was the first for the new partnership with the McGee Automotive Family chain, the first of four Bear Ridge events supported by Green Mountain Gear-Heads, and Doug McPhail claimed the first Hard Charger Award presented by Rockingham Boat.
Race 3 – May 28 – Devil’s Bowl Speedway
· The second half of the Memorial Day weekend doubleheader was just as good for Floyd Billington, as he led eight laps and finished as the runner-up, but it was again Matt Tanner with the victory. Chris Donnelly was third with Will Hull scoring his first top-five finish of the year in fourth place.
Race 4 – June 25 – Bear Ridge Speedway
· A rainy weekend postponed Saturday’s event to a rare Sunday, and a shower between the CMD Logging heat races and the 25-lap feature made the track surface wickedly fast. The box score will show that former champion Clay Dow led every lap, but he traded slide jobs with Chris Donnelly twice in the final lap in heavy lapped traffic in a memorable duel that brought fans to their feet. Will Hull was third ahead of young Kadyn Berry’s first-ever top-five finish in fourth, which came after a race-long fight with his uncle Tunk Berry, another former SCoNE champion.
Race 5 – July 8 – Devil’s Bowl Speedway
· Another tacky surface saw Devil’s Bowl dominator Matt Tanner turning average lap speeds over 110 miles per hour, but the underdogs stole the show. Doug McPhail led 20 of the first 25 laps before blowing an engine, giving the lead to young gun Caleb Lamson. Tanner marched through the field to make a run at Lamson on the final lap, but Lamson out-dragged him to win by about a car length.
Race 6 – July 14 – The Flat Track at New Hampshire Motor Speedway
· Morning rain created a tricky track surface, and a scattered start to the feature left many drivers scrambling, but more than 6,000 fans were thrilled by a great race. Inaugural SCoNE champion Mark Cole and top rookie Jason Goff were poised for a runaway in the first dozen laps, but NASCAR Cup Series driver Chase Briscoe – aboard a new chassis provided by Matt Tanner – proved his talent by discovering a new lane on the top of the track and blistering the field. Jordan Fornwalt – whose first career SCoNE win came at NHMS the previous year – finished second in his only start of the season. Tanner was third with Chris Donnelly fourth, and Clay Dow recovered from the odd start to finish fifth.
Race 7 – July 22 – Bear Ridge Speedway
· Six was the magic number: Chris Donnelly started sixth in his return home to Bear Ridge and was utterly dominant, taking the lead on the sixth lap and needing just six minutes to lap all but the top six finishers in a caution-free race. Rookie Jason Goff started on the pole, and although he never led a lap, he was never out of contention and scored the runner-up finish. Matt Tanner made his first start at Bear Ridge since 2009 – when he scored his first SCoNE win – and finished third.
Race 8 – August 26 – Bear Ridge Speedway
· Chris Donnelly won again at Bear Ridge, but again the underdogs were shining. Doug McPhail and Troy Comeau led laps in the first half of the race, and Jake Williams – who had struggled in recent events – was able to flex some muscle by finishing second. Comeau was third for his first SCoNE podium finish in eight years, and his cousin, Nick, scored his first-ever top-five in fifth place behind Will Hull.
Race 9 – September 3 – Devil’s Bowl Speedway
· The wildest race of the summer (save for New Hampshire Motor Speedway) drew 23 cars from as far away as Pennsylvania – SCoNE’s largest single-race field in a decade – a big wreck for Sam Comeau, and an intense late-race battle for the win. Will Hull looked the part in the first half of the race before Matt Tanner made his way from 11th starting position to the lead. Hull navigated heavy lapped traffic to steal the lead from Tanner on the last lap, but Tanner took it back for a narrow margin of victory. Chase Moran was third, Chris Donnelly survived big contact during Comeau’s flip for fourth place, and Floyd Billington recovered from an early spin to restart 22nd and finish fifth.
Race 10 – September 16 – Bear Ridge Speedway
· Chris Donnelly wrapped up his eighth SCoNE title in dramatic fashion with a last-lap pass for the victory in the year’s final championship-counting race. Rookies J.P. Vaillancourt, Ron Davis, and Jason Goff spent most of the race up front before a big jam-up in the final laps shuffled the field. Goff had the lead until the backstretch of the final circuit when Donnelly was able to sneak under him to put the exclamation point on his season. Chase Moran made a surprise visit and threaded the needle in the late scrum to finish third ahead of Nick Comeau and Troy Comeau.
Bonus Race – September 29 – Unity Raceway
· A post-season special event was added at the reborn Unity Raceway in Maine, and the fans turned out in a big way. Eleven race teams made the long haul up I-95 for the exhibition show, and following an on-track autograph session and two fun heat races, the big crowd was on its feet for the 20-lap feature on a lightning-fast track surface. Jake Williams was the class of the field and ended a three-year winless skid with a convincing victory over Chris Donnelly. There was a glimpse of the future with the next three finishers as Caiden Herbert ran third in only the fourth Sprint Car start of his career, with fellow young guns Kadyn Berry and Nick Comeau rounding out the top five.
In all, 39 different drivers competed with SCoNE at least once in 2023 – the most ever in the tour’s 20-year history. A post-season meeting was held on November 11 in Bristol, N.H., to discuss the state of SCoNE and to prepare for the future; the meeting was well attended by new and returning teams alike, and all indications point to another year of momentum and growth in 2024.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Justin St. Louis officially purchased the Sprint Cars of New England organization from founder Mike Kondrat, and has established a new operations office in Bridport, Vt.; St. Louis is planning for many years of progress for Sprint Car racing in the Northeast and is looking forward to working with race teams, track promoters, and sponsors alike.
The 2023 Sprint Cars of New England season officially wraps up with the annual awards banquet on Saturday, January 27 at Hart’s Turkey Farm in Meredith, N.H.; tickets are available now and the ordering deadline is Wednesday, January 17.
The 2024 SCoNE schedule will have 12 championship races, beginning at Devil’s Bowl on May 11 and wrapping up with a doubleheader at Unity Raceway on the weekend of September 20-21. The schedule also includes events at Bear Ridge, The Flat Track at NHMS on NASCAR Cup Series weekend, and a brand-new race at Airborne Park Speedway in Plattsburgh, N.Y.
McGee Automotive Family has agreed to return to sponsor SCoNE through its Toyota and Mazda dealerships in Claremont, N.H., and Epping, N.H., and negotiations with several other interested partners are underway.