THOMPSON, Conn. — While it may not have first appeared that way, Garrett Hall got a lot more than an escape from the winter weather when his family-operated race team went to Florida in February for speedweeks at New Smyrna Speedway.
On Sunday, the notes he took on the high-banked half-mile at New Smyrna helped him ace his first exam of the Pro All Stars Series season, as Hall won the Icebreaker 75 at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park for his first career series victory.
“After racing down at New Smyrna for speedweeks, we didn’t have quite what we wanted,” said Hall, a full-time competitor at his hometown Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in Scarborough, Maine. “I was hoping we’d be a little better, but I’m really glad to come back here and win this race. “If we didn’t run down to Florida, it definitely wouldn’t have been like this here (at Thompson).”
The victory came in Hall’s eighth career start, with all seven previous attempts coming at either Beech Ridge or Oxford Plains Speedway — two notoriously short flat tracks. The high-banked Thompson, by contrast, is the largest track the series will visit this season at .625-miles with lap speeds in excess of 113 mph.
Hall beat another part-time PASS competitor, Derek Griffith, who had some struggles of his own at speedweeks this winter.
“Great job by Garrett today,” said Griffith, the 2015 Granite State Pro Stock Series champion, of Hudson, New Hampshire. “We raced him down in Florida, and we were pretty terrible down there, to be honest. It’s good to be up here and finish one-two. Congrats to him.”
Dave Garbo and Trevor Sanborn finished third and fourth, respectively, giving a sweep of the top four positions to part-time PASS teams. Four-time series champion Ben Rowe completed the top five.
Hall took the lead from the polesitter Sanborn on a lap 52 restart, powering around the outside groove to the lead off of turn two. That lead was challenged almost immediately, as a subsequent restart just three laps later put Hall in Griffith’s sights.
Griffith’s bid for the lead took shape on lap 57, as he drove under the leader exiting turn two and was door-to-door with him through turns three and four before Hall held him off.
The race then went green to the finish, and a second opportunity for Griffith never materialized.
“I thought I had him, but I just didn’t have the drive up off (the corner) that he did,” Griffith said. “It was close. I didn’t think I was going to win it at that point, but I thought I was going to have a chance at least. I kept him within an arm’s length, but just not enough to make something happen at the end.”
Hall still wasn’t convinced he had a car that could carry him to victory lane.
Asked when he knew he had a legitimate shot at the win, Hall said: “I guess when I took the lead, and then still then I didn’t really know because I knew (Griffith) was fast… I just had to drive it in as far as I could and try to not get into him too much. I just tried to drive as hard as I could and throw it all on the line.
“I was just trying to stay cool and calm and run my line and do as well as I could. If he had a better car, he had a better car. There wasn’t much I could do about that. I just had to drive as hard as I could and see what I could get.”
The race doubled as the season opener for the PASS North Series and the fourth race of the six-race PASS National Series schedule. National point leader Derek Ramstrom broke a shock and spun to bring out a caution while running inside the top five. He rallied back to finish 10th, but he lost the National points lead to Rowe.
Defending PASS North champion Mike Rowe brought out the first of the race’s two caution periods when he hit the backstretch wall on lap 24 after making contact with the No. 42 of Eric St. Gelais.
“He got into me going down the straightaway and just turned me,” Rowe said. “He was all over the place, anyway, and I passed him and he just cleaned me out. It’s racing, I guess. It’s horrible.”
After sustaining damage in qualifying Saturday, Travis Bejamin’s championship-winning Petit Motorsports team did not start Sunday’s race. Joey Doiron opted to drive a DJ Shaw backup car after damaging his two weeks earlier in a race at Hickory and drove from the rear to finish eighth.
With many of the pre-race favorites out of contention, the day belonged Hall.
“We don’t have the biggest team, but I definitely believe we have a great group here,” Hall said. “It’s a big confidence booster when your crew believes in you.”
Mike Hopkins, Larry Gelinas, Doiron, Glen Luce and Ramstrom finished sixth through 10th.