The Seekonk Late Models were second in line to crown their champion on the night of the Annual DAV Fall Classic. For 40 laps, Gerry DeGasparre, Mark Jenison, Richie Murray, and Chase Belcher all battled through the field to get themselves up front. The final push for the championship sent both fans and drivers flipping.
DeGasparre, the seven-time track champion, including six Late Model titles, was in the hunt to tie Dave Darling for all-time Seekonk Speedway track-champion leader. Belcher and Murray both looked to double their championship totals, adding to their Sport Truck titles from 2015 and 2019, respectively. Jenison was out to earn championship honors for the first time in his career.
Jenison started front most out of his four playoff counterparts, and was pushed by Belcher to race his way by Vinnie Arrenegado, Josh Hedges and Corey Fanning for the race lead. A Lap 21 restart allowed Jenison to get a great jump around Fanning to take over the lead, and Belcher and Murray followed close behind. A last-gas effort by DeGasparre to get around Jacob Burn and Luke Lebrun prevailed, finally catching him up to the three championship challengers.
A Lap 35 caution set up a five-lap shoot out for the ages. The Championship Four fired off, with Belcher and Jenison on the front row, Murray and Degasparre just behind. Jenison had speed on the outside, gradually edging ahead of Belcher as the laps counted down.
Approaching Turns 3 and 4, Jenison and Belcher drove their cars in as hard as their tires could physically handle.
“I started thinking about what was going to happen going into (Turns) 1 and 2, “ Jenison said in the moments leading to the finish. “Once I realized I was too far up in Turn 4, I knew I wasn’t gonna clear the exit, all I could hope is that (Belcher) was gonna give me the room to clear the wall, which would have meant he was gonna lose.”
As the checkered flag waved Belcher slid up into Jenison, pinching him into the wall at such an angle that Jenison was now a passenger in his Late Model which was sliding on its driver’s side door. Both cars grinded across the finishing line, fused at the hip, and coming to a halt in Turn 1.
“Neither one of us can deny it -- we were both on the floor with the gas pedal.” Jenison commented on crossing the line with Belcher. “When I went up on the wall, what propelled me was I was still on the throttle until I stopped. Neither one of us was gonna lift. It was almost a sign of respect, what he did. He knew he had to do that to beat me. If it were me, I would have backed out of it. But he wanted to beat me so bad.”
The championship hung in limbo as safety crews rushed to the scene high on the entrance of Turn 1. According to the timing and scoring system, Belcher had crossed the line first, by .07 seconds. That said, Race Control had a decision to make on whether they felt the action on Belcher’s car off Turn 4 was significant enough to cause the wreck. A decision was made to penalize Belcher for the incident, and complimented by a roar of applause, Jenison’s name was announced over the P.A. system as the 2022 Late Model Champion and feature winner.
“I was in the ambulance getting checked out when the call was made,” Jenison reflected on the moment he learned the result. “ My brother Glen swung the door open and told me ‘Let’s go champ!’ I was in shock. I was like ‘What do you mean?’”
After 24 years of racing, and after many close calls at tracks like Thompson and Star Speedway, the championship marked his first.
While Jenison’s victory was one for the ages, his day at the office was only half done by that point. After being cleared by medical personnel and interviewed on track by Kevin Boucher, Jenison needed to get right back into the zone to compete for his second championship of the night in the Pro Stock Division.
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