ONE CLARK IS THE NORTH CHAMPION….
Johnny Clark was honored as the PASS North champion at the series banquet in Portland, Maine this past weekend. Clark, who has now won the series title three times, is one of a select group of PASS North champions. In fact, during the eight-year history of the series, there are just as many champions as there are in the three-year history of the PASS South tour. Four-time titlist Ben Rowe and 2001 champion Sam Sessions are the only other PASS North champs.
Saturday night's show was a semi-formal affair and you had to wonder if maybe it wasn't quite fitting to Clark's style. After all, Clark is a blue-collar kind of guy. He doesn't employ any full-time help on his race team and he works days in his family's scrap metal yard before turning wrenches in his own shop. You won't see lots of bling and chrome on Clark's equipment, but you will find just about any part available to help it go faster bolted on. Clark is a friendly guy who would probably be just as at home enjoying a round of longnecks in his honor at a tavern or having a few lobsters boiled and steaks grilled at a cookout than he would being feted in a ballroom.
“If you've ever watched Cheers, he's like Norm. He walks into [a local bar] and everyone knows his name and calls it out," described banquet emcee Marco Thomas.
“I don't want to be up here anymore than you want to be listening to me,” joked Clark as he started his speech.
Clark wore the crown of champion well regardless, and on a night when he was the star, he quickly turned the spotlight back on his own crew.
“I know that everyone out there has a great crew,” said Clark. “But I really believe that my guys work the hardest. That is what made the difference this year in winning this championship.”
Then Clark called each member of his team up to share the stage with him, even asking crew chief Robert Green to put his beer down and make the walk to the stage.
Clark is already looking ahead to the 2009 season and would love to tie Ben Rowe's record of four titles. But he knows it won't be easy.
“I'd like to be a back-to-back champion, we've never done that before,” said Clark. “But it's going to be tough. I'm standing up here and looking out at all of the talent that's out there and I know they'll be hard to beat again.”
…WHILE ANOTHER ONE IS THE NATIONAL CHAMPION
Johnny Clark isn't related to fellow competitor Cassius Clark, but the two had something in common on Saturday night. Both were named as PASS Super Late Model champions. Cassius Clark was honored at the banquet for his title of 2008 PASS National SLM Champion after competing in a four-race series that consisted of events at Hickory Motor Speedway (NC), Orange County Speedway (NC), Beech Ridge Motor Speedway (ME) and Greenville-Pickens Speedway (SC).
Like the other champion, Cassius Clark also turned the focus to another member of his team while speaking to the crowd.
“I've really got to thank my Dad for this because I wouldn't be up here if it wasn't for him,” said Cassius Clark. “He works his ass off. We all have a good time on this team too.”
Cassius' father, Billy Clark, was also honored with the PASS lifetime achievement award. “The Farmington Flyer” has a long list of victories at Oxford Plain Speedway ME) and in what was the NASCAR Busch Grand National North Series as a driver. Now he serves as his son's crew chief. He is known for working long hours and driving long distances for doing whatever is necessary to prepare Cassius' cars 100% for each race, and has also lend a helping hand to other competitors in need on many occasions.
“If you find anyone in racing who is more dedicated than he is, you'll have to let me know,” said PASS President Tom Mayberry while presenting the award to Billy Clark.
2009 SCHEDULE COMES TOGETHER
PASS Series founder and President Tom Mayberry discussed what the 2009 schedule might look like during his speech at the PASS banquet.
Mayberry told the crowd that a 12-13 races schedule is the plan. The season will likely start on May 2nd at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway (ME) unless a date is scheduled at another track on the date of April 18th. A total of three races have been confirmed at Beech Ridge for the season, with another two set for Wiscasset Raceway (ME), two at White Mountain Motorsports Park and a single race at Riverside Speedway in Groveton, New Hampshire.
What Mayberry referred to as a “major” event will also take place at Lee USA Speedway on Tuesday night, July 14th. Although it was not specifically discussed, one has to wonder if the midweek date and PASS' previous history of arranging NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers to race in their series might set up a renewal of the “Top Dog Invitational” that Lee hosted in the 1990's. At that time, top NASCAR stars including the late Dale Earnhardt, as well as Ken Schrader, Michael Waltrip and Geoff Bodine took part in those races.
Mayberry also stated that PASS is discussing the possibility of events with Speedway 95 (ME), Unity Raceway (ME) and Thompson International Speedway (CT). The Thompson date may depend on whether or not the NASCAR Camping World East Series books a date at the track in 2009. In recent seasons, PASS and the East Series have been part of a mid-summer doubleheader race.
If PASS goes to Canada for any races in 2009, it will be to 600 Speedway near Fredericton, New Brunswick according to Mayberry.
Mayberry predicts that an official schedule will be released in approximately two weeks.
One thing that will be different about 2009 is that unlike this year, it is not likely that teams will be able to drop their worst race or two races when it comes to tallying points for the National or PASS North championships.
“I don't see any drops for next year in anything,” said Mayberry. “You'll race what you race and get the points that you get. The drops just got to be way too confusing.”
THEY SAID WHAT?
A number of light-hearted comments were made by various speakers during the PASS banquet. Here are a few of the best ones:
“If he doesn't win a race by the banquet next year, we might just have to let him in as a sheepdog,” - Tom Mayberry on Cassius Clark, who has vowed not to cut his hair until he wins his next race.
“I'm the only guy here who needs a haircut more than he does,” - emcee Marco Thomas referring to Cassius Clark.
“I love this division and there is no doubt where I'll be racing next year,” PASS Sportsman champion Richie Morse.
“Want to say a couple of words?" (emcee Marco Thomas while presenting the championship trophy to PASS Outlaw champion Mike Harnish). “No,” said Harnish.
“”I pick on him sometimes, but I'm not always sure that he gets my dry sense of humor,” - Tom Mayberry referring to PASS North standout Adam Bates.
“There is more to the PASS North Series than just the Rowes and the Clarks,” - Marco Thomas referring to the good years of Travis Benjamin, DJ Shaw and Adam Bates.
“We've had some booze,” - an unidentified person in the crowd's answer when asked from the podium why they were cheering so loud.
“Look at all of those nice clothes that he had to open up his wallet for,” Marco Thomas about PASS North champion Johnny Clark.
“This is a trying time with the way that the economy is, so we really appreciate all of your support,” - Tom Mayberry to the teams at the banquet.
“That was the hardest decision I ever had to make,” - Tom Mayberry on cancelling the 2008 PASS Outlaw series after two events with low car counts.
ALL OF THE AWARD WINNERS
PASS Outlaw Late Models:
Champion - Mike Harnish
Rookie of the Year - Scott Alexander
Most Improved: - Joe Decker
PASS Pluffybilt Racing Tractors Sportsman:
Champion - Richie Morse
Rookie of the Year - Kyle Hart
Most Improved - Jonathan Ledger
Sportsmanship- Steve Bennett Sr.
Hard Luck - Terry Merrill
Champion - Mark Lucas
Rookie of the Year - Andy Shaw
Most Improved - Scott McDaniel
Sportsmanship - Tom Oliver
Hard Luck - Greg Ellis
PASS North Super Late Models:
Champion - Johnny Clark
Rookie of the Year - D.J. Shaw
Most Improved - Adam Bates
Sportsmanship - Kelly Moore
Hard Luck - Donnie Whitten
Dedication Award - Jack Gerbrands and Bill Hill of Northern Race Tires
Lifetime Achievement Award - Billy Clark