Johnny Clark Is On Top of His Game in PASS North By Mike Twist
Victory in Beech Ridge's 300 Lapper is No Surprise to Anyone
As I was walking down the grid of cars assembled for the 300-lap PASS North main event at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway on Sunday, I was surprised about the number of drivers who told me that they had really good cars for the race…potentially winning cars…cars that any racer would be satisfied with.
When I stopped at Adam Bates' car and he told me the same thing about his mount. And then we talked about who else would be strong in the race. I mentioned a few of the other drivers who I had already talked to. Bates (the winner of the last PASS North race at Beech Ridge) and I agreed on how any number of cars could win the race.
But one car in particular might have stood out even more than the rest. Bates looked over at the unattended #54 of Johnny Clark on the grid and commented, “Johnny is going to be tough to beat today.”
And when all was said and done, Bates was right. Clark's #54 has been pretty much unbeatable of late. Clark knows it, his team knows it and the rest of the pit area knows it. Clark didn't quite have the fastest car of the day at Beech Ridge, but he made the right moves, got the right breaks and ended the day in victory lane - just ahead of a charging Bates in fact.
For Clark, this was the same story as in the Toyota Tundra 250 at Wiscasset and the PASS North race at Riverside Speedway (NH) earlier in the summer. It would have been the same story as All-Star Speedway, where a flat tire robbed Clark of an all-but-certain victory. It could have even been the same story as the last PASS North race at White Mountain, admittedly not one of Clark's best tracks, where he finished a close second to race winner DJ Shaw.
Right now, Clark and his team are on top of their game - and they are making winning look easy.
“It feels good,” said Clark of his roll. “This is just unbelievable.“
Ben Rowe knows a few things about being on a roll. He's won 32 PASS North races, led over 2,500 laps in that series and is a four-time champion. Rowe has watched Clark dominate of late and gives plenty of credit where it is due.
“Those guys are good and have their act together,” said Rowe. “They've stepped up to the plate and they win races. That's how you win championships. You don't run eighth to 10th and win championships. You've got to have your guys working in the right direction and have your shit ready. You've got to get to the track and do your thing and go. That is how it's done.”
Clark was lucky to some degree at Beech Ridge. Trevor Sanborn dominated the race
and led during an exceptionally long green flag run. Adam Bates led late in that run
and it seemed that those two drivers had the fastest cars on the track. But Clark also
created his own luck. When the caution did come out, it played right into Clark's pit
strategy. A quick pit stop by Clark's #54 team then got them out first and Clark never
gave up that lead.
“Pit strategy won this at the end,” said Clark. “The strategy was perfect. We needed
that long green run and it came at the right time. Just like at Wiscasset, we were
lucky. But at the same time, we were really good and you need both to win one of
“The race played out absolutely perfect for us. Everybody came to pit road except for
two cars that were laps down. We came in and put two tires on. We beat everyone out
of the pits. We even came in towards the back of the field. There were guys stopped
and putting their tires on before I even got to my pit stall. The team was quick and I just dropped the clutch, spun the tires and beat Trevor out.
“I think that even if Trevor had come out in front of us, we could have had him. He faded at the end. I thought that he was going to be a real player. Then there was Adam Bates. He was the one that I was worried about. He's won here and he's good here. He was extremely good on a long run all weekend and everyone knew that.”
Johnny Clark's #54 (Jamie Williams Photos)
Johnny Clark's #54 celebrates their victory in the rain at Beech Ridge.
The key to Clark's recent dominance is….well…that there is no single key to it. At Beech Ridge, and earlier this season in the Wiscasset 250, a great pit stop and smart pit strategy helped win the race. But that's not all. The two-time PASS North champion is also making smart moves on the racetrack by staying out of trouble. And still, he hasn't given up much of his patterned aggressiveness either. Plus, good equipment helps and the #54 certainly has that. More importantly, they know what to do with it.
“I can't say enough about Butler and MacMaster engines and Port City Racecars. This car has just been a rocket since we broke it out.”
Attention to detail, even in something as seemingly simple as the team's choice of wheel hubs, makes a difference too.
“We practiced [pit stops] for the 250 at Wiscasset,” said Clark. “The guys took to the five on fives and there is nobody up here who runs those. I counted three cars including ours in the pit area that had them. In these pit stop races, that really paid off.”
It also doesn't hurt that Clark just seems to excel in long races with big money on the line. He's won events like that at Canada's Scotia Speedworld, Maine's Unity Raceway and at Wiscasset. He also scored a near-hit by finishing second in the inaugural Mason-Dixon Meltdown at South Boston Speedway (VA) a few years back. Clark likes this type of race and it shows.
“I just love these long races,” said Clark. “I love saving what I have and we went the whole 300 laps on the same left side tires. We pitted twice for right side tires and that was it. American Racer builds a good tire and that made it possible.”
Well, technically, Clark only ran 295 laps on those left side tires. Rain stopped the event short five laps from its advertised distance. But it really didn't matter if the race ran those extra five laps or another 50. Sunday was Clark's day and unless he encountered some bad luck, he was going to win that time out.
Finishing behind Clark were Bates, Kelly Moore, Sanborn and Cassius Clark.
Speed51.com will have more from the PASS 300 coming soon with our leftovers form the race.
Johnny Clark pitted twice for right side tires during the race.