It's Rowe....No, Martin....No, Rowe....at Thompson By Mike Twist
Green-White-Checkers, Restarts and Rough driving Produce PASS North Drama
On the surface, Saturday's PASS North Super Late Model race at Thompson Speedway (CT) had all of the makings of a great story. A former track champion appeared to bring a long winless streak to an end, a young star with a record of recent success overcame adversity to battle for a victory at his home track and two former series champions were right there at the end too.
But Rick Martin was greeted by a chorus of boos when he headed to victory lane and it seemed like the crowd assembled might have wished for Martin to have his win nullified.
As it turns out, their wishes came true. On Monday, PASS officials ruled that Martin jumped the final restart. Martin was relegated to second while Ben Rowe was declared the winner.
The trouble actually began on lap 73, when Matt Frahm found his car stopped against the backstretch wall. Martin was the leader at the time with young Derek Ramstrom applying heavy pressure. Ramstrom, a PASS North regular who has won the last three weekly Pro Stock races at Thompson in his spare time, had started in the rear of the field after mechanical problems in his heat race. At that point he hoped to be able to make a late race pass for the lead.
The caution came out for Frahm's incident and on the restart, Ramstrom made a move on the outside to get into the lead. Instead, he found himself bouncing off the outside wall. How did this happen? We'll get to that later. There's still a more telling story in this one.
With Ramstrom out of the picture, Martin appeared to be coasting to an easy victory. But it was anything but easy for Gary Bellefleur further back in the pack. Bellefleur spun in turn one and backed into the outside wall hard. The caution came out as a result. Martin slowed, but Ben Rowe, Trevor Sanborn and Johnny Clark didn't. They all motored right on by and back to the start-finish line. We'll have more on that later as well.
Rowe, Sanborn and Clark weren't greeted by a checkered flag. Officials ruled that the white flag hadn't come out, so PASS deemed another attempt at a green-white-checkered finish necessary. PASS officials did try several times to have Rowe moved to the lead, but to no avail.
On what was the final restart, Martin jumped ahead by a large margin and the green stayed out. He cruised to the line first. That fact disgusted Rowe, who felt that he won
the race, as well as the angry fans - who weren't happy about seeing their favorite son Ramstrom get taken out of a battle for the lead.
So just who did win? Well, that was up for debate. Martin did his victory lane interview and Rowe also claimed that he was the winner.
“You don't have enough space on your recorder for what I have to say,” said Rowe. “We won the race. There is no question in my mind. Even if they don't say the caution was out, he jumped the restart on a green-white-checkered finish. He clearly took off to win the race and that's another no-no. There's no way he won and I know that [PASS President] Tom [Mayberry] will do the right thing. There's too many things wrong.”
“All I kept thinking was that we were going to lose another one here with two to go
when they had that caution,” said Martin. “On the last lap, the caution came out
[again] and I knew that we didn't race back to the caution, so I let off and those guys
came blasting by me. I hoped that I didn't see the caution and the checkered flag
The PASS rulebook states:
“If a yellow flag is displayed during the white flag lap, cars will be scored on the basis
of how they cross the finish line, should the yellow and checkered flags being
displayed simultaneously. Once the yellow flag is displayed drivers are expected to
maintain a reasonable speed in consideration of the conditions.”
The yellow flag alone waved for Rowe and the rest of the field, without any checkered
flag joining it.
Also, was Martin maintaining that “reasonable speed” by backing off? Did Rowe, Sanborn and Clark exceed it by making their passes?
The finish of the 2007 Mason-Dixon Meltdown, a PASS South race at Concord Motorsport Park (NC) created a type of precedence. In that race, Corey Williams was headed towards a likely victory when he found a spun car on the frontstretch on the final lap. Williams slowed and Rowe got by him to take the race victory.
“It's exactly like Concord,” said Rowe. “The only people who read the rules are me and Johnny [Clark] I guess. We got the white flag and we race back to the line. We did it at Concord and the race was over.”
Ben Rowe stopped on the frontstretch thinking that he won - but was directed back on the track for another green-white-checkered finish. A few minutes later, Rick Martin appeared in victory lane and took a bow as the apparent winner. But that changed again on Monday. (Jamie Williams Photos)
On the final restart, Rick Martin (#14) got a jump on Ben Rowe's #4. Was it too much? The PASS officials thought so. (Jamie Williams Photo)
Another issue was the final restart, when Martin pulled away from Rowe when he anticipated the green… maybe by a little bit too much.
“He was coming with me and he was ready to jump,” said Martin. “The leader is at a disadvantage, so you have to try and pull one out on them.”
A driver behind the battle for the lead had no doubt what Martin had done.
“That restart was pretty bad,” said Johnny Clark, who finished third. “My brother, Bobby, told me that they never even called green (on the radio) on that last restart because the #14 just went. So I'm sure they are discussing that. It's too bad, because it's a restart that never should have happened and then he [Martin] jumped it.”
On Monday, PASS issued the following statement from series president, Tom Mayberry:
“One of the signature procedures of the Pro All Stars Series is great race restarts, side by side, with the flagman always starting the race. This is to provide a professional show for the fans and the competitors.
“After reviewing this event it was determined that the 14 car of Rick Martin had numerous borderline restarts. On the final restart at lap 74, with no respect for PASS race procedures or his fellow competitors, he left on his own with a two car length lead. As all the drivers were told in the drivers' meeting, you cannot steal a finish by jumping the restart. We felt his jumping of the restart cost any other driver a chance of winning and cost the fans an exciting, side by side finish.
“Therefore, after careful review and much consideration we have penalized the 14 of Rick
Martin one position and there will be a significant fine. We feel this action is necessary
to maintain the integrity of our restart procedures,” concluded Mayberry.
The race procedures weren't the only thing that had people buzzing after the race
though. The Martin vs. Ramstrom incident was on everyone's mind as well.
“He raced me a little bit dirty,” said Ramstrom, who ended up finishing fifth.. “I would
try to get under him by going high and then low and he'd change lanes on me. Then
coming off turn four on the restart (first attempt on the green-white-checker), he just
moved up a lane and I was still there. It was probably the roughest race all year.”
Martin admitted contact blamed Ramstrom for his own demise.
“When we came down for the start, he gave me two shots in the door,” said Martin.
“I took off and he hit me in the right rear and the car took off. I was turning left and it
snapped back and hit him and he just hit the wall. Every time on the restart, he was
like 'boom…boom' to me. I wasn't running him up the track.”
The drivers behind the incident saw it differently.
“I feel bad for Ramstrom,” said Clark. “From my angle, he got used up pretty bad.”
“The #14 [Martin] ran him all over the place,” said Rowe. “The #35 [Ramstrom] was
clearly the best car and the #14 didn't want to give it up. Rick is hard; he's one
hard, hell of a racer.”
Ramstrom didn't hide his disappointment after the race.
“It was tough…this is my favorite track,” said Ramstrom, who unofficially finished fifth. “We've had three consecutive wins here and everything was going good. I wish we could have got this one because it would have been bigger. It would have been my first PASS Super Late Model win and it would have meant a lot.”
Johnny Clark was credited with third place with Trevor Sanborn finishing in the fourth position.
WILLIAMS' HOMECOMING DOESN'T GO AS PLANNED
PASS South regular Corey Williams was sitting comfortably in third for much of the race at Thompson. It was the Maine driver's first ride up in PASS North since 2006 and his first time driving for car owner Jay Cushman, but a variety of late race problems left him unofficially finishing back in the 17th position.
“We were cruising and I saw them coming too me,” said Williams. “They were wearing their stuff out. Then I felt my car getting squirrely and I knew that I had a tire going down. Both right side tires were flat. So we went back out and it all went down hill from there. We lost the brakes and blew another right front tire. We didn't really have a whole lot of luck, but we did have an awesome car.”
Rick Martin (#14) and Derek Ramstrom (#35) raced in tight quarters (Top - Jamie Williams Photo), with Ramstrom's ride showing the signs of the battle after the race. (Bottom - 51 Photo)
Gary Bellefleur's wreck triggered the final caution and while Rick Martin might have lost the race, Bellfleur might have lost a racecar. (Jamie Williams Photo)
Williams enjoyed his time working with the Cushman team.
“Those guys are awesome. Jay and his guys were really nice people to work with. They worked their butts off today and we definitely had the car to show for that. I wish that we could have gotten the finish they deserved.”
After the PASS race was over, Williams wasn't finished with his day. At that point, he shed the tag of racecar driver and went back to his 9-5 job of being a crew member for the NASCAR Camping World East Series team of Andy Santerre Motorsports and driver Peyton Sellers. That series ran their feature right after the PASS race.
“I'll go watch the Camping World race and help them load up now,” said Williams.
UPHILL BATTLE FOR RAMSTROM
We told you how Derek Ramstrom contended for the victory late in the race at Thompson, but we haven't told you that he almost wasn't even in the starting field. Electrical problems kept the team from running their heat race, so they thrashed to make it into the feature. The team even went as far to take their second racecar, the one raced weekly at Thompson, from the midway of the grandstands to the pits to serve as a back-up if needed.
But the team managed to get their primary car ready just in time to race, and it proved to be the right decision.
“We couldn't get it started [ earlier],” said Ramstrom. “We had electrical problems. In the first practice, we were pretty fast and in the second practice, the car wouldn't start. We ran around with our heads cut off trying to get going and it was wild. We got it running and started from the tail. I didn't take my time because I knew I had to work quick. If it was a 150-lap race, I would have paced myself.”
MARTIN OVERCOMES AS WELL
Even the eventual second-place finisher had trouble at Thompson. Rick Martin almost had a tough break with his brakes, but was able to adjust accordingly and still stay out front.
“The car was good, but the brakes were going away,” said Martin. “We changed all four rotors after the warm-ups. After about 30-40 laps, it just wasn't the same. I was pumping up the pedal going into the corner and a few times, I'd hit it and I would have all front brake. It would just skid up the track.”
JOHNNY GETS ROLLING AT THE BIG T
When you think of tracks where Johnny Clark excels, you usually think of places like
Wiscasset, Riverside Speedway and Unity Raceway - places where he has just
dominated races. It turns out though that the two-time PASS North champion also does
pretty well at Thompson too - as proven by a third-place finish.
“We finished second here between Cassius once and bumper-to-bumper behind Ben.
We've had good runs here,” said Clark. “We've always finished in the top five or done
ok here. This is one of our better cars and we were real good tonight. We were maybe
a fourth or fifth place car, but at least we were in the pack of five that was out front.
We haven't had a top five since we won Wiscasset.”
Corey Williams took the Cushman Ford for a spin at Thomspon. (Jamie Williams Photos)
Johnny Clark (#54) crosses the finish line ahead of a tight top five battle. (Jamie Williams Photo)