Johnny Clark Makes Good on Favorite Tag at Wiscasset 250 By Mike Twist
It's a $30k Payday in PASS North
From the time that the $30,000-to-win Toyota Tundra 250 was announced last summer, there was one name that kept coming up more often than any other as the potential winner. It wasn't five time track champion Scott Chubbuck, four-time PASS North champion Ben Rowe, Maine Racing legend Mike Rowe or PASS South point leader Corey Williams that kept getting mentioned though. It was Johnny Clark.
To Clark, Wiscasset is his second home. He's won two of the last three PASS North races there. He won his first career PASS North race there too. He hones his skills on many off-weekends on the Tour by showing up to take part in the track's weekly racing program.
Still, the amount of pressure that comes with being the favorite can be crippling. Clark admits that he felt it leading up to Sunday's race, but it didn't let get to him. Just like many predicted, Clark did in fact win the event.
“I was very excited and started preparing for it form the time that they announced this race,” said Clark. “That's why we built a new car for the race that is now one for one. At the same time though, it starts tearing at you because this has been a dominant track for us and what if you win every one but the big one?”
Clark knew that was a possibility after growing up watching another Maine racer, Jeff Taylor, win nine track championships and 69 races at Oxford Plains Speedway, but get shut out of winning the track's marquee event - the TD Banknorth 250. He just hoped that his own outcome at Wiscasset didn't parallel that pattern.
“Was I going to be like Jeff Taylor who won everything at Oxford except for the Oxford 250?” Clark said. “ That crossed my mind and was messing with me more than it should have. That's why I was trying not to think of it this week. I tried to think that it was just a race. I tried to approach it as a 50 lap race that would last 250 laps.”
Had it actually been a 50 lap though, there would have been someone entirely different than Johnny Clark cashing the winner's check. Corey Williams ran away and hid from the field early in the racer with his #47 car, leading from the start through his pit stop on lap 110 - when his team was able to change tires and also fix a sticky throttle.
“We had a little issue with the throttle,” said Williams. “A piece of rubber or something got stuck in there and we got lucky to have a caution at a perfect time.”
Clark didn't put with many of the other leaders though. He stayed out and soon
took over the lead from Steve Knowlton. After the halfway point, he pulled away
from the field and stretched his lead to a full straightaway.
“I knew that when we checked out on old rubber and they had new rubber that we
were good,” said Clark. “It was starting to seem unbelievable.”
Finally, Clark's tires did start to show their age and both Trevor Sanborn and DJ
Shaw reeled him in to both get by and lead laps of their own. A caution on lap 198
finally allowed Clark to make his stop, but with just over 50 laps to go, was it too
late to get back to the front? Even Clark was nervous that he ended up having to pit
later than he wanted to.
But there was a silver lining to a late race stop too - Clark had been able to learn
from the gameplans that his competitors had followed.
“Oh yeah, I thought that we pitted late,” said Clark. “But I thought that lap 108 was too early. We wanted to pit around lap 175 or 180 and have 75 or so laps to go. I knew that everyone was loose, so I wanted to see what they were going to do to their cars. I knew that they would probably tighten them up. So I wanted to see how they went on the new tires and everyone started pushing. My car started to tighten up, so I asked if they were catching me. They weren't and they didn't go by me until the very end. I was pushing and they were pushing too, so I waved off all of my changes. We were going to tighten the car up with 50 to go and I'm glad that we didn't.”
Clark wasted no time getting back to the front. Within 25 laps, he was in the lead again.
Johnny Clark (#54), Steve Knowlton (#10), Corey Williams (#47s) and DJ Shaw (#60) race in tight quarters at Wiscasset. (Jamie Williams Photos)
Johnny Clark shows off the winning hardware for winning at Wiscasset.
“I had four new tires and they were all tight,” said Clark. “I knew that we would be able to get there if we didn't wreck when I went three-wide down the backstretch for third and disposed of Travis Benjamin and Trevor Sanborn. That's when I knew this race was over and they needed to get out of my way.”
Meanwhile, Williams was coming back as well. A defective tire on his first pit stop, turned his car into a flounder that struggled to stay in the top 10. But a final tire change brought it back to life and as the race neared completion, Williams was coming through the field and gaining on Clark.
“We pitted and that was our right rear tire,” said Williams after the race as he pointed to the cracked inside sidewall of his tire. “It was a terrible tire and the car got really got loose. When we put another set of right sides on, the car came back to life. We just didn't have enough time. When we got back up there, Johnny was on a rail so I don't know if we had anything for him. But it was good to at least get there to battle for one lap. So I'm happy with what we did. For a while, I wasn't sure what would happen there. I hoped it would come back around and it did.”
Williams got to Clark's bumper for a green, white, checkered finish, but there was no drama behind that. Clark wasn't going to let him get by and Williams never really had a chance to either.
“I knew that he had a good car, but I also knew that there was no way he would beat me on that restart,” said Clark. “I kept the pace up good and didn't want to spin the tires. As soon as [PASS Director] Tom [Mayberry] yelled green, I went. Nobody really tried anything funny on the restarts all night and I appreciate that. Everyone raced pretty clean for the lead and gave me a lane when I needed one. “
Finishing behind Clark and Williams were Steve Knowlton, Scott Chubbuck and Randy Turner.
Speed51.com will wrap up our Wiscasset coverage with an upcoming edition of our leftovers coming soon.
Johnny Clark's winning 54.