A year or two ago, nobody would have raised an eyebrow if a PASS North event came down to Mike Rowe and Trevor Sanborn in its closing laps. After all, Rowe sits third on the PASS North all-time win list and Sanborn has been one of the tour's rising stars in recent season.
But to see the race apparently coming down to those two men as the laps clicked down in the PASS 300 at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway on Sunday afternoon was a little bit of a shocker. That is because it was the first PASS North race of the year for both drivers.
Rowe had been concentrating on the weekly racing wars at Beech Ridge - having plenty of fun and success along the way. In 2009, he won seven feature events there and the track championship driving for car owner Dick Fowler. Sanborn was in his own personal racing hell. He had hoped to run ARCA, PASS North, PASS South and maybe more this year but a lack of funding and sponsorship kept him on the sidelines except for one Pro Series (Super Late Model) start at Beech Ridge in that tracks' regular season finale. In that race, Sanborn finished second to Rowe.
So maybe having the PASS 300 come down to those two drivers wouldn't be such a surprise after all.
Early in the race, neither driver showed their hand. Scott Chubbuck, Kelly Moore and Aaron Ricker all led laps. In the final third of the race, those drivers marched backwards though as Rowe and Sanborn marched to the front. Rowe took over the lead on lap 211 and less than 20 laps later, Sanborn was on his rear bumper.
Inside of 30 laps to go, Sanborn closed right up on that bumper in heavy lapped traffic and light contact was made. Rowe kicked sideways, but maintained the lead. Rowe wasn't so fortunate a few laps later though when Sanborn took over the top spot on a restart.
Sanborn pulled away after that restart and then got caught in lapped traffic. Rowe tucked in and finally caught him when there was two-wide lapped traffic in front of the leaders again. Sanborn escaped just in the nick of time and pulled away again. At that point, if the race ran caution free it looked like Sanborn would be the certain winner.
Well, the race did run caution free, but Sanborn wasn't its winner. With only 10 laps remaining, Sanborn's engine expired and he drifted up the track in turn one - handing the lead to Rowe, who ran most of the event without any power steering.
“Trevor Sanborn - you've got to give it to him,” said Rowe after the race. “I didn't know if I could get him or not, but I sure was trying. He got by me on that restart and then he had me beat. There was no doubt about it. I feel bad about that. My arms were giving out and the car was loose. I was just going to hang on for second and be happy with that. But sometimes you're going to be lucky and I was.”
Rowe was indeed lucky, but he also had to be good. That was because his mirror was now filling rapidly with the #60 car of young D.J. Shaw.
“I thought that we were just going to get to him,” said Shaw. “But he kept getting slower and slower. He drove like he drove all day even when his tires went away. I couldn't believe it. He was smoking that right rear tire all the way around. I smiled every lap the more we went and the closer I got, but I just didn't get there.”
Well, that isn't totally accurate. Shaw did get to Rowe on the final lap. He just couldn't get around him. For half of the final circuit around Beech Ridge, the two leaders were caught behind the lapped car of Billy Whorff, Jr. Coming out of turn four, Rowe took the high line around Whorff, while Shaw ducked low and made a last-ditch effort to win the race. It didn't work and Shaw was left with a runner-up finish.
“It's kind of too bad that lapped cars can't get out of your way when you are racing a race like this, but it was one of those deals,” said Rowe.
“I should have had him, but I didn't want to wreck somebody to win,” said Shaw. “I apologize to Billy Whorff, but I had to do what I had to do. He took my lane and I thought he was going to take Mike's, so I just kept right on going. That was the only dirty move I made all day.”
Rowe agrees with Shaw on that last point.
“I ran him clean and he ran me clean,” said Rowe of racing with Shaw. “I've got no complaints there. I guess that he told somebody that I was using a lot of track, but when I'm leading with five laps to go, I'm going to use a lot of track. If you don't, you're not a racecar driver.”
Shaw was able to close in on Rowe so quickly because the lost power steering was taking its toll on Rowe and his racecar.
“We lost the power steering the about 25 laps into it,” said Rowe. “At the end, I was just hanging on there. My arms were giving out and the car was getting loose. The car was hitching all the time. One minute it would be there and the next it wouldn't.”
After the race, Rowe admitted that it felt nice to win in his PASS North return, but was more thoughtful about those around him. Most of all, he was very proud to give his Fowler team a victory at their home track
“I just want to thank the crew because they did one hell of a job,” said Rowe. “This is for them. They wanted me to run this race. I wasn't scheduled to run it, but we did because they wanted to and this win is for them.”
Rowe also felt bad for Sanborn and his fate. After victory lane ceremonies were over, he headed right to Sanborn's pit to seek out the young driver - who had left immediately after the race.
“I went over to see him and he was gone, but I told his crew that they had a hell of a car there at the end. When I saw him drop out, I felt bad for them.”
Now that the Beech Ridge season is over, Rowe has one more PASS event on his schedule. He told Speed51.com that he plans to race on Friday night at White Mountain Motorsports Park in the P.T. Watts #2 Super Late Model.
“We were scheduled to run his car this week at White Mountain, so if they get it all together we will definitely be up there.”
TITLE PICTURE DOESN'T CHANGE WITH ONE RACE TO GO
Championship contenders Johnny Clark and Ben Rowe had pretty much a draw at Beech Ridge. Point leader Clark finished fourth and Rowe placed one spot ahead of him. This means that Clark maintains a fairly healthy lead with just one race remaining in the season.
Clark isn't resting easy though.
“I definitely wanted to come out of here gaining points and we didn't do that,” said Clark. “We are just going to White Mountain to have a good run and do nothing stupid. But it will not be over until that checkered flag flies.
“We had a good solid top five run here today and we'll try to do that again at White Mountain.”
Rowe is almost ready to concede the title to Clark though.
“The championship up here, we kind of gave that away. We were racing Johnny hard and I wish it was closer. We just can't catch him and I don't want him to have bad luck. I don't want to win that way. If we go to White Mountain and he falls out, I'd just as soon want to give it to him anyways.”
Still, Clark maintains that he isn't feeling the least bit comfortable - especially considering that Rowe is the series' winningest driver at White Mountain.
“Absolutely not,” said Clark when asked if he felt safe in the championship battle. “I wanted to put it away right here and we weren't able to do that. Ben had a solid run finishing third. It got pretty scary there where it looked like we were going to end up. We pitted so early. Cassius got into somebody and I got caught up in that. I don't even know what happened, but I know that I got into Cassius and then I had a tire rub and had to pit right away. Then we had to pit again to try and fix it. A few cars short-pitted. We just wanted to get it squared away before our planned pit stop. Mike won it like that, but he wasn't going to win it because Trevor had him beat. So I think it was the right thing to do.”
And Clark is already assuming that Rowe will win at White Mountain.
“Absolutely. It's White Mountain, so you have to. We're just going to have a good solid run ourselves and not worry about where Ben finishes, but you have to assume that he is going to win the race. We just need to have a good solid top ten run.”
BEN ROWE LOOKS AHEAD TO OTHER TITLES
Ben Rowe might have given up hope at the PASS North title, but the Beech Ridge race was also a PASS National Super Late Model Series points event and he gained ground on that title with his podium finish (neither Mike Rowe or DJ Shaw are competing for that championship this year). Ben Rowe is also leading the PASS South standings, so this season could still net two championship for him.
“We are concentrating on the South and the National deals right now. That is what we can do and we can't let those slip away,” said Rowe. “We shouldn't have finished third. I thought I'd be eighth or ninth there. We just can't get it right here. It's not from lack of effort. These guys changed everything on this. We tell other people what to do and they do it and are better than us. I don't know. This is a little bit different chassis, so maybe we need to bring something different back.
“For the National deal, this is huge for us. [Jay] Fogelman, [Ryan] Blaney and Johnny [Clark] are the ones we have to watch out for there.”
RAMSTROM WRECK CHANGES PLANS FOR THIS WEEK
Derek Ramstrom got caught in an early wreck, which heavily damaged the #35 Super Late Model that he runs on the PASS North Tour. That was especially bad for the young Massachusetts racer given the week that he has ahead of him.
Ramstrom was planning on qualifying for the NASCAR Camping World East Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Thursday afternoon, then racing his Thompson Super Late Model at that Connecticut track on Thursday night, returning to NHMS for Friday's dinnertime CW East race and then running the PASS North finale at White Mountain Motorsports Park on Friday night, but the damage to his car rules out the last part of those plans.
“The car is pretty wrecked, so we probably aren't going to run White Mountain now,” said Ramstrom. “We're just going to Loudon and still run the Thompson race. It was a rough day at Beech Ridge.”
“We were going to run White Mountain and Loudon [in the same night] but it would be just too much of a cram to get the car ready now. It would be chaos if we tried it. We don't want to give up the Thompson championship [where Ramstrom leads the track's SLM point standings] and/or wreck our chances of running well at Loudon.”
The week wills till be a busy one though - even with one less race.
“It will be tough. It's definitely going to be busy,” said Ramstrom. “It will be my first time at Loudon, so it should be interesting.”
LONG TRIP NETS A TOP TEN FINISH FOR GIBSON
PASS South regular Mark Gibson made his first trip to Beech Ridge on Sunday and he was rewarded with a solid 10th-place finish.
“It's definitely that [a new world],” said Gibson. “It was a big challenge and we're happy to come out of here with a good finish and the car in one piece. There are good cars and good drivers up here and I had a good time.”
Gibson actually got one lap down early in the Beech Ridge race, but made it up with a lucky dog pass and got right back into the thick of things after that.
“We kept digging. We've seen how these PASS races can go. I've seen cars that qualified 16th or 18th win a race. I didn't think that we could do that today, but I thought some guys would fall out. We were actually getting better on long runs. On 100 lap tires, our car was more balanced than on fresh tires.
SON ISN'T SURPRISED WITH FATHER'S VICTORY
Ben Rowe wasn't the least bit surprised to see his father Mike win the PASS 300.
“He's been here 100 times. I came down here last Saturday night and I got into his car for about 10 laps. I said , ' Man, this car is unbelievable.' When you give a guy like him a car like that and try to beat him, it's not going to happen.”
So was it safe to say that Ben thought that his father would be the guy to beat in the PASS 300? Nope. Ben didn't “think” his father would be unstoppable.
“No, I knew it. Last Saturday night when he drove by everyone and made them look stupid, I knew he'd be right here in this race too,” said Ben Rowe while standing next to victory lane.
- Mike Rowe has now won three of the five PASS 300 races that have been held at Beech Ridge. He has done so with three different car owners - the SP2 Motorsports team of Scott Pullen and Steve Perry in 2005, Paul “PT” Watts in 2007 and now Dick Fowler. Pullen, who is no longer active in racing, was on hand with his father to cheer Rowe on at Beech Ridge.
- Rain was an issue throughout the PASS 400 weekend - causing a six-hour delay to the schedule on Saturday afternoon. Sunday's races ran uninterrupted, but it was a close at the end. Minutes after the checkered flag flew on Sunday afternoon, it started to sprinkle lightly.