PASS South Leftovers: Easter Bunny 150
Some Drivers Happy While Other Confused After Racing at Hickory 
By Mike Twist and Jason Buckley
ANOTHER “AWAY” WIN IS SPECIAL FOR ROWE

Ben Rowe has won at PASS North tracks all through the New England.  From Thompson to White Mountain to Canada’s Scotia Speedworld, there aren’t many victory lanes on his home turf we Rowe hasn’t visited.

So that means Rowe has a new domain to conquer – PASS South.

Rowe won the Mason-Dixon Meltdown at Concord in 2007 and the PASS South opener at Dillon to start this season.  Winning the first race of the year wasn’t enough for the Maine driver though, as he also invaded the South and won the Easter Bunny 150.

“This is their backyard and I don’t see any of these guys coming to Maine on my turf,” said Rowe.  “So for me and my guys, this is huge.  I think you have to be heads and shoulders above people to beat them on their own turf."

2009 is already starting to be a comeback year of sorts for Rowe.  In 2008, his Richard Moody Racing team struggled, by their own standards at least, and “only” won of pair of races in PASS North.

“We got behind last year and we’ve fought back,” said Rowe.  “We have got a good bunch of guys here from all different race teams back home and we put them all together when we come down here.  We just come have fun and we have all learned.  We all travel together. It's fun, and when we are having fun, good things happen.  Coming out of here with a top five for the National [championship] thing was big.  We are going to go for that, and I heard they were going to give away a chassis for that and I’ve always been a big fan of Stevie Leavitt.  It would be pretty neat to win that and we are going to go for it.”

Rowe’s father Mike won the first Easter Bunny 150 back in 2006 and now Ben is following in the family tradition at that event.  Mike didn’t compete in this year’s race, but he was right there to cheer Ben on.  In return, Ben paid tribute to his Dad after winning.

“That is why I went backwards around [during the victory lap],” said Ben. “He was so tickled to win at Hickory that he did a backwards lap so I thought of that when I won.  For him to come win at Hickory and then for us to do it is pretty awesome.”

Also awesome was the race that Rowe had for the lead with Aric Almirola and Jeff Fultz to decide this year’s winner.  Rowe enjoyed racing with those two competitors.

“It was fun.  Racing with Aric Almirola and these guys was fun.  Jeff Fultz is the hardest guy I have ever raced with.  He won’t take an inch from you, you have to earn it.  He is one of the class acts of racing and I love racing with him.  We respect each other a lot and he is a lot of fun to race with.”

ALMIROLA TAKES THIRD; COMMENDS PASS ON THEIR PROGRAM

Recently, Aric Almirola hasn't had much to smile about.  His Earnhardt Ganassi Racing #8 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series car has been parked by the team due to lack of sponsorship, leaving Almirola to find something else to occupy his time. 
Saturday, he entered the PASS South Super Late Model event at Hickory, North Carolina, looking to prove to sponsors he can get it done as well as satisfying that craving to race.  He was able to accomplish both, finishing third in the 150-lap event.

There was a point in the race though that Almirola wasn't thinking about a solid third-place finish.  He was looking for more, but contact sent him into the wall, causing his car to not handle well the rest of the event.

"We had a good car," said Almirola.  We were really strong on the short runs, but not too good on the long runs.  I was racing there with Ben (Rowe) and I got on the outside of him.  I don’t know whether or not his spotter told him I was out there, but he drove me straight into the fence on the backstretch.  It just didn’t drive as good after that; it knocked the toe out and I think it knocked the rear end housing back, but we managed to hang on and finish third."

Despite the run-in with Rowe and the wall, Almirola was thrilled with his team's performance as well as the PASS South Series.

"D.J. Howard from New Hampshire owns the car and I am really glad he let me drive it.  It’s a brand new car.  The first time it has ever seen the track was today, so I’m really proud of those guys; they built an awesome car. 

"I can’t wait to get back to grassroots racing.  This was a lot of fun.  The PASS Series is an awesome series.  There were forty-two cars, and I would have never dreamed that.  I give two thumbs up to the PASS Series; it is an awesome series."

ALMOST A CINDERELLA STORY FOR SOMMERVILLE

Lonnie Sommerville might have been the surprise of the Easter Bunny 150 weekend.   The Canadian driver towed down to Hickory Motor Speedway and with the help of head wrench Gary Crooks might have had the car to beat in the race.

Sommerville swapped the lead back and forth with eventual winner Ben Rowe and Aric Almirola in his first ever appearance at the historic track.

“I knew we were going to have a good car with Gary and his chassis because you can’t beat them,” said Sommerville.  “I was a little skeptical in practice of my own abilities, but I knew that once we got about thirty laps into the race I would be able to find my lines; and we did.  It was a brand new racecar and I never had a chance to shake it down, so that is what happens I guess.”

But the Cinderella story wasn’t to be.  With around 10 laps to go, Sommerville pulled into the pits and parked his #23 machine.

“It broke a heim off of the coil over.  I don’t know if we would have got him [Ben Rowe] or not, but we got him on every other restart.  We got going on that last restart and he got me.  I got a little anxious and started spinning the rear tires and heated them up and he got away from me.  I started reeling him back in and the caution came out.  I’m pretty sure we had a first place car.  We were better than him on long runs all night."

If “want-to” would have decided the winner, Sommerville would have been a shoe-in to go to victory lane.

“I guarantee I was hungrier for it than he was,” said Sommerville.  “I wanted that trophy; I’ve got a two month old baby girl at home and I’ve been away for a month working on this racecar, so I wanted to take that trophy with a little bunny on it back home.  We were pretty pumped up, but we will get one of these before the year is up.”

And for Sommerville, a good run meant even more than just making himself or his team proud.  He really wanted to win for his homeland.

“This just proves that Canadian racecar drivers are good.  We don’t get to race as much as these guys down here.  There are a lot of guys back home that could come down here and compete with these guys.  I’m a proud Canadian and proud of my country.  If I could have had the chance to wave the Canadian flag here in victory lane it would have been great.”

SO CLOSE: JEFF FULTZ SETTLES FOR SECOND

It is getting to be common for Jeff Fultz to finish a PASS South event somewhere in the top three but outside of victory lane.  Saturday was no different as he finished second in the Easter Bunny 150 race.

Despite not winning the event, Fultz was satisfied with the performance of his whole four-car team at the track.

"Well, we put a show on," said Fultz.  "I’ve got to thank all of my guys, and we had four cars here tonight.  Cassius (Clark) got in a little wreck, they said Devin (Jones) did a good job and it was his first race so we were proud of him, and the #00 of Jordan (Napier) was here so we had four cars tonight from CNC Motorsports and Jeff Fultz Racing.  That shows that we had good, competitive cars.

"Our car was very good.  It turned better than any other car.  We are missing just a little bit in getting off the corner in every race.  The car was just really fast in the center, but I couldn’t touch the throttle after about twenty laps into the race.  We just fought all day.  That’s what we do. We work hard and we got a shot at it that is all we can ask for."

PINT-SIZED DRIVER PRODUCES SUPER-SIZED RESULTS

Normally, you expect a young rookie driver to be quick early in a race and then back up through the field.  But the exact opposite was true of Ryan Blaney in the Easter Bunny 150.

Blaney started back in the 21st position, but found himself in fourth when the checkered flag waved.

“We got better and better; it felt like the car was just staying under us better the longer we went,” said Blaney.  “We used all of our stuff just to get to the leaders and we didn’t really have anything left at the end.”

Of course Blaney might not have even seen the checkered flag.  After all, his windshield was completely covered by fluid by the end of the race.

“People were leaking power steering fluid.  It was pretty hard, but we could still see.”

Blaney started the season with a third-place finish at Dillon and now he has backed that up with another strong result at Hickory.  As happy as he is about those results though, he is looking forward to even bigger numbers.

“We’re really happy.  Hopefully we can improve more and get a few wins this season.”

MITCHELL MANAGES A TOP-FIVE FINISH

Every year, it seems that a star is born at the Easter Bunny 150.  During the first running of the race, Ryan Lawler stunned everyone by finishing fifth in his first race outside of the Legends racing world.  Last season, John Stancill finished third and turned heads as well.  This year, it was Trey Mitchell’s turn to shine with a fifth-place finish.

“Absolutely, we were pretty excited with the results,” said Mitchell when he was asked if a top-five finish was satisfying to him.  “That is just the product of a really good racecar; I can’t say enough about it.  It went anywhere I wanted it to and when you’ve got a piece like that it is just easy to avoid some of that stuff and focus on what you need to do.”

While the Alex Query-prepared Super Late Model was one key to the finish, a little bit of patience shown by the driver helped the team’s cause as well.

“I can’t tell you how many times Alex, my crew chief, said patience.  That’s all it was about, patience and taking care of these tires and making sure we weren’t in any of these wrecks.”

Fans will see Mitchell at plenty of more PASS South races this season.

“We are going to do the majority of them.  I would like to say we are going to do all of them, but I can’t promise it.  I like the new CRA South; I would like to see that develop and I would like to be a part of it, and I might even run the Blizzard down in Pensacola.  We like to keep it open; we aren’t big points racers.  We don’t have the budget to really be tied to a points deal.  We just like to see whatever pops up.  I think we are going to Orange County next though.”

MCCALL GETS IT DONE IN QUALIFYING

When Matt McCall was announced to drive the David Stremme #35 Super Late Model in the Easter Bunny 150, everyone knew he was going to be fast.  He didn't disappoint as he put Stremme's car on the top of the speed charts during qualifying, setting fast time.

"I have got to thank David (Stremme), Jimmy King and both of the Chris’s in the shop for giving me the chance to drive this car," said McCall.  "We weren’t real sure after practice; we were slower than we thought we would be.  They have a lot of different rules for this stuff with the inversion and everything, so that will make it interesting during the race."

McCall wasn't able to fair as well in the race, finishing 24th, but it might not be the end of his PASS South career with Stremme as the two might team up a few more times during the season.

"I think it could (enter another race)," explained McCall.  "David is a racer; that is what I love about him.  I think there is a high possibility that something else could come out of it this year."

IT’S A TOUGH DAY TO BE BATES

Usually when PASS North standout Adam Bates enters a PASS South race, he’s a contender for at least a top-five finish.  This time though, he never really got that chance.  Bates had something break on his car during a practice run and a hard trip into the turn-one wall at Hickory was the result.  Remarkably, his team managed to rebuild the front end enough to answer the call of the green flag for the feature, but the New Hampshire driver just didn’t have the car to contend for much of anything in the race.  He ended up finishing 20th.

“We never really got to see what it was like before I hit the wall.  We were still on tires from last year down at South Boston.  I still don’t know what happened to it, but something let loose and we went right into the wall.  I have to give credit to the crew because everyone slaved all day getting it back together and we finished the race, but it was a long day.”

IT'S EVEN A TOUGHER DAY TO BE A CLARK

The 2008 PASS North champion Johnny Clark and reigning PASS National Champ Cassius Clark are known to be top-contending drivers when they race down in the South Super Late Model events.  At Hickory though, you wouldn't have known that fact as both drivers struggled with Johnny finishing 11th and Cassius 28th.

"Nothing seemed to go right today," said Johnny Clark.  "It seemed like you had to have a great motor and we didn’t have one.  It killed us.  The track seemed weird to me.  I am going to have to go home and tear this thing apart because that was the worst this car has ever ran.  I would have a solid ten laps and then ten laps that were out of control.  It wasn’t loose and it wasn’t pushing, it would just skate.  I know there was a lot of oil on the track by looking at everyone’s windshields, but I still don’t think that was all of it.  We just need to go back to the shop and do our homework."

Cassius Clark was trying to salvage his rough day when his car was torn up after an incident on the track.

"It didn’t turn out good," said Cassius.  "We were actually kind of messed up in time trials.  We didn’t get the thing together until five o’clock this morning.  It’s a brand new car to us.  It was strolling pretty well in the race; we had Fultz in the sights.  The #0 car (Hal Goodson) and a lapped car got together and the lapped car got turned around and went up the track.  I got it stopped and then a guy from a half a track behind came and piled into me and I got ran over like a monster truck."

This season, the PASS National Championship doesn't include a race drop, which has the reigning champion feeling like he is out of contention to repeat this season.

It’s done now," said Cassius.  "We just have to go out and win races.  That is what I care about."

DEVIN JONES SATISFIED WITH FIRST SUPER LATE MODEL START

A few weeks ago, west-coast-to-east-coast transplant Devin Jones attempted to make his first Super Late Model start at Dillon Motor Speedway (SC) after graduating from the Legends Car ranks.  Unfortunately the team had to wait until Hickory as a freeze plug fell out during practice, sending the #35 into the wall, causing too much damage to compete in the feature.

At Hickory, things went a bit smoother for the 14-year-old racer as he qualified well and raced well, despite a few incidents on the track.

"We struggled a little bit in practice, but we made some changes to the front end of the car and towards the last few sessions we got it good," said Jones.  "We went into qualifying and qualified eighth, which we were totally floored with.  I was extremely happy.

"We started fourth after the redraw. We hung out in about sixth there for a little bit, then got wrecked. Then we were coming up through there; we restarted about 30th and got up to about 11th.  With nine laps to go, we got together with the #54 car (Johnny Clark) and went down in the mud. 

"Overall it was a great race.  It is finally good to get one under my belt and we will look for a better result next time.  This car is a great car and the team was awesome. That was a great first Late Model experience."

Ben Rowe shared the Easter Bunny victory lane with the Easter Bunny. (51 Sports Photo)
Ben Rowe went to victory lane at Dillon a few weeks back as well.  (51 Sports Photo)
Aric Almirola turned many heads with his performance at Hickory. (51 Sports Photo)
Canadian racer Lonnie Sommerville put on a show for the fans in North Carolina Saturday. (51 Sports Photo)
Jeff Fultz (right) chats with Devin Jones (left) during practice. (51 Sports Photo)
Ryan Blaney has been one of the standouts so far in the PASS South 2009 season. (51 Sports Photo)
Trey Mitchell drove his #47 Super Late Model to a top-five finish. (51 Sports Photo)
David Stremme (left) and Matt McCall (right) discuss how the Stremme-owned #35 was on the track. (51 Sports Photo)
Adam Bates spun and hit the wall during practice. (51 Sports Photo)
Neither Johhny Clark (top) or Cassius Clark (bottom) had a good Easter Bunny 150 race. (51 Sports Photos)
Devin Jones made his PASS South Super Late Model debut at Hickory. (51 Sports Photo)