51 Leftovers: Auto Value 250 at Speedway 660
Americans and Canadian Square Off at Big SLM Show
By Mike Twist
Clark Shows Some Force With Auto Value 250 Victory

One word said it all for Johnny Clark after the conclusion of the Auto Value 250 at Speedway 660 near Fredericton, New Brunswick.

“Wow,” the now two-time winner of the event said.

There was plenty to wow about after Clark's victory.  He dominated the event by leading 208 of the race's 250 laps and collecting a total of $26,350 in prize and lap leader money for his victory.

But it was the laps that Clark didn't lead that had the most impact on the 8,000 fans assembled for the race.  With just 63 laps left in the event, Clark and Shawn Turple got together while battling for the lead.  Turple spun and Clark was placed to the rear of the field for his role in the incident.  Despite restarting well outside the top 10, it only took Clark another 20 laps to get out front and stay there - eventually winning the race over Turple.

“I think that I figured it was a $700 mistake there to dump Turple,” said Clark.  “I didn't mean to.  I jumped it [a restart] and he didn't go.  I didn't think that I jumped it, but he didn't go and then I lifted and he went.  So I panicked and drove into turn one.  That's when I got into him.  It was just one of those things.  I'm just really glad that he made it back to second because that was where he should have finished.  I don't think he was going to be able to beat us.

“I was like 15th in a line of 17 cars.  But I wasn't worried.  Not really. [Crew Chief] Robert [Green] hollered on the radio just once for everyone to shut up and let me go and win the race.  He knew that as long as the tires were somewhat close to what we had with the first set, we were fine.  He really barked again when the #5 car [of Jonathan Hicken] went into the bank and then the #77 [of Scott Chubbuck] because those were really the only two cars at that point with any strength in the top five.  That's when he said to calm down that the race was over and to go and win it.”

For the most part, Clark had a car that appeared to be untouchable in the race.  The only chink in his armor were restarts - where the #5 car of Jonathan Hicken pulled ahead for a few laps on several occasions.

“I was really bad for four laps and then I would take right off.  You could just feel it snap right in the middle and go.  So it would take two, three, four or maybe five laps to get going.  It wasn't anything.  I'd get out to like five car length and then Robert would tell me that was enough.  The car was just so good in the middle of the turns.  When I ran the right line through the corner, he told me that it looked like I had 100 more horsepower than anyone else.”

Clark's dominance made for a very good payday in a race where each lap lead was worth $50 and leading at halfway produced a $1,000 bonus.

“$26,300 out of a possible $28,500,” said Clark.  “I love the big paying races.  There's nothing better.  That's why we do this - to try and get some of the money back.  I just can't thank [track co-owner] Chris [Johnston] and Auto Value enough for putting this race on.”

Auto Value 250 is Becoming One of the Biggies

There are a few big shows in the Super Late Model world in North America - the Snowball Derby, the Winchester 400, the Mason-Dixon Meltdown, SpeedFest and the PASS 300 at Beech Ridge to name a few.  After 10 seasons, the Auto Value 250, formerly known as the Peterbilt 250 and the NBIS 250, is also taking its place on that list of biggies.

After the race, Clark (who has raced in all of the events mentioned except for the Winchester 400 at some point in his career) reflected on just how big the event had become.

“Chris and everyone here at Speedway 660 just know how to do it,” said Clark.  “It's really too bad this is stuck up here location-wise because this race is building to be something like the Oxford 250 or the Snowball Derby.  It doesn't have the car count yet, but it's going to get better and better.  I know it is.  This is only the 10th year and every year, I think it gets better.  Of course it got better this year - I won it again.”

Turple Settles For Second Place

Shawn Turple was subscribing to the second-place is the first loser theory after the race.  For the second straight season, Turple finished as the runner-up in the Auto Value 250.  So even though he beat over two dozen cars on Sunday, he still was a bit down after not winning the big show.

“It could have been worse, but it could have been better too,” said Turple. “We put those new tires on and when we first came out, Johnny and I just blazed through the field and ended up one-two.

“I felt that we were reeling him in slowly at the end, but he could have been riding too.  For two years in a row, we are standing in second-place.  That's not fun, but it was still a pretty good run.”

Was Hicken The Competitor Closest to Clark?

Not many cars looked nearly as good as Johnny Clark's car in the Auto Value 250.  Shawn Turple led the first 17 laps and ended up second, but even Turple admits that Jonathan Hicken's #5 machine might have just been the closest to catching Clark before Hicken ended up parked in the turn three sand bank after contact with Scott Chubbuck.

“The #5 car was really, really strong but he got messed up,” said Turple.

“We were hanging with Johnny,” said Hicken.  “He had a real good car and we just kind of followed him and rode.  We put some distance on third there.  My car stayed the same all night and I had no complaints at all until that unfortunate deal with Scott Chubbuck there.”

Hicken's #5 team is coming off a great season where substitute driver Cassius Clark drove their car to victory lane in the Atlantic CAT 250 at Scotia Speedworld as well.  They might not have the biggest team in the pit area, but they do know how to make it count in the big shows.

“We definitely have a team to beat for sure,” said Hicken.  “I can't wait to come back next year and run for the points.  Right now, we are sitting fifth I think and maybe we can advance to third in the Tour points.  We'll see what we can do at Scotia, but I think that the team is stoked on tonight, so we're excited.”

Tucker Battles On to a Podium Finish

Shawn Tucker bounced between the bottom, middle and top portions of the top 10 all race long.  When it mattered the most though, Tucker found himself placing third at the race's finish.

“We struggled to be honest with you,” said Tucker.  “All night long, the car just wasn't there.  I could stay with them, but I couldn't race with them.  We pitted three or four times and nothing seemed to work.  But on the last stop, we tried something different and went in a different direction.  The car was a little bit better after that, we finished third and we're happy with that.”

Benjamin Captures a Top Five Finish

Travis Benjamin towed up from Maine to race in the Auto Value 250 and was rewarded with a result of fifth.  Benjamin had been one of the cars to beat in practice.

“It's not quite the result that we wanted, especially after how we were in practice, but the track changed a little bit,” said Benjamin.  “I think on these tires, everything pretty much levels out and it's really hard to pass unless you have a really good car.  I can't quite figure out how Johnny is doing it.  But our guys all worked really hard and we didn't get a flat tire, so I'm happy.”

Based on how things were going in the race, Benjamin actually developed a system for moving up through the field.  For the most part, it worked pretty well.

“It was all track position,” said Benjamin.  “If you started on the outside, more than likely you were going to get by the guy restarting on the inside.  I was just trying to get by two cars after every caution so I would restart on the outside.  It didn't always work out that way, but it was how we got up to third.  We almost got up to second at one point.  I think that would have made it a different ballgame.  We could have come in right behind Johnny and fired four new tires on it.”

O'Blenis Has a Fast Car and a Bad Day

Race winner Johnny Clark was quick to point out after the race just how good he though Dave O'Blenis was in the middle stages of the event.

“At one time, I looked in the mirror and saw the #48 car of O'Blenis running third and I thought we were going to get Port City a one-two finish,” said Clark.  “I figured he was just hanging out because he looked so good in practice.  But he had some problems.”

“Had some problems” turned out to be an understatement.

“We were pretty good,” said O'Blenis.  “We were just biding our time and a hitch pin went through the right rear tire.  It wasn't mine, but it came off someone's ball joint or something.  That put a hole in the tire.  So we ended up going down a lap and then they put us down another lap because they said we caused the caution.  We were two laps down and then I wasn't sure if I was two laps down or one lap down.  I got into line as second on one of the restarts and thought that maybe I could make up one lap on the restart.  But the guys had come in for new tires at that point and they went by us.

“We crushed the exhaust and it sounded like it was breathing through a straw.  I didn't figured that we needed to blow the motor up for that, so we decided to park it and take our lumps.  We had a good car and I was right there with Johnny most of the night.  We never really pushed it because at 100 laps, what was the point?  But we were having fun.” 

Speedshots

-  There were some lighthearted moments in victory lane after the race.  Despite his dominance in the event, Johnny Clark had a bit of a dud when it came to the cork in his bottle of champagne during the post-race celebration.  That meant that runner-up Turple and third-place Tucker soaked Clark with the bubbly beverage.  Clark finally did figure out how to pop his cork after the two other drivers walked away and that led to him chasing them down, while spraying, and around the whole frontstretch area of the infield.

-   PASS North driver Joey Doiron didn't get to race in the Auto Value 250, but he sure showed some racer spirit.  Doiron tested his Super Late Model on the night before the 250 during Pro Series practice at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway (ME).  After that test went well and the team decided that no major work was needed before this weekend's PASS 300 there, Doiron started asking around for a ride to Canada.  He brought his passport and a change of clothes to Beech Ridge and wanted to make it up to Canada to see the Auto Value 250.  He hitched a ride with this writer and once at Speedway 660, ended up helping out Travis Benjamin's team as their jackman in the race.

-  Support race winners on Auto Value 250 Sunday were Steve Pye in Legends and Peter Gaddess in the 50-lap LeisureFamilyRV.com Street Stock race.




Peter Gaddess in victory lane after the Street Stock feature. (Speedway 660 Photo)
The crowd at the Auto Value 250.  (51 Photo)
Johnny Clark in victory lane after the Auto Value 250.  (Speedway 660 Photos)
Johnny Clark (#54) leads Jonathan Hicken's #5.  (Speedway 660 Photo)
Jonathan Hicken's #5 Super Late Model.  (51 Photo)
Travis Benjamin's #17.  (51 Photo)
Dave O'Blenis' #48.  (51 Photo)
Shawn Turple's #0.  (51 Photo)
Shawn Tucker's team in practice.   (51 Photo)
Johnny Clakr gets attacked by the bubbly after the race.  (Speedway 660 Photo)