CLARK WINS DNK 250 AFTER LATE RACE SHOOTOUT by Mike Twist
Going From Fifth to Lead on Final Restart Wins Race for Young Mainer
"Get ready for a wild ride," was the message that 24-year-old Johnny Clark received over his radio just before a restart with 18 laps to go in Sunday's DNK 250 PASS Pro Stock (Super Late Model) race at the Unity Raceway (ME). This prediction ended up right on the mark.
Clark was sitting outside of the top five at the time. He led the race early and was in contention with twenty laps to go, but the late caution was partially for him. He was one of three cars in the lead pack hit oil on the backstretch and spun off the turn three banking. All were wounded, but none of the wounds were fatal. However, losing so much track position with a handful of laps to go would be tough to overcome.
On the restart, Ben Rowe pulled away and looked to be able to cruise to the victory. Two laps later, though, there was another caution and that set things up for a wild ride indeed.
"The kid who said that to me on the radio is great at getting me pumped up," said Clark after the event. "He started doing my tires years ago when I got started, but he hasn't been able to come around to the track as much lately. He was here tonight and kept telling me that I could do it - that I could win this race. He was right and we did it!"
The final restart was the make or break moment for Clark.
"I could see how it was going to play out," said Clark. "The #75 (of Gary Smith) was in front of me and I thought that he might have a hard time getting grip on the restart. I saw Ben and Mike and I knew that they would race hard. That was going to be my chance and I had to take it. Ben drove Mike right up the track and I just went for it and got through."
The Rowes finished second and third with Ben staying ahead of Mike at the finish. When the race was over, Ben walked over to Mike's window and apologized for the late race move.
"We got together a little bit and he's a little ugly about it," said Ben Rowe. "We'll get over it I guess - we've got to work together on Monday."
Ben Rowe knew that Clark had fresher tires and would be tough on the final restart, but still tried to fight with all that he had to keep the lead.
It was a rough race for many, including Walt Hammond who went for a ride in the turn two dirt banking during his heat race. (PASS Photo)
Johnny Clark showed plenty of heart on his drive to victory lane. (PASS Photo)
"I got loose on the restart and he got right in there," said Ben Rowe. "I tried slamming the door. Once we made contact, I had to move up and give him the lane. It was a good race that we had going.
Although it was clear that Mike Rowe was frustrated after the race, he showed that family ties were more important than racing and refused to place blame on his son.
"We just fell back on the restart and ended up third," Mike Rowe said. "That's just racing."
Gary Smith held on for fourth and Tracy Gordon, who was also involved in Clark's last race spin, finished fifth.
The race was slow to get going with nearly two dozen caution periods over the course of the race, but the fans who stuck around were treated to a great show at the end.
On the final restart, Rowe started alongside of his father Mike. The two family members battled and Mike got crowded up the track. Clark shot by from the third row back and was able to muscle past Ben to take the lead. Ben Rowe tried to keep up for a few laps, but could not get to Clark - who rode uncontested to the checkered flag. The wild ride that was predicted on the airwaves came true.
Ben Rowe discusses the last few laps of the event with his father Mike. (51 Photo)
Several big names had problems early on - in fact only 15 of the 34 starters were running at the finish. Ted Christopher won his heat race and came back from a second lap spin in the feature to make it halfway back through the field before mechanical problems stuck him down. Crashes eliminated Ralph Nason and Scott Mulkern. A flat tire set back early leader Gary Drew, who was able to rally to finish eighth. Also having trouble were Larry Gelinas, Cassius Clark, Scott Chubbuck and Richie Dearborn - none of whom were running at the finish.
As with any major event, there was not shortage of other storylines behind the scenes at the DNK 250. Stay tuned to Speed51.com later this week for more post-race reaction to the flagship race of the 2004 PASS season.