Tag Archives: Johnny Clark

Cassius Clark wins 2021 Oxford 250

Cassius Clark win the 48th Oxford 250
Crew celebrates the win

(Oxford ME) Last year it was Johnny Clark.

This year, Cassius Clark.

No, they’re not related.

But both, in successive years, put an end to their Oxford 250 frustrations.

Cassius was the latest, winning the 48th annual Oxford 250 on Sunday night at Oxford Plains Speedway.

Cassius had failed to win the event in thirteen previous tries, same number as Johnny Clark. 

Oxford crowd gives their traditional wave

It wasn’t a record either one of them wanted to be a part of. Their eventual success, however, should be an inspiration for those who keep trying to win the event.

“We’d dominated so many 250’s,” explained Cassius recalling his frustrations.  “In other attempts, we had led with twenty-five laps left and had been in front for over hundred laps and yet failed to win.  The race was just a thorn in our side!”

But that changed tonight.  The Farmington (ME) resident took the lead for good with twenty-seven laps left.

Cassius also had to survive a pretty good bump from second-place finisher Curtis Gerry on the final turn to get the win.

“I bumped him a little bit and moved him over,” said Curtis afterwards, “but I didn’t make it to the line to beat him.  I wouldn’t want to win that way anyway.”

The race begins

The entertained crowd was treated to thirteen restarts.  Not a favorite of drivers but fans love them. The spread-out field tightens up and the corners become very interesting to navigate.

Cassius Clark got his first lead on Lap 177.  There would be six restarts after that.  On this cool (60’s) evening, Cassius, on the inside, was the quickest on the restarts.

A hint of what was coming today was a race two weeks ago in which Cassius won a PASS 150 event at OPS.

“That was my first race since last year’s 250,” said Cassius.  “The car had been taken back to Canada last year and they worked on it from our mistakes and made this thing awesome.”

Before today’s race, Cassius was actually confident about winning.  “We thought today we were going to have a bit of a cakewalk, but they definitely made us earn it.”

Cassius bumped with Eddie MacDonald (6th) battling for the lead and ended up with a nice dent on the right side of his car.

Derek Griffith (3rd)

Derek Griffith (3rd) started twenty-ninth and got to the front, even holding the lead on Lap 222.

“We were good,” said Derek afterwards.  “We came up through and we led some laps.  The last set of tires we burned up a little bit on the outside.  However, we’ll take what we got.”

Derek was second in the 250 two years ago.

Joey Doiron (4th) was third last year.  This year he was in contention again.

“We tried to maintain with Curtis (Gerry) in the first run,” said Joey after the race.  “We did lead a few laps.”

“After our pit stop there was a huge wreck,” added Joey, “and we ended up having to hop the curb.  I don’t know if we bent something on our left or right front.  The car wasn’t quite the same afterwards. We didn’t have enough at the end, but we did hold on, though.”

Curtis Gerry (2nd)

The most disappointed driver post-race was probably Curtis Gerry.  Curtis started the race in fourth and was in the lead or near the lead all race long. Curtis led from laps 6-108.

“It was frustrating to come so close,” said Curtis afterwards.  “I was definitely faster than him (Cassius Clark) on the bottom, but I don’t know if I had anything on the outside for him.”

“We had a really good car in the first run,” said Curtis.  “We got a little too free at the end of the race. When we pitted and took tires, they were a little too snug for the outside but very good on the bottom.”

If it had been the Oxford 251?  “I think I would have gotten him in one more lap,” said Curtis.  “Once I was under him, it would have been over.”

Curtis will get a sizable check for the many laps he led.  They’re worth $100 each.

Johnny Clark (5th) told me afterwards that he almost didn’t race.

Johnny Clark (5th) talks to his crew before the race

“You wouldn’t believe what we were making for changes and how bad we were,” said last year’s winner.

“We certainly didn’t have a fifth-place car at noontime today,” said Johnny.  “We were thinking we should just pack up and go home.”

But they did stay, and despite starting thirty-first, were able to get fifth.

“The track was rubbing up so much,” he added.  “I’ve never seen it like this before.  It made things so tight.  But we came home fifth and that’s nothing to hang our heads about.”

Cassius Clark knew his car was good.  “I knew that my car was super-fast,” he said, “so if I stayed on the bottom, they were going to have a hard time getting by me.”

Cassius Clark

“Curtis (Gerry) was really fast,” added Cassius, “and he was on me there.  He definitely made me work for it.”

Derek Griffith: “Every time we’d gain a little bit, he (Cassius Clark) would just gain it right back.  I feel as if I used the car up a little bit on the outside of him on those restarts.  I wish I had been restarting from the bottom.”

Cassius Clark: “I’ll have to ask my buddy Johnny (Clark) how long it takes for this win to settle in.  The atmosphere here was awesome.”

Bubba Pollard (10th) started last (43rd).  The driver from Georgia came north in 2018 and won the 250 on his first try.

Billy Clark (Cassius’ dad) was in the OPS 250 six times in the 1980’s and 1990’s.

Notably missing from the race were frequent OPS 250 driver Jeff Taylor and highly-touted Florida driver Stephen Nasse.  Neither did well enough in the heats to qualify.

The win by Cassius Clark was the first for anyone from Maine’s Franklin County.

Teenager Kate Re was the lone female entrant.  She finished twenty-seventh.

The temperatures in the 60’s were certainly a big surprise for late August.  The coolness had to make the upper parts of the track more workable.

TJ Bracket (39th) and DJ Shaw (42nd) started in the front but the race didn’t go well for either of them.

TJ Brackett
DJ Shaw

Thanks, from me, to the OPS owners for giving me a chance to take pictures and get interviews for this entry.

(All of the pictures above and below will enlarge considerably if you click on them.)

Derek Griffith
Cassius Clark
Ben Rowe (30th)
Dave Farrington (16th)
Joe Polewarczyk (9th)
Joey Doiron (4th)
Kyle DeSouza (15th)
Travis Benjamin
Bubba Pollard (10th)
Mike Rowe (21st)
Stephen Nasse
Jeff Taylor (2nd in 2020)
Spinout in an earlier race
Addie McDaniel waits for the Runnin Rebels race
Cassius Clark explains how the race was won

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Media Day at the Oxford Plains Speedway

Interview with Johnny Clark today (photo Norm Marx)

(Oxford Maine) The empty house at the Oxford Plains Speedway on Tuesday was misleading because I know that’s going to change.

It was Media Day leading up to the 48th Oxford 250 on Sunday.

Be certain that the noise will be coming and the excitement as well.

Today, however, was quiet.  There were only two race cars, Kate Re’s #10 and Johnny Clark’s #54, plus several drivers on the track.

Teenager Kate Re with her car

I had the opportunity to interview several of the drivers (Johnny Clark, Dave Farrington, Eddie MacDonald).

Johnny Clark was last year’s winner.  It was unexpected.  Johnny hadn’t won a race at OPS since 2006 and in his most recent race there he finished 26th.

Johnny Clark was last year’s winner

But there he was on Victory Lane last August.

“I remember hearing the track announcer say that ‘Johnny Clark has been rubbing the lucky lamp all night,” recalled Johnny.

“It wasn’t like our win was a fluke,” he added.  “We led 101 laps which was more than anyone else.  We turned in the fastest lap of the race.”

“We had the car to do it and we were able to get the luck we needed to go to Victory Lane,” said Johnny.

Dave Farrington is in his twenties and very intent on winning the 250 for the first time.  Dave took fourth last year and wasn’t very happy about it.

Dave Farrington (photo Norm Marx)

He felt that the numerous cautions and lapped cars made it difficult to make a good run.

“I saw the scoreboard with twenty-five laps left and we were second,” recalled Dave.  “For several laps we were side-by-side with Johnny.”

“We were in good position but call it what you will, luck or circumstances, but they took over,” said Dave. “It always seems that there’s that one lingering caution before the end of the race.”

Eddie MacDonald has won the OPS 250 twice.  The wins were back-to-back in 2009 and 2010.

In both of those victories, Eddie drove up on the track and no one could keep up with him.

“Our car was really good in those wins,” explained Eddie.  “There is so much that goes into winning this race. Pit strategy is important.”

It looked like the beginning of a long string of top finishes for Eddie but that’s not how it’s been.

“I don’t know if the track has changed but we aren’t able to get to the outside,” said Eddie.

“In the last five years, I haven’t been able to come off the bottom of the track here,” Eddie added.

Eddie was optimistic about Sunday’s race: “We came here a couple of weeks ago with a totally different setup and it seems a little bit better.”

“For the most part you can make your own luck if the car is good,” said Eddie.  “You try to put yourself in a good position and not burn it up.”

Dave Farrington was expecting a big race from Johnny Clark on Sunday.  “We know that Johnny is going to come back with just as good a piece as last year.”

Dave added, “We’ve been maintaining all year.  We have a very good piece.  Whether we have the fastest car or not, we still need a perfect day for things to fall our way.”

One advantage that Dave Farrington has over other drivers is his familiarity with Oxford Plains Speedway.  He has led in points for two straight years.

“We’ve been racing here week after week,” said Dave.  “We’ve dealt with any weather/track condition that could come up.  We have a notebook with the information we’ve gathered and hopefully it will help us to be there at the end.”

Dave realizes that the weekly OPS races and the 250 are different.  “We’ve certainly got just as many laps on this track as anyone else this season. However, we haven’t seen an OPS 250 winner from the weekly Oxford competitors in a while.  We’re hoping to break that.”

Dave expected to be busy on Sunday morning.  “A lot of teams are practicing this week in their shops,” he explained, “like almost a live, hot pit stop.  We’ve got a crew that is scattered throughout the state of Maine.  We really don’t get together that often.  Our first practice could be on Sunday morning.”

One thing I like about Media Days is that you can ask questions you would never think of doing after an event.  So I came prepared.

I asked the drivers to explain how they chose the number they have on their cars.

“My whole racing I’ve been #17,” said Eddie MacDonald.  “It was my hockey number in high school (Triton Regional – Byfield MA).  It’s one of the only numbers I could have in hockey and racing.”

Johnny Clark (#54) and Dave Farrington (#23) traced their number back to the one their dads used when they raced.

“My dad was born in ‘54,” said Johnny. “He was my hero behind the wheel.”

Kate Re interviewed (Norm Marx photo)

Kate Re also told me that her #10 came from her dad’s racing number. 

How about the car’s colors?

One of the cars you can’t visually miss is Dave Farrington’s.  It is bright orange.

“That color helps our spotters find us quicker than all the black cars,” said Dave. “I am also a 2009 graduate of Jay High School where our colors were orange and black.”

Eddie MacDonald has used a variety of colors.  “We’ve used orange, red, and black,” said Eddie.  “We leave it up to the car owner and the sponsors to decide.”

Johnny Clark’s car for Sunday’s race is not the same one as last year.

“We debuted this car at Loudon in April, and we were actually thrashing to finish it,” said Johnny.  “The lettering is what we got at the track.  We kept things as they were after we won that race.”

“Back in the early 2000’s I had a white car,” Johnny said.  “It had red accents and a red roof and hood.  Everyone had a white car so then I decided to go black in 2007.  I’m not saying I started a trend, but you look now and there are a lot of black cars out there.”

I asked the drivers about their recollections of the first time they raced at OPS.

Eddie MacDonald: “It was in the late ‘90’s.  We had just bought a car and wanted to try it out.  I had been running at Lee and the setup at OPS was very different.  I got out there and I thought I was going fast but all the locals went flying by.”

Dave Farrington: “It was in 2010-11.  I was just getting my feet wet in racing.  We’ve come a long way since.”

Johnny Clark: “It was 1997 and the race was the Oxford 250.  I was seventeen at the time.  We drew #2 out of the bucket for the heat race.  Steve Knowlton, Jeff Taylor, Timmy Bracket, and Kenny Wright were all in the heat.  They all tangled up about halfway through and we held on to get second and qualified seventh.”

As for the race itself?

All three drivers have provisional qualifications but each of them hopes that they will improve their positioning in the 250 with good runs in the heats on Sunday.

“The provisional qualification would start us about 38th,” said Dave.

“Oxford is definitely not my best racetrack,” said Johnny.  “I have, however, made some progress over the last several years figuring out what I need to do here.  We’ve won before and we know we can do it again.”

Thanks to the drivers for their cooperation.

I also interviewed teenager Kate Re but unfortunately my digital recorder wasn’t functioning.  Maybe I’ll get a chance to talk to her on Victory Lane after the race on Sunday.

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Johnny Clark wins the 47th Oxford 250 at Oxford Plains Speedway

Johnny Clark is all smiles after winning the 47th Oxford 250

Johnny Clark moments after winning the Oxford 250

(Oxford ME) Please don’t tell me that you had Johnny Clark winning the 47th Oxford 250 on Sunday.

The 41-year-old from Farmingdale (ME) hadn’t won a race at Oxford Plains Speedway since 2005.

Johnny was also the guy on July 18th at OPS who finished 26th, three laps behind the winner Curtis Gerry.

But there Johnny was on Sunday night under the Victory Lane banner.

I think that it is fair to say that to win the Oxford 250 you must be lucky.  And likewise, your closest competitors must be unlucky.

Everyone in the top five had the car to win but four of the top five recalled, post-race, things that happened that cost them the top spot.

Jeff Taylor came in second

Whether it was confusion in the pits (Jeff Taylor), missing a shift on a new car (Joey Doiron), frustrations with the nine cautions (Dave Farrington Jr) or getting behind a stalled car before pit road (Mike Hopkins), all of them would have won but….

The caution on Lap 180 was the killer for both Jeff Taylor and Mike Hopkins.

Jeff (57), who has now come in second three times, went in for tires during that caution on that lap.  He left the pits and, to the surprise of everyone, came back into the pits again.

“I thought that I had gone through a stop sign leaving the pits,” said Jeff, “so I penalized myself by coming back in.  I don’t know if it was the right move or not, but that’s the one I made.  Inevitably, it cost us our chance.”

When Jeff left the pits the second time, he was now in tenth place rather than 3rd place right behind Johnny Clark.

Joey Doiron was third

Johnny would quickly take the lead from Alan Tardiff and never give up the front the rest of the way.  Jeff rallied from 10th to settle for second.  But oh did that pit-road malfunction hurt him!

“If he hadn’t done that, he’d probably be here (Victory Lane) instead of me, wouldn’t he,” said Johnny Clark during the post-race interview.

Mike Hopkins grabbed the lead in Lap 98.  “We had the car to win,” he said afterwards.  “We went from 11th to the lead and made everyone else look silly doing it.”

Mike would lose the front some thirty laps later but was still in the top five.  His chance to get tires and challenge for the top spot went south as he attempted to get onto pit road on the Lap 180 caution.

“Car 51 (John Peters) stalled going into pit road and we were behind him,” said Mike.  “By the time we got around him and got the tires we had lost probably ten spots.”

The top three finishers; Joey Doiron, Johnny Clark, and Jeff Taylor

Joey Doiron (Berwick ME) finished third despite having trouble earlier in the race.  “I had only driven this car six or seven times,” explained Joey.  “It’s a different chassis than I’m used to driving.  On Lap 100 I was running second to Jeff (Taylor) and I missed a shift and I think I cut something down trying to get out of the way.  I ended up with a flat right front tire.  Luckily, we were able to get a timely yellow and do something about a tire with only 12 pounds of air in it.  We were a lap down after that because we had lost all our track positioning.  We did come back strong at the end.”

Mike Hopkins was fifth

When I thought pre-race about who I thought should be the favorite, my choice was Dave Farrington Jr.  You talk about momentum going into a race!

“The month of August was incredible,” said Dave.  “We won four straight here (OPS).  A lot of momentum carried in here and a lot of people had high hopes for us.”

Dave had actually beaten Johnny Clark two weeks ago at OPS.

The nine cautions were the problem for Dave.

“We had more cautions in this 250 than a lot of other ones,” he said.  “I don’t know why that was.  Not enough patience.  I’m not sure.  We didn’t want cautions.  We want to go long green-flag runs and they didn’t help us there.”

There were two cautions in the final twenty-seven laps.  “I think that we would have caught Johnny if it had stayed green,” suggested Dave.

Jeff Taylor took the lead on Lap 24 (from Alan Tardiff) and had, at one point, a six-second lead over the rest of the field.

Johnny Clark

“We weren’t bad at the beginning of the race but Jeff (Taylor) was stellar,” added Johnny. “We had to go and just stay on the lead lap and let the guys in the pits do their jobs, and it’s up to you after that.  That’s exactly how it worked out.”

Johnny got right tires on Lap 91 and four tires on Lap 180.

Johnny came into 2020 not having won a race since 2016.  The restrictions of Covid-19 kept him close to home and helped turn things around.  “We worked so hard right from March,” he said.  “The fact that I was forced to slow down a ton has been huge benefit for my family and everything else.”

Disappointing that the grandstand “crowd” was limited to 200 people.  That place holds 8,000.  Don’t start me on Governor Mills (D)!

“I wish that I could have heard the roar of the crowd,” added Johnny.  “It was awesome to win.  Even better than I thought it would be.”

Saturday’s rainout turned Sunday into a morning/afternoon/evening racing event.  It was almost 8 o’clock when the 250 started.

That fact had Dave Farrington wondering about being better prepared.  “It’s way cooler than we’ve raced all year.  Maybe we should have practiced in temperatures like this.”

All of the pictures will enlarge considerably if you click on them.

I am on Twitter (McClellandPeter) and Instagram (McClelland Miscellanea).

Joey Doiron, Johnny Clark, and Jeff Taylor with trophies

Johnny with daughter Alivia (left) and Miranda (right)

With hand raised, Johnny Clark crosses the finish line

 

 

 

 

 

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Travis Benjamin gets his third Oxford 250 win

Travis Benjamin wins the 46th Oxford 250

DJ Shaw (3rd), Travis Benjamin, and Derek Griffith (2nd)

(Oxford ME) “Short track racing is alive and well here at Oxford Plains Speedway,” declared 3rd place Oxford 250 finisher DJ Shaw.

“What a crowd,” he added……and who could argue!

The seats were filled, and the crowd was into it for the 46th edition of the OPS 250, held on Sunday.

Travis Benjamin won the Oxford 250 for the third time.  The last time was five years ago.

“I can’t believe it,” said Travis to a gathering on Victory Lane that may have included everyone from his hometown of Morrill (ME), “to have our name on the trophy again.”

Travis surveys the crowd on Victory Lane

There was no mention of Travis on Media Day on Wednesday of this week.  Why? His best run this year had been a 4th in Vermont.

And Travis didn’t show much in the first half of the race to make you think that he would be holding the checkered flag later.  But he has been racing for a while and there had been some changes to the car and in the makeup of the crew.

“We concentrated on the car that I liked, and we got the crew back together that keyed the other two Oxford 250 wins,” explained Travis.

Travis admitted that for the first half of the race he would have been willing to “settle for a top five finish.”

Travis Benjamin (7) leaves pit row

There were seven cautions, however, and things turned Travis’ way during the one on lap 179.  He added four tires and thereafter was in contention, taking the lead for good with forty laps left.

Eddie MacDonald (17) and Ryan Kuhn (72) started in the front

Two cautions, however, in the last twelve laps made things exciting for the crowd and nerve-wracking for Travis, who had gained separation from Derek Griffith and TJ Shaw.  “I was nervous on those last restarts,” said Travis.  “DJ has won a lot of races and Derek is as hungry as anyone, but I was confident in our car at that point.”

Travis broke away quickly on each of the restarts, regained some breathing room, and won his third title.

“Those last two restarts really helped us,” said second-place finisher Derek Griffith post-race.  “I had a better restart run on most of the people around me.  He (Travis) was just a little bit better than we were today.”

DJ Shaw crossed third and didn’t think that the restarts did him any favors.  “We had a long-run car and we got short runs at the end,” explained DJ.

Scott McDaniel ran into trouble

“To be the best car on a one-stop strategy says a lot for our program,” said DJ.  “It was our best race of the year.  We led a lot of laps and they knew we were here.  It’s never a bad day to get a top three in the 250.

DJ was 6th in 2018.  “This is our second 3rd-place finish.  We’ll look to move up next year.”

Mike Hopkins (Hermon ME) got 5th but wasn’t happy about it.  Mike, however, was quick to praise his crew (“They killed it on pit stops”) but was sure that he personally could have done better.

“Right before we came in to take four tires, I dropped down too early and Tom penalized me and put me in the rear,” Mike told me.  “We would have been fifth with four new tires.  I don’t think anyone had anything against us, but it would have made a difference, I think.  We drove from the back to the front twice.  We rode the corners so well and passed a lot of cars.”

Mike had a win in Richmond (VA) in March.  “We killed it in Richmond but haven’t put it together since.  I cost us a chance tonight to win the Oxford 250.”

Winning car

Travis Benjamin explained that the track was hard to read.  “Part of the race I was good outside and other times I wasn’t.  The bottom was like that too.  You just kind of had to go all over the place.”  This was certainly where the years of racing, including many at Oxford, paid off.  Travis had the skills to adjust successfully to the changing conditions.

Travis had nothing but kind words for the racing in the Northeast.  “When someone like Bubba Pollard (last year’s winner) comes up here and we’re lapping him that tells you who’s racing up here.  That’s nothing against the guys down South.  It’s just that the racing up here is the best in the country, hands down.”

Forty-four cars started and eighteen of them finished on the lead lap.

Travis started in 11th place.

The estimated winning total for Travis from the race was $29,000.

Johnny Clark came in fourth.

Bob Bahre was the grand marshall

Former owner Bob Bahre was the grand marshall.

I have to admit the degree to which I was taken in by the talk at Media Day on Wednesday.  I heard there plenty of good words about Curt Geary’s chances of winning the 250………and there were lots of them deserved for the 2017 winner.  When I saw that “7” flashing by in the limited lights of the track later in the race last night I thought it was Curt Geary (also #7).  The PA announcer eventually straightened me out. My bad and I do wear glasses!

Also full disclosure: I did not sit in on the post-race interview with Travis Benjamin in the press box.  However, I did see the Sun-Journal’s video of that interview.  I had actual conversations with Derek, DJ, and Mike after the race.

The crowd was certainly amazing.  The two cautions in the closing laps gave everyone a clear look at the defining moments of the race.

OPS humor?  I heard a seated lady ask a 10-year-old (?) boy, who was walking by, if he had a hole in his sock.  The kid naturally said that he didn’t.  The woman asked, “How did you get your foot into it?”

Part of the crowd at the Oxford 250

Nice weather but did it ever cool off when the sun went down!

Thanks to the OPS staff, especially Mary Mayberry, for letting me in to witness the race.

(All of the pictures above and below will enlarge considerably if you click on them.)

Derek Griffith (2nd place) congratulated after the race

Travis Benjamin on the roof

Earlier race trouble on the turn

Eddie MacDonald and Ryan Kuhn introduced as the two in the first row

Garrett Hall (R) pre-race

Heading the wrong way in an earlier race

Setting up for the 250

Third title for Travis Benjamin

 

 

 

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