Tag Archives: Mike Hopkins

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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