It only took a few races for Mike Hopkins to get the hang of an American-Canadian Tour Late Model.
Hopkins led all 150 laps in Sunday afternoon’s Oxford 150 at Oxford Plains Speedway, taking his first career ACT Tour win in only his second series start.
In the process, the Hermon, Maine driver became the fifth-straight first-time winner on the Vermont-based Late Model Tour this season.
An established figure on the Pro All Stars Series circuit, Hopkins has emerged in the last few years as a big-event threat. After winning his first PASS race in 2016, Hopkins went winless until 2019’s Commonwealth Classic at Richmond (Va.) Raceway. Hopkins won again in the PASS North finale at Seekonk (Mass.) Speedway, then ended the year as the PASS National Champion. While he did not win in four PASS starts in 2020, Hopkins did earn a big win last August in the Motor Mountain Masters at Jennerstown Speedway in western Pennsylvania.
But until this April, Hopkins had not taken the green flag in an ACT-sanctioned event.
That changed at Hickory Motor Speedway, where Hopkins arrived at the Easter Bunny 150 doubleheader weekend with a red-and-white Chevrolet prepared by Port City Racecars. In back-to-back evening features, Hopkins finished second and fifth in the new car. Hopkins added another runner-up finish in June at White Mountain Motorsports Park, finishing behind first-time winner Tom Carey III.
Hopkins started on the pole Sunday and left the field in the dust from the drop of the green flag. And while Hopkins put on a clinic at the front of the pack, the battles behind him threatened to send many cars to a clinic of their own.
Nick Sweet was one of the few competitors who could keep pace with Hopkins. However, Derek Gluchacki slipped past Sweet after a late restart to take second. The Massachusetts youngster held on for his best career ACT Tour finish in a car that had been used up on its way to the end.
Sweet was third across the line. DJ Shaw, a PASS winner at Oxford earlier this year, was fourth with Hudson Speedway winner Jimmy Renfrew, Jr. fifth.
Points leader Tom Carey III bounced back from a flat tire early on to finish sixth. Dylan Payea, absent at Hudson after a crash the week before at WMMP, returned with a seventh-place finish. Ben Rowe was eighth, losing a little ground to Carey in the standings. Trent Goodrow and Tour rookie Shawn Swallow rounded out the top ten.
Reigning champion Jimmy Hebert was a lap down in 14th at the finish, having been collected in one of the afternoon’s early incidents.
With the ACT Tour season at the halfway mark, Carey has a six-point lead over the veteran Rowe, with Shaw only ten points back of the lead. Hebert, whose title defense took a hit when he was unable to make the grid at Lee USA Speedway, is seventh, over 100 points back.
The Oxford doubleheader with PASS was not on the schedule at the start of the season. A late-breaking cancellation of a doubleheader at Monadnock Speedway resulted in the Oxford double, adding a second Maine date to the Tour schedule.
Hopkins, then, was a fitting winner for the late addition. While Maine drivers have hardly had a lock on their state’s few ACT-friendly tracks, four of the last five victories for Maine drivers have been celebrated in the Pine Tree State. Dillon Moltz, who won last summer’s Midsummer Classic at WMMP, is originally from Connecticut.
Hopkins also joins the streak of first-time winners on the ACT Tour this season, with Jimmy Hebert the only former winner to take a checkered flag in 2021.
The early-season parity, with six different winners in six races and no runaway success, makes it hard to pick a favorite going into the biggest race of the season, the $10,000-to-win Midsummer Classic 250 at WMMP on July 31.
But with his current pace, Hopkins is surely at the head of the list.
Unofficial Results, ACT Tour Oxford 150 at Oxford Plains Speedway:
1. (15ME) Mike Hopkins
2. (03MA) Derek Gluchacki
3. (88VT) Nick Sweet
4. (04VT) DJ Shaw
5. (00NH) Jimmy Renfrew, Jr.
6. (5MA) Tom Carey III
7. (7NH) Dylan Payea
8. (4ME) Ben Rowe
9. (31MA) Trent Goodrow
10. (04NH) Shawn Swallow
11. (5ME) Dillon Moltz
12. (45NH) Kasey Beattie
13. (25NH) Jesse Switser
14. (58VT) Jimmy Hebert
15. (1NH) Corey Mason
16. (2VT) Stephen Donahue
17. (86VT) Marcel J. Gravel
18. (4NH) Jamie Swallow, Jr.
19. (36NH) Erick Sands
20. (22VT) Peyton Lanphear
21. (17ME) Kris Matchett
22. (47NH) Brockton Davis
23. (47ME) Chris Burgess
24. (10NH) Bryan Mason
25. (69ME) David MacDonald
26. (21VT) Reilly Lanphear
27. (49NH) Matt Anderson
28. (15VT) Joey Laquerre
29. (39VT) Mike Foster