With over 40 feature wins and six championships in Pro All Stars Series competition, plus wins in most of the major events in the Northeast and the Canadian Maritimes, there is precious little Johnny Clark has yet to accomplish.
And yet, the six-time PASS North Super Late Model champion and defending winner of the Oxford 250 found himself choked up as he steered his all-black Chevrolet Camaro into victory lane at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Clark emerged victorious in a thrilling battle to the checkered flag in Sunday’s PASS North feature of the inaugural Northeast Classic.
“Man, I was in tears pulling in here,” Clark said as he took in the moment. “I’ve never been to victory lane at Loudon.”
The Farmingdale, Maine veteran showed plenty of speed early on, slipping past front-row starters Brandon Barker and Ben Rowe to lead the lion’s share of the first segment of the 50-lap feature. Barker charged back after a lap-24 caution, taking the lead on the restart and holding the point entering a scheduled lap-30 competition caution for tire changes.
Clark would restart second, but he and Barker faced new challenges in the form of big-track specialist Eddie MacDonald and early-season sensation Derek Griffith. As Griffith made his way to the front of the pack, Clark slipped back from the lead battle, now having to fend off a hard-charging Mike Hopkins as well.
Jeff White’s spin down the backstretch bunched up the field with only twelve laps remaining. Hopkins, who started at the tail of the field after a heat-race infraction, powered to the lead for a lap, but Barker drove back to the front as Griffith and MacDonald each met with their own misfortune racing in the pack.
Clark stayed within reach, making his move on Barker with four laps to go. Barker parried back, but pressure from Hopkins kept him from making a bid for the top spot.
Barker crossed the line second, but a post-race technical violation negated his run, with Hopkins inheriting the runner-up spot. “We put ourselves in a hole,” Hopkins said of his own brush with the inspectors earlier in the day. “We failed [post-qualifying] tech on the left side. We had to come from the back. We used it up, and here we are.”
Defending PASS North champion DJ Shaw inherited third, with Jeremie Whorff finishing fourth in his first PASS North start since 2016. Ben Rowe rounded out the top five.
Dennis Spencer finished sixth, ahead of reigning Granite State Pro Stock Series top rookie Jake Matheson. Former ACT Tour winner and current NASCAR Xfinity Series competitor Alex Labbé was eighth in a car prepared by Gabe Brown. Griffith, whose decklid collapsed in the closing laps, soldiered on for ninth, with JR Robinson rounding out the top ten.
Clark’s latest victory, his 40th in PASS North competition, reflects an impressive return to form for the veteran racer. When Clark won at Riverside Speedway last July, it was his first PASS win since the fall of 2016. The momentum from that win carried the veteran to a long-awaited Oxford 250 victory a month later, a win he had once said he would trade for his six PASS titles. Clark ended the season second in points, looking far more like the driver who had clinched four straight championships from 2008 to 2011.
And while Clark made the win look easy, simply getting to the track was a challenge.
“We won the Oxford 250 last August, built this brand-new car with that money,” Clark said. “We literally finished the hood Friday night. Barry Poulin, who bought my other car, not the car we won the 250 with, don’t worry…we finished cutting the hood at twenty past one. I went home and spit out some numbers, because I do my own vinyl. Got an hour of sleep and loaded up, came here…well, we got almost to Portland and broke down, had to turn around and go back, get another truck, and was the last hauler to pull in here.
“It’s a brand new car, but it took a lot of time, but everyone put a lot of hard work into it. I can’t thank the guys enough, every single one of them. Everyone came down and pitched in…it’s just hard work, just busted our ass, and I just can’t believe that this thing just went to victory lane at Loudon in its first race!”
Clark is only the second driver to win in PASS competition at the “Magic Mile.” Eddie MacDonald won the series’ 2015 debut at the speedway, and edged out Mike Hopkins to win the series’ return to the track in 2019. “The Outlaw” was again a threat on Sunday, but late contact and a failing tire took MacDonald out of contention in the closing laps.
Sunday’s Northeast Classic, a collaborative effort between PASS and the American-Canadian Tour, is the latest iteration of a short-track racing showcase on New England’s grandest motorsports stage. PASS and ACT, working closer than ever in the last couple years, are showing their strength at managing and organizing major events with last weekend’s Icebreaker at Thompson (Conn.) Speedway and this week’s Classic. With proper support from NHMS, which lacks a short-track-centric NASCAR-backed weekend in 2021, the Northeast Classic could be the next main event in the making.
After a North Carolina road trip and back-to-back big-track events, the PASS North Super Late Models return to familiar territory next Sunday with their first race of the season at Oxford Plains Speedway in Maine.
Official Results, PASS Northeast Classic 50 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway:
1. (54) Johnny Clark
2. (15) Mike Hopkins
3. (60) DJ Shaw
4. (00) Jeremie Whorff
5. (4) Ben Rowe
6. (12) Dennis Spencer
7. (52) Jake Matheson
8. (47) Alex Labbé
9. (12G) Derek Griffith
10. (20) JR Robinson
11. (10) Kate Re
12. (14ME) Anthony Constantino
13. (50) Jeff White
14. (02) Brian Whalley
15. (18S) Michael Scorzelli
16. (41) Logan Melcher
17. (14) Scott McDaniel
18. (57) Zig Geno
19. (76RI) Tyler Tomassi
20. (17MA) Eddie MacDonald
21. (9T) Alan Tardiff
22. (81) Dan Winter
23. (39) Nick Lascuola
24. (43) Devin O’Connell
25. (88) Brandon Barker (DQ)