OXFORD – Second generation racer Cassius Clark loves to compete at the track where his father enjoyed so much success years ago.
The Farmington native took the lead in Saturday night’s Pro All-Stars Series season-opener from former champion Ricky Rolfe on Lap 95 and hung on to win the New England Dodge Dealers 150 at Oxford Plains Speedway on Saturday.
“The car was just awesome all night,” said an elated Clark in Victory Lane. “We just got the engine back late last night, and didn’t finish installing it until about 1:30 this morning. The crew stuck with me, and it really paid off. We missed the first practice, but this car was perfect when it counted.” Clark also won the event in 2005.
OPS veteran Dale Shaw, of Center Conway, N.H., led the first 25 laps and battled up front for much of the race.
After thrilling the huge crowd with side-by-side battles with Rolfe, Shaw settled for second.
“We had a pretty good car, but Cassius was better,” said Shaw. “Scott (Chubbuck) ran me real clean there at the end, which I appreciate. It’s a great way to start a new season.”
Chubbuck finished solidly in third, while defending OPS Pro Stock champion Timmy Brackett was fourth. Johnny Clark, the 2004 PASS champion, rounded out the top five.
A whopping 12 cautions slowed the event, none for serious incidents.
Finishing sixth through 10th was Travis Benjamin, Rick Martin, Garry Johnson, Chuck Lachance, and Corey Williams.
Five drivers took a turn at the front, while nine of 33 starters finished on the lead lap.
Shaw built a sizable lead until a rash of cautions (starting on lap 24) took it all away. Rolfe moved into contention shortly after, battling side-by-side with Shaw until finally gaining control on Lap 37. His stint at the front last until Chubbuck took over briefly on the 62nd circuit.
Once things got settled down, Clark began closing in on the lead pack.
Dale Verrill, Kenny Harrison, Tommy Thompkins, Jeff Moon and Lary Melcher were also feature winners on a beautiful, yet unseasonably cool opening night at the popular western Maine oval.
In early action, Melcher notched the first points event of the 2006 season in the 30-lap Mini Stock feature. The Jay driver inherited the lead on Lap 8 when early leader Don Mooney got together with Craig Moore and slid off of Turn Two.
“I’ll take that to start the season any day,” said Melcher. “The car ran great throughout the whole race, it’s hooked up on the high side really well. I owe this win to my team for their hard work during the off-season.”
Adam Polvinen came from 13th on the grid to finish second, while veteran Jim Childs claimed third. Chris Varney of Scarborough and Auburn’s Joe Treadwell rounded out the top five.
Thompkins opened his new season with a victory in the first 20-lap Strictly Stock feature.
The Dixfield resident took over the point on Lap 10 and cruised home to a convincing win. Ben Tinker of Gray led briefly early on and settled for second, while Rick Thompson finished third in the caution-free affair.
Zach Emerson of Sabattus and Winthrop’s Ron Weymouth completed the top five.
Moon started on the outside of row one in the second Strictly Stock feature, moved past Bill Dunphy on lap three and set sail for Victory Lane.
Jerry Freve stayed within sight of the leaders the entire distance and finished second, while B.J. Chapman of Naples claimed third. Roxbury’s Jeff Merrill and Guy Childs of Turner filled out the balance of an evenly-matched top five. In an unusually clean start to the season, this feature also went wire-to-wire without a caution.
Harrison recorded a wire-to-wire victory in the caution-free 35-lap Limited Sportsman feature.
The Pownal native and former champion was never challenged in what is generally a highly-competitive division.
Hometown favorite David Tripp of Oxford was the big mover, charging from eighth on the starting grid to finish a strong second.
Steve Bennett Sr. of Buckfield finished third, while multi-time OPS champion Carey Martin claimed fourth and Saco’s Terry Merrill claimed fifth.
Verrill survived two pressure-packed restarts then edged a hard-charging Carey Martin by a half car-length to claim the 40-lap Late Model Stock feature.
Verrill and Martin had the fans on their feet as they went side-by-side for during the late stages.
“Carey is going to be pretty tough this year, for sure,” said Verrill in Victory Lane.
“I had to work hard to beat him, and it sure feels great to start the new season with a win.”