PORTLAND – One of the things that happen when you start winning races is that people expect you to win more.

Just ask Farmington native Cassius Clark, a second-generation driver with the skills, equipment and team to warrant those expectations.

Cassius is the son of Billy Clark, a veteran driver who was known as the “Farmington Flyer” during his racing days at Oxford and drove the famed Skoal Bandit in the Busch Grand National North series.

Clark started his 2006 season in the Pro All Stars Series (PASS) North division with three straight victories, including the season opener at Oxford. At last Wednesday’s media gathering, he talked about the reasons for his strong start, what he feels it will take to win Sunday, and how much it would mean to him to win the region’s most prestigious short-track race.

“Over the winter, we went down to some southern races and weren’t as competitive as we’d hoped,” Clark said. “So we tried to learn from what those guys were doing, and when we went down to Hickory, N.C., in the spring, we had them covered. We were leading the race when we broke an axle, so the finish didn’t reflect our performance.

“Since then, we’ve been running pretty much the same setup with minor adjustments for different tracks and conditions. We’ve had this car for four years. It’s a Distance chassis, and my father (and crew chief) works closely with (car builder) Jeff Taylor to stay on top of things. We’ve got it pretty well figured out, if we’re not the fastest car when we unload, then hopefully by the end of practice we can make it the fastest car.”

Several factors will determine who stands atop the podium tonight, and Clark knows everything has to fall into place smoothly for it to be his night. The all-important draw for starting positions in the six heat races is definitely a make-or-break activity.

“The last few years, I’ve drawn a high number so I’m going to have somebody else draw for me this time,” Clark said. “I’d like to think we could get a good spot in our heat, but you have to take what you get. It’s the same deal for everybody, it always has been this way, and it isn’t going to change because some guys prefer to run time trials. With that said, you just can’t get rattled if you start out back. You need to stay focused and do what it takes to make the show.

“What really matters is how well your car handles,” he added. “Oxford is a constant turn, if you aren’t setup properly for it, your chances are slim.”

A great deal of attention has been given to the NASCAR stars entered in this year’s 250, namely Nextel Cup Series rookie sensation Denny Hamlin, J.J. Yeley and Kyle Busch, winner of the recent Lenox Industrial Tools 300 at New Hampshire International Speedway. Maine’s own Ricky Craven will also compete, filling out a star-studded cast invading Western Maine this weekend.

Yet, Clark feels those professionals have little advantage when it comes to Sunday’s race.

“I think the guys that run Oxford on a weekly basis or the ones that run all the PASS races there have a better chance to win,” Clark said. “Obviously, those NASCAR guys are professionals, and they have the skills to compete. Among them, I think Kyle Busch has the best chance to win. He did very well last year, he’s running a top-notch SP2 car again, and he tested there recently. Craven has been away from this type of racing for quite a while, but I don’t doubt his talent or knowledge at all. I just think the guy who wins this race will be somebody with more experience at Oxford.”

In last year’s 250, Clark got caught up in traffic as he tried to work his way toward the front after a pit stop. The promising young driver finished 15th after starting 14th.

He says an extended-distance race like the 250 presents a lot of challenges as the laps wind down.

“Because of all the variables and different pit strategies, you end up with some cars on worn tires and others with fresh ones stacked up in the same pack,” Clark said. “It gets frustrating if you’re the one on fresh rubber trying to get to the front. It took me about 40 laps to break free last year, and I just simply ran out of time.”

For every local racer, the dream of winning the big show seems larger than life. So what would a victory mean to the current pride of Farmington?

“It would be huge, for sure,” Clark said. “It would mean a great deal to me, to do it for this team and my father. Dad led a ton of laps in 1987 and almost won the thing, so I really want to do it for him. It’s just the biggest race of all for short tracks, and I’d like nothing better than to put my name in the record books alongside the great drivers who have earned the honor.”

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