SOLON — In just his second season driving in the highly-competitive Late Model Sportsman class, Ben Erskine is making good headway.

Running at both Unity Raceway on Sunday afternoons and at Wiscasset Speedway on Saturday nights, the 32-year-old athlete from the town of Solon already has a win and four top-10 finishes under his belt.

“We started out behind the eight ball this year,” Erskine said. “On opening day at Wiscasset, I actually ran on last year’s tires and still finished fourth. I broke a swaybar that day, but we repaired it as best we could and the car was pretty strong. Our never give up attitude helped salvage that day.”

Erskine’s on-track results have been somewhat tumultuous in 2016, going from the penthouse to the outhouse from one week to the next. On May 14 at Wiscasset, he cut a tire and wound up twelfth in the final rundown. He got caught up in a wreck there on June 25, relegating him to a dismal 18th-place run.

“There are a lot of good cars in the Late Model class at Wiscasset and several talented drivers. We seem to run good there every time out. We were just in the wrong place at the right time that night. After some trouble in the qualifying race, we were moving up through the field before that misfortune.”

Erskine has tons of experience at Speedway 95 in Hermon to go along with Unity and Wiscasset. He got his start back in 1999 and has steadily progressed through the ranks before joining the Late Model class in 2015. He came out of the box hot last year, running competitively from the initial green flag.

“I had never raced a Late Model at Wiscasset prior to last April,” Erskine said. “On opening day, I think we had a car capable of winning. I started deep in the field, yet drove up to third in seven or eight laps. It was going pretty strong until we cut a tire, but still ended up fourth or fifth. I won the second race, which was nice given the level of competition there. They had eight winners in the first eight races.”

As he honed his skills in various classes through the years, Erskine has driven some strong cars. He credits the late Butch Burgess as one of his biggest influences, learning from him as he went along.

“We had Butch build us a brand new Super Street car in 2004,” Erskine explained. “Unity was really going strong at that time, with 20-plus cars running that class each week. In 2006, I won six features at Unity, and three at Speedway 95.

“The last year we ran that class, we bought a new Hamke Super Late Model car from Butch and ran that one at Speedway 95. The first time out with it, I won our heat race and ran in the top two for most of the feature. At the time, I was up against some big talent, like John Phippen and Dave St. Clair.”

Erskine has driven at more tracks and in more different classes than many of his weekly rivals. All of that experience gives him an advantage, building his ability to adapt to what a given car needs. That skill only translates to a quicker learning curve each time he changes divisions.

“I ran in the Pro All Stars Series Outlaw class when they first started out. I had some good success in that division, and finished in the top three my first time out at Unity. I grew up racing there, while most of those guys had never raced there and didn’t really like the place. I’m comfortable there. I don’t care if it’s a little rough; it just adds to the character of the place.”

Looking back at his first move into the modern-day Late Models in 2015, that experience he brought to he table carried him through in fine fashion.

“I think we did pretty well given the fact most of my experience was in other types of cars,” he added. “To win that second race of the season gave us a big boost in confidence, especially coming from the back to do it. I ended up missing a few races after I broke my wrist and my thumb. That really hurt our chances in the overall points.”

Since Wiscasset alternates between Group 1 (headlined by the Pro Stock class) and Group 2 (where the Late Models run), Erskine took a little foray to his old stomping grounds at Speedway 95 on an off week. The result proved to be a major setback in his overall plans for 2015.

“After a little squabble in the feature, I ended up in the dirt bank and suffered those injuries, so I was forced to sit out the balance of the season as I healed. It was tough, but it’s in the past now and we’re focusing on winning a championship at Unity. I’d also like to earn a win or two at Wiscasset.”

Erskine uses a Distance Racing Products chassis he bought from 2015 Oxford 250 winner Glen Luce. The car was constructed in 2011 and has all the latest updates. Under the hood sits a crate engine from Butler & McMasters in Augusta. It’s a combination Erskine says is tough to beat.

“It’s a pretty decent little car, and I’ve only had to make a few minor changes since I got it. As far as the engine, you can’t do any better than Butler and McMasters. It’s almost bulletproof and super reliable. Dave (McMasters) has always done excellent work; the whole staff up there treats me well. They actually come to my shop, adjust the valves and tune the engine. They are a world-class company.”

Erskine is fortunate to have the support of a family-run business behind him, along with a few key crew members who work hard to ensure he’s prepared when the car unloads at either track.

“The car is sponsored by Erskine Logging and Trucking, owned by my father, Richard. I am thankful to have Alex Taylor, Timothy Decker and my brother Brad on the team. They are all very dedicated.

“My father is a huge asset of course, but business obligations keep him from being at the track every race. Danielle Douglas is also a great help, and I love having my two children with me, as well. It’s really just a family-run team with a few guys doing what they can to contribute. We take it seriously, but always try to have a good time wherever we race. I’m blessed with a great family around me.”

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