Johnny Clark of Farmingdale (54) leads the field during a Pro All Stars Series race last weekend in Groveton, New Hampshire. Contributed photo/Pro All Stars Series

 

He almost didn’t even go.

Last week’s Pro All Stars Series race at Riverside Speedway in Groveton, New Hampshire, had been added to a rapidly changing and condensed schedule as track and series promoters across New England try to make up for time lost this spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Johnny Clark, the six-time series champion from Farmingdale, was vacationing with his family last Thursday night.

On Friday morning, sometime around 7 a.m., Clark and his team decided to get the car ready in time to leave for the track by noon.

Nine hours later, Clark was standing in victory lane for the first time in almost four years.

“I wouldn’t say I was ‘relieved,’” Clark said this week. “We’ve had the speed all year, we just haven’t had any luck. It felt like every single race this year it was something — a flat tire, a part malfunction, something.

“I think we’re finally coming together.”

Clark led every one of the 150 laps in the event at Riverside.

The win was the 37th PASS win of Clark’s career, second on the all-time list behind Turner’s Ben Rowe (41). More notably, it was the first time Clark won since September 2016 at White Mountain Motorsports Park in North Woodstock, New Hampshire.

Remarkably for one of the most accomplished racers in northern New England, Clark hadn’t become frustrated. In fact, it was quite the opposite as the winless streak reached 44 races —the longest drought of the 40-year-old’s career.

“(Port City Race Cars owner) Gary Crooks said to me after one of the races, ‘Not many people can have the attitude you have with what you’ve been through this year,’” Clark said of some near misses. “But I really felt like we work hard every week and you go to the track, wait for your luck to change and ride it out. Ten years ago, nobody could believe the luck we had — it seemed like every race played out for us and everything worked in our favor.

“We did start to feel like it would turn. We felt like over the last five years, we’d paid our dues. I’m not somebody that needs to win every single race — but I want to be competitive and in the top five and have a shot at it.”

Clark, a longtime customer of Port City, credited the work Crooks has done since taking over the business in 2018. But Clark also said he’s changed his approach to preparing for races — preferring to work in small nibbles at improvement instead of big swings.

As success started to wane in 2015, when he took several races off to focus on better performance, particularly at Oxford Plains Speedway, Clark realized what he’d always done was no longer working.

“I’ve slowed down on looking for that magic wand that fixes everything,” Clark said. “There are millions of different things to try on a race car to make it better— tires, shocks, springs. Multiply all of that and there’s so many things that it could be. But it could be as simple as one spring to change that package. Believe me, when you go three laps down in a race, part of you wants to just scrap the whole thing and come back with something completely different— but maybe that’s not the thing to do.

“Maybe it’s just one thing you need to change.”

The next scheduled PASS race is Aug. 9 at White Mountain Motorsports Park.

RETURN OF THE FANS

Spectators return to the grandstands at Maine race tracks this weekend.

Wiscasset Speedway and Oxford Plains Speedway announced intentions this week to race in front of spectators for the first time on Saturday night. While Oxford has been racing to empty bleachers since late June, Wiscasset will open for the first time this season.

Each track will allow only 200 spectators in the grandstands, per guidelines from the state regarding re-opening. Both offered advance ticket sales through Friday and will sell whatever remaining tickets they have at the gate on Saturday.


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