Josh St. Clair of Liberty celebrates in victory lane following a win at Wiscasset Speedway earlier this season.  Travis Barrett/Kennebec Journal

 

WISCASSET — Before you can try and describe the driving style of a young Josh St. Clair, the current version of Wiscasset Speedway’s most dominant driver this season does it for you.

“I was a punk,” St. Clair said during a recent break in competition at the track his family owned for nearly two decades. “I was. I had no patience.”

In five weeks to begin the 2021 campaign, St. Clair has four wins — two in a Super Late Model, one in a Late Model and another in a street stock. The cars are as good as they’ve ever been for the Liberty driver, but St. Clair says it’s about a lot more than equipment.

Married with two children now, the 2014 Coastal 200 winner has made significant changes beyond shocks, springs and tire pressures.

“I changed my living style to sobriety. That’s a big difference in my mentality,” said St. Clair, whose daughter, Lainey, is 4 and whose son, Max, is 1. “A couple years of sobriety makes a big difference in my mindset. Clearly, it shows over the last few weeks — personality, driving ability, the whole deal. It’s the time in the shop now.

“Before (Max) was born, I had a little girl and everything kind of fell apart for me. It was a terrible way of life there for a while.”

Ironically, for some of his fiercest on-track competitors, the new St. Clair resembles the old one. What’s old is new again, as the saying goes.

Former track champion Andrew McLaughlin was a crew member for Steuben racer J.R. Robinson a decade ago, when St. Clair was winning Late Model races by the bucketful at Wiscasset and Speedway 95 in Hermon.

“I wasn’t here (at Wiscasset) when he was younger and starting out, I saw him when he was winning a lot,” McLaughlin said. “I definitely see a change in his overall attitude, in his confidence. He’s the type of guy that if he’s not running up front, then he’s bummed out. I’m the same way. It’s competitiveness.

“It all correlates. When you’re putting the time in on the car and not blaming other people, good things happen.”

It’s a simple formula — sobriety — but one that pays dividends on and off the track for St. Clair. As for how it has made his race cars virtually unbeatable this spring, it’s all about prioritizing and focusing in the right areas.

There’s no substitute for the hours spent in a race shop working on the cars themselves.

Josh St. Clair, top, and Andrew McLaughlin survey the damage on a race car in the pit area at Wiscasset Speedway earlier this month. Both are among the favorites to win Sunday’s Coastal 200 at the track. Travis Barrett/Kennebec Journal

“I think he’s a little more focused on his race program than he used to be,” said five-time track champion Chris Thorne of Sidney. “The more time you spend on these cars, the better you’re going to be.”

“I think the effort’s focused in the right place now,” St. Clair said. “Instead of beers when I’m in the shop, it’s time on the cars. And it’s having a clear mind — everyone knows that. When you’re not all twisted up, it makes things a little easier.”

With fast cars comes the risk of overconfidence, the temptation to try and create on-track opportunities that aren’t always present at the center of a 100-mph cyclone.

Others have noticed St. Clair become better at picking his battles.

“I’d race with Josh any day of the week,” Thorne said. “He’s smart enough to know if it’s not his day, then he’ll stay out of the way. But if he thinks he’s got a chance, he’s going to be tough.”

Both this Sunday’s Coastal 200, an annual Memorial Day weekend staple at the speedway, and the Boss Hogg 150 in September were the brainchild of Dave St. Clair. St. Clair, Josh’s grandfather, owned Wiscasset Speedway throughout the 1990s and for most of the 2000s before selling the facility.

Carrying the same surname of Maine Motorsports Hall of Fame member Dave St. Clair (who has filed an entry for Sunday’s Coastal 200) doesn’t create additional pressure, Josh said.

“This is my home track,” Josh St. Clair said. “I was in diapers on the frontstretch. I rode bikes around here, I mowed the lawns here, I sold ice cream in the grandstands here. I don’t think there’s pressure. If anything, it’s pressure I put on myself to never settle.”

Not settling doesn’t mean driving like “a punk.”

One thing St. Clair has learned with age, as most successful race car drivers at all levels learn as they mature, is that you’re only as good as the car you’re driving.

That’s no different this weekend in what annually serves as Maine’s most significant Late Model race.

“Being there at the end is the only way to win it,” St. Clair said. “If you burn it all up and use it all up, you’re in trouble. You only get to change two tires. It’s not like we’ve got a whole pile of bolt-ons in the pits waiting for us.”

The old Josh St. Clair — or the youngest version of Josh St. Clair, in the interest of accuracy — never thought that way.

“I would have been trying to win every lap,” St. Clair said. “I wouldn’t have known any better. Now, it’s easier to not have that lead-every-lap mentality. Now you can go out and ride and win. That’s the goal.”

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