The return of stock car racing to Lanier Speedway (GA) came down to a battle between two drivers from over 1,200 miles away on Saturday afternoon. At the end of 200 laps, it was Maine native Ben Ashline out-dueling fellow Pine Tree State driver Mike Hopkins in an exciting battle to win the PASS National 200.
For Ashline, the victory is the first PASS Super Late Model victory of his career.
“I think this is only our sixth or seventh PASS race ever,” Ashline said. “I’ve never raced down south. This is a bunch of no names from the middle of Maine. We had fun.
“Obviously, we go to every race with the goal to win. You don’t go to finish second and we don’t ever stop trying to make the car better until the race has ended,” Ashline said after the race. “We were pretty good when we unloaded. We were a little worried that we didn’t have the practice yesterday to work the bugs out of it, not knowing gears or spring combinations. We made the decision this morning to just change the gears based on the size of the track being a little bigger than what we thought, and we went with the spring combination we had at Seekonk. We just tweaked on it and it was pretty good.”
After starting sixth, the little engine that could methodically made its way towards the front of the field. Ashline made his first bid for the lead on Lap 68, taking the lead from Dawson Fletcher on a restart.
From there, Ashline pulled away until a restart bunched up the field and put Hopkins to his outside. The two Maine drivers battled tooth-and-nail for over 20 laps before Hopkins finally made a power move around the outside to take the lead on Lap 140.
“We have a little crate engine, so you see these guys put up pretty good times and you’re like, ‘Man, these guys are quick,” Ashline stated. “We took off and you could see that they were fairly free early on, and they had a long way to go to be that free early on. We tried to put a little bit of pressure on them but maintain. I’ve had a habit the last couple PASS races of burning my stuff up a little too early.
But the battle wasn’t over yet. Ten laps later, Ashline pulled back to the inside of Hopkins as the two leaders navigated lapped traffic. Ashline reclaimed the top spot on Lap 150 and held off a challenge from Hopkins on a late-race restart to score the biggest win of his career.
“It was nice racing with Mike. Mike raced me great,” Ashline said. “I tried to set a pace. I knew if he had to go around me on the high side, it was going to take that much more effort on his tires. I kind of gave him the option. We raced hard and rubbed a little bit and he got by. I see the lapped traffic coming and I could see once he got by us that he was getting freer off quicker. Just never give up.”
After finishing second and clinching the 2019 PASS National Championship, Hopkins echoed Ashline’s thoughts on their thrilling battle.
“It was a blast. That was hardcore racing, him and I,” Hopkins said. “He’d take a little, I’d give a little, I’d take a little, just back and forth. We got too free. After the tire change, we made an adjustment. It was free if you rolled out of the gas, it was free if you were on the gas. He just had way better drive than us and motored away at the end.”
The win for Ashline comes with the Ajay Picard Racing team that he joined forces with just prior to the Oxford 250 in August. Although his job behind the wheel of the car came as a result of misfortune for one of his friends, he’s thrilled with what the team has been able to accomplish in a short period.
“They had this car sitting and it was a brand-new Distance car from this year and Ajay got injured,” Ashline explained. “You don’t ever want to see a friend get hurt by any means but at that point he knew he couldn’t drive, so he didn’t want to risk getting further injured. They were going to end up with a giant paperweight sitting in their garage, and they wanted to go racing. We’re just a bunch of good old country folk that wanted to go racing. We love what we do and we have a great time. This group looks together and we don’t ever stop until the checkered drops. It’s been fun. I didn’t expect all this but I knew with the right combination and the right attitude that there’s nothing you couldn’t achieve. I’m very thankful for anybody who has been a part of this and influenced any of this.”
Ryan Moore completed a podium of Maine-born drivers with a third-place finish. Youngster Jake Garcia and North Carolian native Tate Fogleman completed the top five.
A full broadcast replay of Saturday’s PASS National 200 at Lanier can be viewed now by clicking here.
PASS National Lanier 200 Unofficial Results
|17||15x||Sheflon Clay – DNS|
|18||45||Kodie Conner – DNS|
-Story by: Brandon Paul, Speed51 Content Manager – Twitter: @Brandon_Paul51
-Photo credit: Speed51 / Tiffany Swisher