Harrington, Maine’s Andrew McLaughlin has come close, very close, to winning the state’s biggest Late Model Sportsman race, the Coastal 200, on more than one occasion. Finally, on a near perfect sunny Sunday afternoon at Wiscasset Speedway, McLaughlin sealed the deal and took home the biggest win of his career in dominant fashion.
Over 2600 fans packed the house for the Memorial Day weekend tradition, including a large contingent of veterans & active duty military who were admitted free of charge as the track’s special guests. Starting from the pole position in front of the 26 car field, McLaughlin led 181 of the 200 laps but was still tested on several occasions by a handful of drivers waiting for him to make a mistake.
That mistake never happened as he was the best car all day, nailing down the win by a comfortable three seconds over Fairfield’s Ben Ashline and local favorite Nick Hinkley of Wiscasset. For his efforts, Mclaughlin raked in $5,100 in winnings and lap leader money, including $500 for leading halfway.
The race was once again presented by Jordan Lumber and Jordan Excavation of Kingfield. Other winners on the program included Jonathan Emerson of Sabbatus in the Norm’s Used Cars Strictly Streets; Mark Lucas of Harpswell in the Midcoast Region Napa Modifieds; and Zac Audet of Skowhegan in the Kennebec Equipment Rental Outlaw Minis.
One of the unique things about the Coastal 200, (or the Coastal 150 in its early days), is that in its 20+ year history, the race has seen only one repeat winner. With only a pair of previous winners scattered through the 26 car field, the odds remained high for yet another driver to be hoisting the victor’s trophy for the first time.
McLaughlin brought the field to the green with Burgess alongside. Both drivers have been a former runner-up in the big race. Behind them were another pair of heavy favorites, 2016 winner Chris Thorne and veteran ACT racer Ben Ashline, making his return to action after nearly three years away.
McLaughlin set a torrid pace from the drop of the green flag, pulling out to a half straightaway advantage, while Ashline, Burgess, Thorne, and several others jockeyed for position. Four separate cautions for spins mid-pack bunched things up for challengers to take their shot at the leader, but he held served through the midpoint of the race until a much-needed caution flag flew on lap 135, sending all the lead lap cars onto pit road for tires. When the cars returned to the track for the restart, McLaughlin had come out last among the nine cars left on the lead lap.
Will Collins held the lead for a lap after the restart until it was taken by Ashline and then Hinkley over the next 19 laps. Intermixed with several lapped cars, McLaughlin sliced his way through traffic and drove around Hinkley to reclaim the lead. That pass was the validation that the fans and fellow drivers needed to confirm that it was his race to win.
As contenders faded, McLaughlin’s car seemed to get stronger and he sealed the victory in a race he had turned in second and third-place finishes in the past three years. Ashline fought a loose race car all day and recovered from a lap 139 spin of his own to place second. Hinkley was the last driver with a serious challenge to the eventual winner, holding the lead until lap 152 before fading late to settle for the third-place trophy.
Winterport’s Joey Doyon spent much of the race in the top five, even having a shot at the lead himself on lap 137. He would match his career best from last year’s race in fourth. Mike Hopkins of Hermon had a solid day, but some early body damage to the right front of his car helped relegate him to a fifth-place finish. McLaughlin, Ashline, and Burgess each pocketed an extra $100 from Norms Used Cars of Wiscasset for winning their respective heat races.
Other early favorites including Thorne, Burgess, and Winterport’s Shane Clark all succumbed to mechanical problems dropping them from contention. Clark had made three separate charges up from the back of the field into the top five in the first third of the race but finally retired on lap 86. He was awarded the Code 99 Designs Hard Luck Driver of the race. Collins took home the AR Bodies Hard Charger Award after starting 20th and finishing seventh.
In victory lane, the winner was all smiles.
“I’ve won a bunch of Saturday night feature races, and have come close in a few big ones,” McLaughlin said in Victory Lane. “It’s been a goal of mine to win this race. This is the highlight of my racing career, right here. I couldn’t be prouder. I knew once I got new tires on the car I’d be okay. I knew I had a good car. As soon as we unloaded today, I knew they were in trouble”
Wiscasset Speedway returns to action Saturday, June 3 at 6:00 pm with Group 1 in action presented by The Bozutto’s Company and the Dream Ride for Special Olympics. The show will be highlighted by a 50 lap spotlight feature for the ServPro of Biddeford Saco Prostocks. The race will serve as a qualifier race for the $10,000 to win SLM/Pro Stock Nationals at Seekonk Speedway in July. Also in action Saturday night will be the Super Streets, Thunder 4 Minis and N.E. 4-cylinder Pros. Pit gates will open at 2:00 pm; grandstands at 4:00 pm and green flag at 6:00 pm. For more information go to the Wiscasset Speedway website at www.wiscassetspeedway.com, or call (207) 491-3720.