On a weekend that saw race winners kiss a cow, hold a Winchester rifle and celebrate next to a grandfather clock at different short track racing events around the country, it was Mike Hopkins who had the most comfortable seat of all in victory lane. Hopkins of Hermon, Maine kicked back and lounged out in a brand new recliner while celebrating his win in the Long John 115 at Unity Raceway (ME) Sunday afternoon.
“It’s definitely a good one to come through on,” Hopkins told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “I’ve been short on a few races down there at Unity through the years between weekly races when John Crawford owned it and the Last Chance 150. I led 110 laps in that one year before having a valve stem go bad. It was good to be able to finally put one together and be there with the check, trophy and recliner.”
Hopkins, driving for car owner Paul White in the 115-lap Late Model race, started 12th on the grid after battling an ill-handling race car during qualifying heats. His team made a big swing on the car heading into the feature and that proved to pay off as he made steady progress towards the front using the outside groove.
A caution near the midway point of the race lined Hopkins up on the front row with polesitter Andrew McLaughlin, who had dominated the early part of the race. With McLaughin choosing the outside for the restart, Hopkins lined up on the inside and cleared McLaughlin to take the lead off of turn two.
The two put on a show for the fans at “Maine’s Toughest Oval” as they sliced and diced their way through lapped traffic while battling for the lead. In the end, Hopkins was able to pull away and join the list of Long John winners that includes names such as Ralph Nason and Johnny Clark.
“I don’t know if I ever would have caught Andrew if it wasn’t for that caution,” said Hopkins. “When I did catch him he chose the outside on the restart and I took the bottom and cleared him coming off of two. We caught some lapped traffic, and I think just by racing year round with the PASS guys it helped me get through traffic much better. I could get through traffic better than he could.”
Hopkins’ win on Sunday is his second win in the car in two races. He also drove the car to victory lane in a Late Model race a few weeks back at Speedway 95 (ME). The plans are to strip the car, make improvements on it and run it in more Late Model races next season in Northern Maine.
“Both times I’ve raced it this year we’ve won with it,” Hopkins explained. “It’s been pretty good. The car was built brand new in 2004, so it’s been around a while.
“Paul said he’s done and doesn’t really want to race anymore. He didn’t want to race the 150 at Bangor and said he’d just soon own the car and have fun. I think this winter we’re going to strip it apart and revamp it and do some updates to it. I think I’m going to race it a handful of times between trying to focus on the PASS tour.”
The win for Hopkins on Sunday, albeit in a different type of car, in his final race of the season gives him momentum going into the winter and looking forward to 2016. After being on the verge of breaking through for his first Pro All Stars Series win on a few occasions in 2015, he’s hoping he can put all of the pieces together to pick up his first win next season.
“It’s definitely a good way to go into winter,” said Hopkins. “Anytime you can win, I don’t care if it’s in a go-kart, dirt bike or whatever, a win’s a win no matter how you put it. It makes you feel like you still can do it. It’s a good momentum thing for me because I think I’m going to build another Super Late Model to have as a spare.
“That’s my plan to race PASS kind of like I did this year. I did nine of them and we had some good runs, I could just never get the luck we needed. It was one thing after another. We could never put the whole package together to finish the year off.”
With his 2015 racing season now over, Hopkins like many Mainers will shift his focus to plowing snow and maintaining other businesses that he owns. But after Sunday, no matter how rough of a day he may have, he’ll have a comfy recliner to relax in at home.
“Tuffy’s there, the local furniture store in town, I guess they sponsored it. I chalked it up and laughed about it, but after the race sitting there it was pretty comfy. It was something different and that’s why I give (track promoter) Nick (Huff) props.”
-By Brandon Paul, Speed51.com Editor – Twitter: @Brandon_Paul51
-Photo credit: John Miller/Unity Raceway