Mike Hopkins had never turned a single lap around the 1/3-mile Seekonk Speedway oval prior to Friday afternoon, but that didn’t stop the Hermon, Maine driver from stealing the show and topping a stout field of Super Late Models on Saturday afternoon in the season finale for the Pro All Stars Series (PASS) North.
Hopkins started the 150-lap race 10th on the 29-car starting grid and methodically made his way towards the front during the opening 100 laps. On lap 112, he made a pass to the inside of early-race dominator Ryan Kuhn to claim the lead for the first time. Kuhn reclaimed the lead briefly on lap 114 before Hopkins made his way back to the front for good on lap 118.
The driver of the No. 15 Super Late Model pulled away from there, with a brief scare coming on the final lap when another competitor spun in turn four. However, the checkered flag was displayed and Hopkins pulled into Victory Lane to celebrate his second career PASS North victory.
“When me and Ben Rowe cleared the 59 (Reid Lanpher) and the 46 (Dylan Estrella) I knew we were driving away,” Hopkins said. “I was pushing Ben and then rolled around Ben pretty easy. They were reading off lap times and I was running a tenth better than the 72 (Kuhn). They just told me to keep hitting my marks, save the right rear (tire) and bide my time. When I caught him and it was time to go, I just rolled under him and the rest is history. When the caution came out coming to the checkered, I was a little nervous.”
After winning in his first start at Seekonk and proving to be a quick learner, Hopkins credited one of the track’s most successful racers for his success on Saturday.
“I went out yesterday (in practice) and followed Dave Darling, he’s a regular here,” Hopkins explained. “I tried his line once and I thought I was going to go home in the trailer because I was going to total it. We just dialed it in after the heat race. It went really good and just wouldn’t really turn, so they changed the right front spring and it came to life about halfway as fuel burned off, and it started to turn really well. Here we are.”
Kuhn, the 2018 Late Model track champion at the Seekonk, Massachusetts oval, took the lead from Seekonk regular Dylan Estrella on lap 10 and led over 100 laps before settling for second behind Hopkins.
“I’m ecstatic. This is awesome to run second and lead all those laps; it’s unbelievable,” Kuhn said. “I expected to come here and get a top five, that would’ve been great. To finish P2, that’s awesome. We just lost the handling. I think I burned my stuff up too much. It is what it, and we’ll go on to next year.”
For Hopkins, the win is his second Pro All Stars Series victory of the season after winning the PASS crate engine race at Richmond Raceway (VA) earlier this year. After a handful of runner-up finishes between his victories, he was thrilled to be back on top.
“It’s been really good. Richmond was misfortune for (Ray) Christian, but we had a good race between him and I. The season has been full of second places, so it’s good to come here, never been here before, and come out of here with a win,” Hopkins said. “We still have one left. We have to go to Lanier for the PASS National Championship.”
While some of the New England Late Model racers have shut things down for the 2019 season, Hopkins still has two races on his schedule: the North-South Shootout at Hickory Motor Speedway (NC) and the PASS Lanier National 200 at Lanier Raceplex (GA).
“This car is going back in the trailer and going back to Port City’s shop,” he said. “I think Gary (Crooks) wants to go to the North-South Shootout, the PRA race at Hickory, and then take this to Lanier in Georgia to finish the PASS National Championship out. We came in here with a 37-point lead and hopefully we left with some more.”
After a strong charge to the front early in the race, 2018 U.S. Super Late Model National Championship winner Reid Lanpher completed the podium in third. Five-time PASS national champion Ben Rowe and 2018 Oxford Plains Speedway track champion Gabe Brown rounded out the top five.
Highlights from Saturday’s PASS North finale can be viewed now on the Speed51 Network by clicking here.
-Story by: Brandon Paul, Speed51.com Content Manager – Twitter: @Brandon_Paul51
-Photo credit: Speed51