Since the Pro All Stars Series came into existence in 2001, Johnny Clark has been along for nearly the entire ride, and he's built up quite the resume during the process. Since that time the Farmingdale, Maine Super Late Model driver has amassed 35 career wins and a record six PASS North championships. But after all these years, there is still something missing from the trophy shelf, and it's something that he would give up everything for.
That something is the most sought after trophy in Northeast motorsports. It's an achievement that instantly earns racers a spot among legends. That something is a win at the Oxford 250.
Beginning in 2018, Clark has shifted to a part-time schedule, picking and choosing races for he and his No. 54 team, with PASS North events forming the core of his schedule. But in 2019, there has been an extra focus placed on Oxford Plains Speedway (ME), with the goal being to finally get that first 250 trophy this Sunday, August 25.
“We’re picking and choosing, and really concentrating on Oxford. We’ve run some weekly shows there. Last week we started at the back, it went green, and we drove up to the top five. We’re very optimistic that things are heading in the right direction for us,” Clark said on Speed51’s Morning Bullring on Monday.
"It’s the part of my career where time is everything, I have two little girls. So we’re really just concentrating on these bigger races, and the things that matter. Quality, not quantity; so that’s where we’re at.”
Just over a week ago on August 11, PASS held its usual “Oxford 250 tune up," a 150-lap points race at Oxford that many teams see as final opportunity to get valuable notes under actual race conditions. While the day wasn’t to Clark's liking, it did eliminate some options that they may have tried during the big weekend.
Overall, the biggest goal going into the 250 for Clark is making sure the No. 54 can be competitive for all 250 laps.
“It kind of added to the notebook of what doesn’t work," he stated. "We had some speed, we were fastest in the second practice, and I think we were fourth fastest in the scuff session. We got the speed, but we got to find some longevity. I got some tremendous support from Port City Racecars right now, Gary Crooks and all those guys are unbelievable; they’ve been a huge help to turn this around in July for us, and hopefully it carries to an Oxford 250 win.”
Now in his 20th year of racing Super Late Models, Clark has run enough marquee shows to know the key to winning any of them, including the Oxford 250, is to be ready for anything before you ever leave the garage.
“It’s everything in the shop, that’s all you can do. You've got to be prepared," Clark said. "I look back at the races I was most nervous for and they were the races I wasn’t prepared to be at. If you’re prepared and have done your homework then you go in with enough confidence to do work. That’s what it comes down to, putting the work in the shop, giving yourself options and just being ready for it.”
On more than one occasion, Clark has been ready for the Oxford 250, given it his best effort and come up just shy of Victory Lane. The one that stands out the most is a second-place finish in 2005, a race in which he surrendered the lead to Mike Rowe with 10 laps remaining.
"I definitely think about it more often when it gets closer to the race and think back to that day," Clark admitted. "That was 14 years ago, we had our best shot, we led most of the race and came up short to Mike Rowe. Back in 2015 we were extremely close, we had four new tires, we were coming up through the field and had to leave the track for a spinning lapped car. We recovered and came back up from 25th to finish fourth.
"I think of those times and man, it’s not that often that you get those shots like that to go to Victory Lane. You just need everything to line up. Again, it all comes down to being prepared. That’s it. You got to put in the hours, you got to put in the effort, and the guys that do that, you always find on top. You can’t go in there half-assed and go to victory lane in the Oxford 250."
Hands down, winning this Sunday would be the biggest achievement of Clark’s already impressive career. At the same time, it would be the ultimate giveback to all of his supporters past and present.
“It would by far be the biggest win of my career," he said. "I’ve been fortunate to win 250’s in Canada at New Brunswick and Nova Scotia but there’s nothing like the Oxford 250 to the New England folks. It would be really big for us. I’ve got a huge support system behind me with family and friends. We’ve been doing this a long time. Oxford 250 week is so big around here for us, my father has been good enough to give me the week off to just get ready for this race.”
As for how much weight Clark gives a win in the Oxford 250, it would be equal in weight to a series title, six of them to be exact.
“I’ve got my second-place trophy in my shop and it was a reminder that we got one more to go," he said. "We’ve been close, we’ve been within 10 laps of winning it and getting a caution we didn’t need. Six championships, I’d give them up to get an Oxford 250, I would. It’s everything. It’s known nationwide and throughout Canada. If you could put your name on that trophy, it would be bigger to me than any of my championships.”
Race fans can watch the quest of Johnny Clark and the rest of tremendous field of PASS Super Late Model drivers entered for the 46th Annual Oxford 250 on Speed51’s live pay-per-view broadcast this Sunday, August 25. Speed51 will also be showing all the racing action on ‘The Night Before the 250’ this Saturday, August 24, featuring the American-Canadian Tour Late Models and Tri-Track Open Modified Series.
Click here to order your discounted two-day video tickets today.
-Story by: Connor Sullivan, Speed51 Northeast Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo credit: Speed51 / Phil Whipple