Just four years ago, Farmingdale, Maine’s Johnny Clark was nearly untouchable in Pro All Stars Series (PASS) North competition. Fresh off of his record sixth series championship in 2011, the No. 54 Johnny Clark Motorsports team was regarded as one of the most dominant teams not only in the Northeast, but the entire country.
Things have changed over the last four years; the driver with 34 career PASS North victories is no longer the dominant force he once was. After scoring 31 wins in the nine-year span from 2003 to 2011, Clark has registered just three wins over the last four seasons.
His recent struggles, which by his high standards have lasted for three seasons now, have forced him to take a few steps back in hopes of getting his program back to what it used to be.
His first step back was the choice to not make the trip to Airborne Park Speedway in New York for the Pro All Stars Series event on July 19. His second step is to focus his efforts on one track, Oxford Plains Speedway (ME), over the course of the next few weeks in order to get a baseline setup to work with moving forward.
Last Saturday, Clark visited Oxford to compete in the weekly 50-lap Super Late Model feature with hopes of turning things around.
“We’re going to race tonight and plan to just take it week to week,” Clark told Speed51.com powered by JEGS on Saturday. “We know we’ll be here next weekend for the PASS race. So we’ll be here two weeks in a row, I know that. Other than that, I don’t know past that.”
After starting deep in the field, Clark made his way up through the field and finished sixth in the 50-lap race. He will compete in this Sunday’s Pro All Stars Series 150 at Oxford and the prestigious Oxford 250 on August 30 before determining his plans moving forward.
“We’re just going to take it one week at a time,” said Clark. “There’s no denying that we’ve been struggling really bad. Just trying to find out what’s going wrong. I feel like if we stick to one track for a little bit that we can come up with a baseline and work off of that.”
Clark’s absence from the 200-lap, $10,000-to-win PASS race at Airborne ended a streak of 194 consecutive starts on the series. Only Ben Rowe, who has competed in all 204 PASS North events, has a longer streak of consecutive starts.
“New York with the travel and the way we had been running and everything, to drag my team over there for three days would be too painful for them to have to drive home after that,” Clark explained. “The way things have been going, we didn’t have anything that was going to be competitive there, so we just opted to skip it and concentrate on Oxford between now and the 250.”
Following the 2013 season, his first winless season since 2002, Clark admitted that his team was becoming too involved with the new short track racing technology instead of focusing on what had worked for so long. He took a step back in 2014 by going back to basics and appeared to be heading in the right direction when he picked up a win at Speedway 660 (NB) and finished second in the 2014 championship standings.
But once again, early on in the 2015 season, Clark believes he may be too wrapped up in the new technology once again.
“Guess what, I’m back,” Clark said with a smirk. “Absolutely, we’re over-engineered. I say that, but I still believe in it and I keep trying to work with it. I don’t know; it’s hard. You can go fast with it, we just haven’t had a fast enough car for a long enough run. We’ll start here with a 50-lapper tonight and see where it ends up.
“We’ve still got a lot of stuff in it tonight that maybe we shouldn’t, but we’ll try it out and give it one last ditch effort here at Oxford and see if we can get something rolling. If not, I’ll know exactly what we’re going to do next weekend.”
Although Clark and his team are working just as hard now as they did during his years of dominance, he admitted that the team’s previous success made everything seem easy. Now that they’re struggling and working just as hard, it has become increasingly frustrating.
“When we were running well and winning all of those races, I could pull into the pits, know what I wanted for changes and know exactly what I needed to get the car to go fast. Right now, we just don’t have that.”
-By Brandon Paul, Speed51.com Editor – Twitter: @Brandon_Paul51
-Photo credit: Speed51.com