WISCASSET — Will Collins has been down this road before, and it’s a road that leads to a pretty good place.

The Waldoboro driver held off a hard-charging Ben Erskine on the final lap Saturday afternoon, holding on to win the 40-lap season-opening Late Model feature at Wiscasset Speedway. It was the sixth career Late Model win at Wiscasset for Collins.

The last time Collins won the season-opening race was in 2015. That year he went on to win his only career Late Model championship.

Erskine, of Farmington, finished second with Sidney’s Chris Thorne third. Brothers Ryan St. Clair and Josh St. Clair finished fourth and fifth, respectively.

Collins did one thing it seemed nobody else in the 21-car field could manage. He utilized the outside groove, passing the four-time champion Thorne there for the lead on lap 16.

“My car definitely didn’t like the outside,” Thorne said. “Will was about the only one I could see going on the outside.”

“It did (surprise me) a lot, because the track hasn’t been run on much and it’s a little warm,” said Collins, who also has a Super Street championship at Wiscasset on his resume. “I was a little leery when I got stuck out there, but it went. That’s all that matters to me.”

Both literally and figuratively, it was a race of starts and stops in the early going. Five times in the opening 10 laps the field was slowed by the caution flag. When Cody Verrill’s No. 11 didn’t come up to speed on a lap two restart, it nearly collected a half-dozen cars behind him in a chain-reaction. It was there that Erskine, who started 11th, made his race.

He avoided the would-be wreck and was knocking on the door of the top five by lap four.

“I knew being on the bottom on the restart, it was going to be the place to be,” Erskine said. “The hole just opened and I filled it. You have these days when it works out.”

Collins, too, proved patient amidst the chaos. He started the race from eighth and restarted fourth on three different occasions.

“It takes a few laps for everything to kind of sort out to see where you land and then you can go from there,” Collins said. “I knew if I could get free and have a 10-lap run, I could make some ground up. That’s what I needed.”

He was right. On lap 11, restarting third, he was behind the early race leader Thorne. Four laps later, he nosed into the outside lane to take his first stab at the top spot, and on lap 16 he had it. By the midway point of the race, he had pulled out to a half-straightaway lead.

Erskine took advantage of the St. Clair brothers engaging in a side-by-side battle for second to chip away at some track position. When he got the race’s final restart seven laps from the finish, he followed Collins away from the pack and entertained his own thoughts about winning.

Off the final turn heading to the checkered flag, Erskine darted low and got to within a half-car length of stealing the victory.

“It was coming, too. Another five laps, and I think I would have been further ahead than (second),” Erskine said. “Maybe another two laps.”

“(The car) started freeing up a little bit, but I knew if I just held my line it would be hard to drive around me,” Collins said of watching Erskine close on him in the final few laps. “I was saving it when I was out front, but I probably used it a little more than I should have.”

In the 25-lap Strictly Street feature, patience paid off for Kyle Hewins.

Hewins, of Leeds, slowly picked his way past one car after another from his fifth-place starting position and tried leader Glenn Reynolds of North Turner on the outside in the closing laps.

“I got over-excited those last five laps,” Hewins said. “I got to the outside and drove it in too hot a couple of times.”

It didn’t much matter. Reynolds failed post-race technical inspection and was handed a six-position penalty to give the win to Hewins. Ryan Hewins, also of Leeds, was credited with second, with five-time Strictly champion Maurice Young of Chelsea getting third.

Skowhegan driver Zach Audet, the 2016 champion in the Outlaw Mini Stocks, led every lap en route to an easy win in their 35-lap event.

“I was on a mission today,” Audet said, noting that close friend Eddie Gilblair passed away in March after battling illness. “This was for him.”

The hard-luck story of the day went to Jake Hendsbee of Whitefield. The defending Outlaw Mini champion finished fifth before being assessed a three-position penalty in post-race technical inspection. Hendsbee was driving a car he borrowed from Leo Hatch after Hendsbee’s car couldn’t make the grid following mechanical troubles in morning practice.

Adam Chadbourne picked up the 38th win of his Wiscasset career in the 30-lap Modified feature. It was the Woolwich driver’s fifth career Modified victory.

Austin Teras won the 25-lap NELCAR Legends race.

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

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