Andrew McLaughlin of Harrington sits in victory lane after winning the Late Model feature on opening night at Wiscasset Speedway on Saturday night. Kennebec Journal photo by Travis Barrett

 

WISCASSET — Doubt, at least for Andrew McLaughlin, is the name of the game. He had no reason to doubt anything Saturday night.

The Harrington fisherman drove away from the field over the second half of the main event, opening Wiscasset Speedway season with a win in the 50-lap Late Model feature. With state guidelines allowing for fans to return to the track in limited capacity as the region cautiously reopens during the COVID-pandemic, the speedway held its first event of the 2020 season.

“It feels really good to be back right now,” said McLaughlin, who now has 11 career wins at Wiscasset. “It’s been a long offseason, but everything feels good and things are going in the right direction.”

McLaughlin, the 2018 track champion and a three-time winner a year ago, easily held off Liberty’s Josh St. Clair and Clinton’s Frank Moulton for the victory in the caution-free event.

St. Clair, who was making his third start of the year after winning last weekend at Speedway 95 in Hermon, took over second place from the pole-sitter Moulton on lap 25 but never seriously challenged McLaughlin for the top spot.

“Second-place is the first loser, right?” St. Clair said. “I told Andrew earlier when I was walking up through the pits with him that I’d be happy to get second to him tonight. It’s been a good start to the season for us. Two quick cars out front, that’s what we like.”

McLaughlin, who started fourth in the 14-car field, used an outside move to pick off second place on lap 13 and did the same thing to get past Moulton on lap 22.

From there, his lead over the rest of the field grew to more than a second — a margin he nursed all the way to the checkered flag.

It was a nearly flawless performance on a night in which other perennial contenders in the track’s Late Model ranks struggled. After winning his qualifying race, Sidney’s Chris Thorne faded quickly and retired early on lap 22. Will Collins of Appleton finished fifth after challenging Moulton for the early lead. And Logan Melcher, who led Wiscasset’s Late Model drivers in wins in 2019, was involved in an incident on the first lap of his heat race and limped to an eighth-place finish in the feature.

Void of any late-race caution flag that might have given St. Clair a heads-up shot at stealing the victory, it was a routine night of work behind the wheel for McLaughlin — whose father celebrated a birthday on Saturday.

“I’m not sure. I could have told you better if I’d gotten that caution,” St. Clair said of whether a yellow flag might have changed the outcome. “I’m happy with second to Andrew. He’s a good guy and a good friend, and he’s always fast.”

While he might have worried during the longer than usual offseason about how his car would perform right out of the gate, McLaughlin said he knew midway through his qualifier that he had little reason to fret.

“I’ve been worried,” said McLaughlin, who tested at the track three weeks ago. “I was the only car here when I tested, so I couldn’t gauge anyone else. I was certainly worried about my setup holding up, because I still run an old car and do my own setups. But it’s kind of a culmination — you run here for years and you try stuff and you get to a place, but I was worried about my place because we haven’t raced all year.”

He did, however, issue a warning to the rest of the Late Model division about the remainder of the shortened season.

“I was worried about Josh,” McLaughlin said. “He won last week (at Speedway 95) and he’s been the ‘Old Josh,’ I like to call it. The Old Josh that won 20 races or something a few years ago. I know he’s going to be tough all year.”

Driving a throwback paint scheme to honor his late grandfather, Jonathon Emerson of Sabattus used a late restart to drive away from his father Zach Emerson and Brad Erskine of Solon to win the 25-lap Strictly Street feature. Jonathon Emerson was sporting livery akin to that made famous by Larry Emerson, who passed away late in 2019.

Skowhegan’s Zach Audet won the 25-lap Outlaw Mini feature, and Adam Chadbourne of Woolwich won the 30-lap Modified feature.

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