2020 Oxford 250 champion Johnny Clark celebrates in victory lane after winning the race Sunday night at Oxford Plains Speedway. From left to right are his daughters Alivia and Mena, and his wife Niki. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

OXFORD — With a fast race car, some pit strategy and a little bit of good fortune, Johnny Clark cemented his legacy in less than two hours.

The 40-year-old driver from Hallowell held off a furious late charge from nine-time track champion Jeff Taylor, driving away to win the 47th annual Oxford 250 at Oxford Plains Speedway on Sunday night. It was Clark’s first career Oxford 250 victory, the one glaring omission atop an otherwise decorated motorsports resume.

“I don’t think it’s really completely sunk in yet. I’ve had moments where I tear up thinking about it — and then it’s gone,” Clark said Monday. “You just really don’t even know what to say. It’s crazy. You’ve dreamt of it your whole career, to be able to have a car like that at the right time. We finally gave ourselves that opportunity.”

The opportunity didn’t come without challenges.

Taylor, of Norridgewock, had blistered the field in the first half of the race — lapping all but 13 other cars inside of the first 100 laps before, on tires older than any of the leaders’— and then returned to the lead by passing Clark (who had pitted 70 laps earlier) on lap 161.

Taylor pitted along with everybody else on lap 180, but he erred on pit road. Instead of lining up behind Clark with the race on the line after exiting the pits, Taylor returned for a pass down pit road.

2020 Oxford 250 champion Johnny Clark celebrates in victory lane after winning the race Sunday night at Oxford Plains Speedway. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

He confirmed after the race that he had driven through the stop sign at the pit exit his first time and feared race officials would penalize him. He chose to penalize himself, and started at the back of the 44-car field.

That gave Clark the track position advantage, and even though Taylor charged back into contention in the final 50 laps, he did not have enough to catch Clark.

“I really wish we could have lined up head-to-head at the end,” Clark said. “Maybe it would have been different. Who knows? But on lap 182 we ran the fastest lap of anybody in the entire race — 15.47 seconds — which would have been near the top of just about every single practice session all weekend. To do that in the middle of the race like that, that says something to me.”

Clark has 38 career Pro All Stars Series victories, six series championships, four 300-lap wins at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in Scarborough and four more 250-lap wins at race tracks in Canada.

The one thing he didn’t have until Sunday night was the one race he wanted more than any other. Make no mistake, however; Clark didn’t achieve that level of statistical excellence through complacency.

“I guess now we try to go win four in a row. Nobody’s done that,” said Clark, who was just 17-years-old when he made his Oxford 250 debut in 1997 and finished 11th. “We want to keep rolling with it. We’re having fun again and I feel like we’re just getting started.”

Clark restarted in 2015, too.

It was 10 years earlier, in 2005, that he finished second in the Oxford 250. It appeared as though his career was about to skyrocket, and an Oxford 250 win at some point seemed like a certainty.

Instead, over the next decade, Oxford Plains was not good to him. He never again came as close to winning the 250 there. In fact, until he took the lead on lap 130 Sunday night, he hadn’t led a single lap of the Oxford 250 since Mike Rowe passed him for the win in the closing laps of the 2005 event.

The struggles eventually grew beyond Oxford. They extended to Beech Ridge, where he’d won several big events, and then to nearly every other track on the PASS circuit. The Johnny Clark who’d won 26 PASS races from 2007-2012 while amassing four straight championships had vanished.

He began by curtailing his PASS schedule, at one point during the 2015 season stepping away from the tour to focus on racing in Oxford’s weekly division.

“At that point I just figured if you’re going to work toward something, you might as well work toward getting better at Oxford,” Clark said. “We were terrible at that time at Beech Ridge and Oxford. We’d just completely lost it.

“It was then, at our lowest of lows, that it all became about the Oxford 250 again.”

Now that he’s finally won it, he doesn’t plan on resting on his laurels.

“It’s not realistic that I’m going to go out and run 26 or 30 races a year anymore,” said Clark, who is married with two young daughters. “Those days are long gone for me. But I am at the point where I want to be competitive in the 12 or 14 races I can schedule, and those 12 or 14 races are always going to be centered around the Oxford 250.”

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