Johnny Clark of Hallowell (54) leads Brandon Barker and Mike Hopkins in the PASS Northeast Classic 50 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, N.H., last weekend. Contributed photo/PASS

 

It’s official: 2020 is in the rearview mirror.

Wiscasset Speedway and Oxford Plains Speedway both open their gates Saturday with the start of their weekly racing series, with Beech Ridge Motor Speedway and Speedway 95 each holding practice days before taking the green flag on Saturday, May 1.

After a 2020 that saw tracks open mid-summer with no fans in the stands and then be limited to just 200 grandstand attendees throughout the remainder of the campaign, these season openers will look more like 2019 than 2020.

“It’s huge. There’s really no other way to describe it,” said Vanessa Jordan, who owns Wiscasset Speedway with her husband Richard Jordan. “The main thing is for the fans. Last year affected the drivers to a point, because they had families and friends that couldn’t come to the track. But we’ve had lots of phone calls already from people who are excited to come back.”

Current gathering guidelines from the state allow for outdoor venues to open at 75 percent capacity. Those same venues can open at 100 percent capacity Memorial Day weekend.

At Wiscasset, the main grandstands seat 3,000 people, according to Jordan.

“We’ve averaged about 1,300 a night in past seasons, so having 75 percent is going to be easy,” she said. “In the spring when we first open, we don’t typically get even that many. It’s still usually cold in April. Saturday is supposed to be nice, but it won’t bring enough that we’ll have to turn anybody away.”

Oxford Plains is Maine’s largest outdoor sports venue, with grandstand seating for 8,000 people, according to track owner Tom Mayberry prior to the 2020 Oxford 250. For a weekly show, or even a touring series race like the one the track will host on Sunday, attendance doesn’t come close to reaching that number.

After the 2020 season got a late start and tracks scrambled to make use of the few weeks they had left of summer by the time they were allowed to open under heavy restrictions in June, it appears Maine’s tracks are readying for bigger and better this season.

“Once we were told we could, we had to go,” Jordan said. “There was no other choice.”

Oxford has a full season of weekly racing, midweek programs and Pro All Stars Series races on the slate, including the annual Oxford 250 at the end of August. Speedway 95’s schedule is jam-packed with Wednesday and Saturday racing, a Monster Truck show in early June and the three-day Paul Bunyan 250 in October.

Beech Ridge has an ambitious schedule, too, with visits from the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and Granite State Pro Stock Series, Monster Trucks and an open-competition series ahead of the start of their usual NASCAR-sanctioned weekly racing series.

Wiscasset won’t be outdone, adding a Modified Racing Series 100, SMAC SuperModifieds and NEMA midgets to a scheduled bookended by premier events in the Coastal 200 and Boss Hogg 150.

Best of all, fans will finally be allowed back after a year most everybody wants to forget.

“We learned a lot last year,” Jordan said. “There were times when it was disappointing, and even though it didn’t move as fast as we wanted it to … at least it was moving forward.”

 

• • •

 

Nobody in auto racing looks forward to rain delays at the race track. Unless you’re Johnny Clark.

Johnny Clark celebrates in Victory Lane at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, N.H., after winning the PASS race there on Sunday. Contributed photo/PASS

Late arriving after putting the finishing touches on a brand new race car in the wee hours of the night and slowed by mechanical issues with his race hauler on the way south, Clark broke in his new ride in its maiden voyage with a win in the 50-lap PASS Northeast Classic at New Hampshire Motor Speedway last Sunday afternoon.

The weekend got off to a delayed start after rain and snow halted on-track activity during Saturday’s scheduled practice day. The extra time allowed the six-time PASS champion from Hallowell to fine-tune his all-black No. 54.

The new car took to New England’s largest oval, the site of an annual NASCAR Cup Series stop each summer, in no time at all. Clark took the lead for the final time with four laps remaining and held on for his first win of the season.

“It’s just so rewarding to take a brand spanking new car and win like we did with it,” said Clark, winner of the 2020 Oxford 250.

The victory evoked memories of another triumph earlier in Clark’s career. In 2008, he won the Toyota Tundra 250 at Wiscasset Speedway in a car he debuted that day.

“It’s really hard to put into words what that feels like,” Clark said. “You work so hard and you worry about everything on the car, and then you go out and do that.”

Mike Hopkins of Hermon finished second, with reigning PASS champion D.J. Shaw of Center Conway, New Hampshire, finishing third.

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