Hopkins earns Late Model victory

Posted July 12, 2009, at 8:47 p.m.

HERMON, Maine — In a rush to avoid another rainout, racing at Speedway 95 was over before the lights were needed Saturday night.

“We put ’em through quick,” said track co-owner Del Merritt. “We were afraid it was going to rain.”

To speed up the show, track interviews and intermission were canceled. The racing was over at 8:10 p.m., just 1 hour, 40 minutes after the first heat race began at 6:30 p.m.

“I’m amazed,” said Hermon’s Mike Hopkins. “[Friday] night, we didn’t get out of Unity [Raceway] until 1:30 this morning.”

Despite the quick program, there was plenty of racing action on the evening.

Hopkins took the top spot in the 25-lap Late Model feature after leader Greg Morse of St. Albans spun in the third turn on lap 14.

“I don’t know if he got a little loose and I drove a little hard and got into the back of him,” said Hopkins.

“Our car was loose, but we got a little tap on our rear while trying to clear lap traffic,” said Morse. “We just picked up the gas when the little bump came at the wrong time.”

Track officials didn’t penalize Hopkins for the contact, judging that Morse had checked up in the turn.

“That’s racing [but] I feel bad,” said Hopkins, who is a rookie in the division.

“This is my fifth race in this series and I have two wins and a second so far,” said Hopkins. “This is a dream come true. This is what I’ve always wanted to do. Now I’m here. It’s amazing.”

Town Hill’s John Phippen Jr. gave Hopkins a run, but settled for second, two car-lengths behind.

“It’s kind of like kissing your sister,” said Phippen of finishing second. “We’ve had a pile of [seconds] this year.”

Hermon’s Dale Swoboda finished third with a loose race car.

“I was actually good at first and then it loosened up on me. I guess I’m lucky to finish where I am,” said Swoboda, who won the 10-lap heat race earlier.

Swoboda was concerned about his car because of the fast night.

“They kind of rushed us,” said Swoboda. “It’s a little hard on the cars. These cars get up to 230 degrees. It was still 200 [degrees in my engine] when we started the [feature] race.”

Winterport’s Shane Clark finished fourth and Morse wound up fifth of the nine cars that started.

Another reason the racing was over so quickly was, the second of three 35-lap Sport Four series races went caution-free. But that doesn’t mean it was without incident.

Ralph Allen of Hermon started second and led the first 23 laps before something broke on his car and he spun coming out of the fourth turn.

“I don’t know [what happened],” said Allen. “I haven’t figured it out yet. We looked for obvious things under [the car]. There’s a lot of things that it could be.”

“He went to the bottom and I just went by him,” said eventual winner Rick Grant of Hudson.

But it wasn’t an easy ride to the finish for Grant.

“[Hampden’s David Green] was going real good,” said Grant. “If I would’ve messed up, he would’ve gone right by me.”

Green was impressed with how much Grant has improved behind the wheel.

“He used to bobble or make a mistake and you could get by him,” said Green. “He’s really improved as a driver.”

Green took second with Old Town’s Brent Fletcher third, Kyle Gallant of Veazie fourth and Gary Richards of Stetson fifth.

Bangor’s Doug Day capitalized on a lap-14 yellow flag in the 25-lap Strictly Street feature to get by Ellsworth’s Bradley Norris. Day restarted on the inside lane and took the lead exiting the second turn and led to the finish, besting Norris by half a car-length.

“We probably would’ve won without the yellow,” said Norris, who led the first 14 laps from the pole. “The car just got a little bit too loose at the end.”

“Shawns” rounded out the top five with Bangor’s Shawn Hamel II finishing third, Shawn Racila of Dover-Foxcroft fourth and Shawn Hamel of Bangor in fifth.

Kris Watson of Hermon used a similar strategy to win the 25-lap Super Street feature.

After back-to-back cautions on lap 9, Watson took the inside lane and motored past leader Steve Moulton of Holden to grab the victory.

Moulton held on for second, Nick Kinney of Danforth finished third, Michael Overlock of Franklin was fourth and Lindsey Allen, who spun to bring out the first caution, recovered to claim fifth.

The Late Models have next weekend off to participate in the TD Banknorth 250 at Oxford Plains Speedway. In its place, Speedway 95 will hold a 75-lap Little Enduro race, which pays the top 20 positions.

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