HERMON, Maine — Hermon’s Mike Hopkins won the Late Model division at Hermon’s Speedway 95 by one point over Ryan Deane of Winterport last fall.
Hopkins won’t be racing for points this season but he hopes to keep a perfect streak intact on Saturday night when Speedway 95 opens for the season at 5 p.m.
A pretty car contest kicks off the activities at 4:30 p.m.
“I’ve never lost on opening day,” said Hopkins. “I won four or five times in the Mini-Stocks and I’ve won the last two years with this car in the Late Models.”
This season will be special for Hopkins because he and his father-in-law, Randy Gardner, volunteered their time in doing virtually all of the renovation work to the track.
“My father-in-law did most of it,” said Hopkins. “He loves racing. In fact, he was looking to buy the track.”
Gardner owns Gardner Construction Enterprises in Bangor and Hopkins owns Hopkins Landscaping in Hermon.
“Without them, it never would have gotten done,” said Del Merritt, who will enjoy his first Saturday as the sole owner of the track after buying out co-owner Alice Baker.
“I never could have afforded it. Give them all the credit in the world,” said Merritt.
“If you sit in the grandstand or the pits, the track looks a lot bigger and a lot neater,” said Hopkins.
There is a tall dirt wall between turns one and two to prevent cars from sliding down an embankment into the woods and 9,000 regular tires that served as safety barriers have been replaced by larger skidder tires. Several tires are now laying down, filled with dirt, instead of standing upright and being strewn around the track.
Hopkins said he feels Merritt does the best he can for the track and cares about it.
“He would put a lot more money into the track if he had it,” said Hopkins. “He just doesn’t have it.”
Merritt said he is “looking forward” to Saturday night.
“I think everybody is excited about Saturday,” said Merritt. “I think it’s going to be a great year.”
Merritt has held practice sessions at the track the previous two Saturdays and had 32 cars at one practice and 22 at the other.
The 26-year-old Hopkins said he isn’t racing for points this season because it’s time-consuming to race every week and he is in the process of building a Super Late Model car so he can run some Pro All-Stars Series North races at the end of the season.
“It’s so hard racing every weekend. It’ll be more fun just racing for wins,” he said.
Hopkins said he will continue to run the car that he has the past several years in the Late Models.
“It has a Chevy motor and a Ford nose,” he said.
Anthony Wilcox does a lot of the work on the car, Hopkins added.
“We tested it once and it was really good,” said Hopkins.
With Hopkins out of the picture in the points series, Deane and Hermon’s Dale Swoboda loom as the favorites in the class. Swoboda finished third in points, just 46 behind Hopkins. Bradley’s Deane Smart and Orrington’s John Kalel Jr. wound up fourth and fifth. Only 116 points separated the top five.
Kim (Baker) Allen, the office manager and scorer at Speedway 95, said teenager Ryan Modery of Hermon, who won the Bomber division a year ago after claiming the Stars of Tomorrow class a few years ago, is going to make the huge jump to the Late Models.
Holden’s Steve Moulton is expected to return to defend his Sportsman title but Ellsworth’s Bradley Norris, who won the Sport Four points in 2011 and also raced in the Street class, is moving up to the Sportsman, according to Allen.
Norris will challenge Moulton for the points title along with 2011 Sportsman runner-up Michael Overlock of Franklin and third-place finisher D.J. Moody of Prospect.
Moulton won the Sportsman class by 125 points.
Harrington’s Andrew McLaughlin and Cornville’s Shelby Kimball are expected to renew their rivalry in the Street Stock class. McLaughlin won the points by 76 over Kimball with Frankfort’s Cody Brassbridge in third, 40 points behind Kimball.
With Norris leaving the Sport Fours, it could be a battle of the Heath brothers for the title. Milo’s Steve Heath was second last year and Brownville’s Mike was third.
Glenburn teenager Emma Libby, who was second in the Bombers, will move up to the Sport Fours and will also run in the Ladies Division at Wacky Wednesday beginning on June 13.
With Modery and Libby departed, the Bomber class is wide open. Frankfort’s Kevin Seekins, Hermon’s Andrew Crosby and Seal Cove’s Ken Ogden were third, fourth and fifth in points in 2011.