HERMON, Maine — Opening night of racing at Speedway 95 meant another trip to Victory Lane for Hermon’s Mike Hopkins.
Hopkins extended his streak of opening-night wins to eight on Saturday when he survived a restart with five laps to go to pull away from Ellsworth’s Andy Saunders and win the 35-lap Late Model feature.
There was also a wreck in the front stretch right after Hopkins and Saunders had crossed the start-finish line to begin the last lap. So the race ended on a caution.
Hopkins said he learned about restarts from Saunders when he was in the Mini-Stock class.
“Andy is the king of the restarts. I used to watch him on restarts,” said Hopkins who started on the faster outside groove on the lap 30 restart with Saunders alongside him on the low side.
“I was just hoping for the best,” Hopkins added. “I knew with five laps to go, Andy and I were going to swap paint. But I had so much left in the storage tank with that thing, Andy didn’t have anything for me.”
Hopkins was also respectful of Saunders, saying, “Andy raced me clean. He could have used me up a little bit coming off [turn] four but he didn’t.”
“I wasn’t going to lean on him or use him up,” said Saunders. “He clearly had the faster car.”
Hopkins credited Anthony Wilcox for the job he did preparing the car for the feature.
“In the heat race, it was really good on the bottom but it got real tight coming off the corner,” said Hopkins. “[Wilcox] swung at it and made an adjustment to the track bar and the swagger and the thing came to life.
“The car was phenomenal and got better and better as the race went on.
You couldn’t have asked for a better race car,” said Hopkins, who drove that car to Victory Lane on opening night three straight years after winning five Mini-Stock openers.
Saunders said his car was off a little bit.
“Coming off the corner, the car was so loose I couldn’t get on the gas quick enough,” said Saunders.
Hermon’s Dale Swoboda started 15th but wound up finishing third.
He avoided the two cars that collided on the next-to-last lap to earn his finish.
“I don’t know how I missed them. My spotter told me to go high but when I looked high, everything was covered so I went low,” said Swoboda who was able to get a podium finish even though he said his car was “out to lunch.”
Duane Seekins of Stockton Springs was fourth and Carmel’s Phil Richardson was fifth.
In the bomber feature, Hermon’s Andrew Crosby was able to hold off Milford’s Garrett Hayman by two car-lengths after a late wreck created a green-white flag (two laps) finish.
“I knew he was going to try to jump me on that last start so I figured I’d start on turn three and try to get in front of him and come down for the last lap there. But I had nothing for him on the bottom. He got me on the top [groove],” said Hayman.
“He was side-by-side with me and I didn’t know if I’d get [the win] or not. When you’re the leader, they allow you to choose the inside or the outside [groove] for the restart and I took the outside groove for the last restart and it worked out for me,” said Crosby.
Glenburn’s D.C Alexander was third and rounding out the top five were Corinth’s Mark Sawyer and Bucksport’s Russell Blenkhorn.
In the Sportsman class, Shane Tatro of Hermon found himself trying to chase down Holden’s Steve Moulton as he had tried to do unsuccessfully in the heat race.
But Moulton got involved in a wreck on the front stretch and he couldn’t finish the race due to damage to his race car.
That paved the way for Tatro to take the checkered flag.
“Those last five laps were going to get good,” said Tatro. “I don’t know who would have won it. I felt we were coming on pretty good. But he was giving me everything I could handle and he had a great car in the heat race. I gave him everything I had in the heat race and I couldn’t beat him.”
He said Moulton is “one of my best friends” and he “hated for him” to get wrecked like he did.
“I wanted to race him. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good, and tonight we were lucky,” said Tatro. “We’ll take it but [I feel bad for Moulton].”
D.J. Moody of Prospect was second and completing the top five were Lamoine’s Derek Mingo, Franklin’s Mike Overlock and Eddington’s Jay Robichaud.
In the Strictly Streets, Ryan Beale of Cherryfield took an eight car-length win over Andrew McLaughlin of Harrington. Following them were Jim Carr Jr. of Clifton, Ren Dorr of Columbia Falls and Shawn Hamel II of Bangor.
The Sport-Four winner was Glenburn’s Bradley Dolan by 25 car-lengths over Hancock’s Fred Ashmore. Milo’s Steve Heath was third, Bomber class winner Crosby was fourth and Winterport’s Chelsea Young was fifth.
There were approximately 69 cars in the five classes on the chilly, blustery evening.
“That’s awesome for an opening night,” said Kim (Baker) Allen, the office manager and head scorer.