HERMON, Maine — There will be a new twist to the third annual Phippen/Fletcher Memorial Late Model race at Speedway 95 on Thursday night.
Instead of being a 100-lap race, which it was the first two seasons, it will contain two segments: a 23-lapper followed by a 59-lapper. The field will be inverted after the 23-lap segment placing the winner at the back of the pack to start the second leg and so on.
Fletcher drove the No. 23 car and Phippen piloted his No. 59 car.
The race winner will be determined by combining the drivers’ two finishes.
“This will make it a little more interesting for the fans,” explained Speedway 95 owner Del Merritt. “By inverting the field, it gives the fans a chance to watch someone come from the rear of the pack. It’ll add a little excitement to the race.”
The race will also pay the winner $1,200 which is $500 more than someone would pocket for winning a regular 40-lap Late Model feature on Saturday night. The other finishers will also take home a better check than they would on Saturday night and extra $50 and $25 payouts have been sponsored for drivers who finish in certain positions. For example, the third place finisher will earn an extra $75 based on separately sponsored $50 and $25 payouts. That will bring the payout to $600 which matches the second place finisher’s payout.
Fletcher died from injuries received during a crash at Unity Raceway in 2002 and Phippen died of a heart attack after a Late Model race at Speedway 95 in 2010.
The first memorial race was in honor of Phippen but last year’s honored both Fletcher and Phippen.
Hermon’s Mike Hopkins won both 100-lappers but he has raced sparingly this season because he has been busy with his landscape-paving company and has had to fix his car after he lost the rear end in a June 22 race.
“I don’t think I’ve raced in three or four weeks,” said Hopkins who is excited about Thursday’s race.
“It’s going to be fun. I’m very excited about it. I can’t wait,” said Hopkins. “I’m going to give it all I’ve got.”
The race is special to Hopkins because Fletcher’s brother, Brent, is “a very good friend of mine.
“He works on my car with me. I want to win the race for him and to honor his brother,” said Hopkins, who has a win and a third-place finish in two of his four Late Model races at 95 this season.
Hopkins figures there are several drivers who will be in the mix to win it including Ellsworth’s Andy Saunders, Winterport’s Ryan Deane and Orrington’s John Kalel II.
Saunders is the defending Late Model points champion and is currently atop the points again.
Deane is fourth in points but leads the series in wins with three. Saunders and Kalel have two apiece.
Saunders said he isn’t sure if he likes the new format but said his strategy “probably won’t change at all.
“I’m not a real smart long distance racer. No matter if it’s 10 laps or 100 laps, I’m going to try to win it,” said Saunders.
He said his car has been “very good lately” and is hoping that trend continues.
Saunders also feels there are a number of drivers who could take the checkered flag.
“If [Hopkins] shows up, you have to put him at the top of the list,” said Saunders. “Ryan Deane has always been capable and he’s coming off a hot streak. You’ve got to put him up there as well.
“[Bradley’s] Deane Smart has been good and [Harrington’s] Andrew McLaughlin could be up there if he can get his car sorted out. It’s clearly a fast car,” said Saunders who also expects Steuben’s Brenton and Wayne Parritt to be possible contenders.
Ryan Deane has a win and a second in his last three features at 95 while Kalel has a first, third and fourth. Saunders has a second and two thirds.
“Kalel has been pretty good,” said Ryan Deane. “I think there are five or six guys who could win it.”
Deane feels his chances are “pretty good” based on how he has run lately.
“The car has been real good,” said Deane, who is looking forward to the new format.
“It’ll be fun. I like longer races,” said Deane who feels the driver with the best handling race car will have the best chance of taking the checkered flag.
Racing will begin at 7 and there will also be Sportsman, Street Stocks, Sport Four and Bomber features.