MORRILL, Maine — Travis Benjamin of Morrill likes being called a defending champion.
He will begin defense of his first points championship Sunday when the Pro All-Star Series’ North Super Late Models kick off their season at Oxford Plains Speedway.
Racing will begin at 2.
“It’s definitely exciting. I’d never been a champion before,” said the 34-year-old Benjamin.
Benjamin became the first driver other than Farmingdale’s Johnny Clark or Turner’s Ben Rowe to win the PASS North SLM points title since Sam Sessions of South Paris claimed the series’ inaugural championship in 2001.
Clark has won six titles and Rowe has claimed four.
Benjamin feels he has something to prove.
“I want to contend again to make sure people know I deserved [the championship] last year,” said Benjamin, who will drive the same Ford Fusion that earned him the title.
“We changed up a few little things on the car but nothing major. We’re ready to rock ‘n’ roll,” said Benjamin, who ended Clark’s four-year reign as points champion.
Benjamin said they tested the car recently at OPS and it went “real well.”
He said between the productive test session and a strong performance in the year-ending race at OPS last year, he has a sense of optimism.
“I’m really excited about Sunday,” he said.
He finished 10th in the season finale but was running third late in the race before deciding to drop back and run conservatively to preserve his title. Points runner-up Cassius Clark of Farmington had mechanical trouble and wound up 16th.
Benjamin called OPS a “hit or miss” track for him but he feels his car should be “pretty decent” on Sunday.
“We’ve gotten the car to drive better [in recent Oxford races],” said Benjamin.
Farmingdale’s Johnny Clark is looking to recapture the points title and will be trying to do so in a new Chevy Impala from Port City Chassis in Muskegon, Mich.
“It is, by far, the nicest car we’ve ever had. We’re really pumped up,” said Clark.
Clark pointed out that since PASS returned to OPS two years ago, he hasn’t finished higher than fourth there.
“And we should be better than that. We’ve got a lot of work to do. We’re going to be trying some new things this weekend in preparation for the big race in July,” said the 33-year-old Clark, referring to the 40th annual TD Bank 250 on July 21.
Clark said Benjamin was a deserving champion last season.
“He was obviously good. He was more consistent than anyone else,” said Clark.
Even though Benjamin won only one of the 15 races, his 10 top-five finishes led the series. He had 11 top-10 finishes.
Cassius Clark won three races and had nine top-fives and 12 top-10s. He was 19 points behind Benjamin.
D.J. Shaw of Center Conway, N.H., was third in points (2 wins, 7 top-fives, 11 top-10s), Johnny Clark (2-6-11) wound up fourth and Lonnie Sommerville of New Brunswick was fifth (0-4-10). Ben Rowe wound up sixth (1-7-10).
Only 90 points separated the top six drivers.
Benjamin and Clark said there are a number of drivers who could capture the points title this season.
“I’m sure [Johnny Clark] didn’t like how he ran last year and wants to prove something this season,” said Benjamin. “The tracks in the series are a good fit for D.J. Shaw and Cassius Clark was tough last year and will be tough again this year.”
Johnny Clark said he anticipates Cassius Clark, Benjamin and Shaw will be in the thick of the title chase. He also included Ben Rowe, Trevor Sanborn and Scott Mulkern in the mix.
The series has condensed its schedule to reduce the travel expense.
There will be 13 races at six tracks. Last year’s schedule had 15 races at 10 tracks.
There will be three races apiece at OPS, Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in Scarborough and White Mountain Motorsports Park in New Hampshire; two at Autodrome Chaudiere in Quebec and one each at Canaan Fair Speedway in New Hampshire and Speedway 660 in New Brunswick.
There won’t be any races at Star Speedway (New Hampshire), Thompson International Speedway (Connecticut), Seekonk Speedway (Massachusetts) and Stafford Motor Speedway (Connecticut), as there were in 2012.
Benjamin and Johnny Clark understand the rationale behind the scheduling changes.
“To be honest, I don’t like it,” said Benjamin. “I prefer to race at different tracks.
“But it should produce a lot of good cars and the travel will be pretty easy. Last year, only eight drivers ran all of the races but with this schedule, you could see 15 run all of them,” said Benjamin.
“If it helps some of the underfunded guys and enables them to run with us every week, that’s what we need to do,” said Clark. “It’s going to be a fun summer.”