51 Leftovers: Auto Value 250 at Speedway 660
Clark & Slaunwhite Start an International Incident, O'Blenis is a Happy Runner-Up, a Rookie Visits the Podium and More
By Mike Twist

Johnny Clark and Craig Slaunwhite Go Three Rounds at 660

An international incident broke out between American Johnny Clark and Canadian Craig Slaunwhite during the Auto Value 250 at Speedway 660 (NB).  Both former winners of the race were hoping to repeat their accomplishments and both had a good shot at being able to do that late in the going.  But then at lap 194, they found each other on the racetrack and the results weren't pretty.  This time, Slaunwhite spun out of the lead in his #99 and Clark was sent to the rear of the field in his #54 due to the track's “No-Fault” rule where both drivers involved in an altercation go to the rear of the field.

“This thing is, you have to try and keep the fenders on it,” said Slaunwhite.  “We kept them on it and were leading when Johnny Clark decided that he wanted the spot.  So he dumped me.  Obviously, he wasn't used to no-fault racing, so he went to the back too.”

“It actually started with the restart before that when I didn't think he was very polite,” said Clark of the incident.  “But hey, it's $50 for leading each lap.  So I had a restart outside of the #20 (Greg Fahey) and the #20 had run me up a little bit…which really wasn't the #99's fault, but then the #99 went three-wide on us.  Although for $50 a lap, I probably would have done the same thing too.

“So when it was my turn to restart alongside the #99, he cleared himself in turn two and we went down the backstretch when I dove under him.  We went down into the corner and he wanted the bottom….so he spun out.  For what I call, the “Protect an Idiot Rule”, the #54 was going to the back too.  That's the “No Fault/Idiot Rule.  The guy wanted the outside and then the bottom.  He couldn't make up his mind, so I helped make it up for him and he went around.”

When both drivers lined up alongside each other deep in the field for the resulting restart, it was obvious that this fight might not be over.

“He actually came up beside me and revved his car up,” said Slaunwhite.  “I was like 'Whatever buddy…if you aren't getting your way you're a sore loser.'”

Fans looking for mayhem weren't disappointed.  It only took a few more laps before there was more trouble between Slaunwhite and Clark….or not, depending on who you ask.

“He spun me again,” said Slaunwhite.

Clark doesn't agree that he was to blame this time around.

“I got him [that] time?  Oh yeah…yeah…yeah…No!” said Clark, showing some annoyance at the accusation.  “There were four or five cars held up in front of us stacked up after a restart.  I went flying through the infield and he went flying off the high side.  I didn't have nothing to do with that.  We were side-by-side on the restart, but we never touched.”       

Slaunwhite did go for another spin that Clark wasn't involved in….cautions did in fact breed cautions late in this race.

“Not that one,” said Slaunwhite when asked if he had been spun for another round by Clark.  “There were a bunch of cars that checked up and I got on the brakes hard to avoid that.”

The biggest incident of the night came at lap 207.  That is when Clark and Slaunwhite made very obvious contact on the frontsretch.  Slaunwhite spun in front of the field and was T-Boned by innocent victim Jason Carnaham.  This hard hit resulted in a red flag and some very unhappy Canadian fans.  Jimmy Spencer, who was in the control tower after dropping out of the race early, even took over the PA and told the crowd that he really didn't like what he had just witnessed - while placing blame on Clark for the wreck.

Slaunwhite did not like it either.  He sprinted from turn one through the infield to the backstretch where Clark was parked during the red flag.  Before security could catch him, Slaunwhite made it to Clark's window and showed just how mad he was.  Track workers pulled Slaunwhite away though before any real damage could be done.

Afterwards though, he wasn't shy about how he felt towards Clark - referencing the fact that Clark made several pit stops early in the race to fix an ill-handling car in an attempt to win the event for the second straight year.

“We were both coming from the back and both of us probably could have still finished in the top three, if it wasn't for him dumping me on the frontstretch,” said Slaunwhite.  “You know, frustration is frustration.  He was frustrated tonight.  If Johnny Clark is not winning races, he is a pansy.”

Clark admitted this time around that he dumped Slaunwhite.

“He was pissed off about that [previous incident] and shortly after that, we were coming up through and went around a lapped car,” said Clark.  “He was on the bottom of me and pretended that I was there.  So I lifted a little bit to let him in line so I could stuff him.  So I stuffed him.  I hate that the guy got his car wrecked.  I just wanted to put him in the dirtpile and show him that I'd keep spinning him out all night if he wouldn't give me a lane.  I feel bad that he got his car wrecked, but he's got to learn that when someone is outside of him, he needs to stay in his lane.”

After the race, Slaunwhite looked over his wrecked racecar and found one small silver lining in an otherwise dark cloud.

“It's short track racing I guess,” said Slaunwhite.  “As long as the fans like it, that's good but it's unfortunate for us though because I think we honestly had a car good enough to win the race tonight.” 

O'Blenis Sets a Swift Pace, But Finishes Second

“We almost got him.  I had a good car all night long.  The thing was really good on the bottom.  I could go to the top if I had to as well.  I had to pit.  I needed fuel.  But the second set of tires just wasn't as good as the first set.  So we came in and put the first set of tires back on.  That's what was on the car at the finish.  So there were about 220 laps on those tires.  The right rear finally gave up on me.  I was coming on through, but I just couldn't get the grip that I needed.”

You might think that O'Blenis would have been disappointed in his finish, but quite the opposite was true.  When he got out of his car after the race, O'Blenis was happier than many winners that we've seen this year.  He had plenty to be thankful after the race, including a race season where his daughters Alexandra and Courtney both collected podium finishes throughout the year in the track's Bandolero division.

“You know what? I don't care,” said O'Blenis about not winning the race.  “We led a bunch and everyone knows that we were here.  We had a good weekend and a second-place finish last night with the Sportsman car.  My girls are running good and I'm excited.  Nobody's mad at me, so it's all good.”

Rookie Halpin Has Career Day With Podium Result

The Auto Value 250 field was a talented one with some very accomplished drivers in the race.  But when all of the dust settled, it was a rookie who finished on the final step of the podium.  Steve Halpin took third-place honors in the biggest race of the year at Speedway 660, the track where he finished sixth in the season-long point standings.

“This is awesome.  It is my most memorable race so far,” said Halpin. “We were hoping to get a win this year, but third place in the 250 is fine by me.”

Halpin credited his crew with keeping him out of trouble during a race where there was plenty of it to go around.

“They were on the radio constantly telling me to stay calm.  Those guys kept me calm and gave me a good car to run with these boys.”

Now that Halpin has had a taste of the podium in the Auto Value 250, he has even bigger plans for the 2012 version of the race.

“Next year, we want to be sitting over there,” said Halpin while pointing towards victory lane.

Defending Winner Has a Long Day

Johnny Clark pitted so many times during the early stages of the Auto Value 250 that we lost count.  On just about every caution period, Clark came in for adjustments.  The defending race winner just couldn't get the handling on his #54 the way that he wanted it.  This was especially disappointing to Clark since before the race, he told Speed51.com that he wouldn't be happy unless he had at a straightaway lead with 10 laps to go.

What went wrong with Clark's ride?  Immediately after the event, he wasn't quite sure.

“It sucked,” said Clark.  “I look back at it now and there is no doubt about it.  We had a bad shock or something.  The thing is, we weren't bad in practice.  The car had been driving good.  But it wasn't like we are typically are on a Fredericton visit where we are a tenth faster than everyone.  I should have known that we weren't quite up to snuff I guess.  We kept just trying to make it better and thought it would work.  I thought that we had to do something to be there for the end and I think that we must have been working around a bad shock or something because I've never had a car that bad.”

Eventually, Clark did get up near the lead but then his well-documented incidents with Craig Slaunwhite took place.

“We got a lot better there before tangling with the #99,” said Clark.

Clark did go on to finish ninth.

Sommerville Strips a Spool, Drops Out Early

Lonnie Sommerville dropped out of the race early and was credited with a finish of 20th.  The previous winner of the Auto Value 250 has been making a name for himself in America this season running a full season on the PASS North tour (where he has visited victory lane already), but another victory at Speedway 660 will have to wait.

“We stripped a spool [in the rear end],” said Sommerville.  “We were just riding and saving tires.  But it wasn't meant to be.  We had a little bit of a car fight with Ben early in the race and tore the fender off.  We fixed that and made a little bit of an adjustment and then the car was good.  We were just trying not to spin or burn up the tires.  We definitely had a car good enough to win.  It just didn't work out.”

Sommerville's night could have ended much sooner than it did though.  On the very first lap, Brad Mann spun coming around to take the caution flag.  Mann slide up the track and then right down into the side of Sommerville's car.  The damage to Sommerville's #23 looked bad, but it was mostly cosmetic.

“I saw him spinning and running off the track and then he came sideways and got into my door,” said Sommerville.  “It bent the doorbar, but it was nothing serious.  It damaged the exhaust and I was getting a few fumes in there.”

Rowe Has a Long Night, Finishes Seventh

Ben Rowe had an up and down night that included everything from leading the race to sliding around near the middle of the pack.  It ended with a seventh place finish when he crossed the line with so much momentum that he spun going into turn one on the cool-down lap.

“It was [a crazy race], but you expect that up here,” said Rowe.  “These guys run this car once a year and this is the race they run it in.  We tested here and the car was consistent, but in the race it just didn't go our way.  When I was leading, I had a wicked miss in the carburetor and that would allow two or three guys to get by me.  When it would go green, I could run them back down.  So I was just waiting for there to be 20 to go.”

Late in the race, Rowe got into a shoving match with Speedway 660 track champion Greg Fahey and his #20 machine.  That left both drivers out of the top five at the end of the race.

“The #20 car was out there and he saw me catching him,” said Rowe.  “He moved up into the second groove.  I drove right up under him, in three and four, and he chopped me.  I lifted.  On the backstretch, he drove right up under him again and halfway down the straightaway, he just turned left.  I drove right across the apron.  Then we did it again on the frontstretch.  His left rear hit my right front.  I was on the brakes when we hit and he went around.  It was pretty obvious.  I wouldn't have done that.”

Check Out the Photos From the Race!

If would would like to see more from the 2011 version of the Auto Value 250 at Speedway 660, be sure to click here and visit the Speed51.com Facebook page.  That is where you can find a photo gallery with dozens of shots from the event.

Dave O'Blenis' #48.  (51 Photo)
Johnny Clark (#54) and Craig Slaunwhite #99) had issues during the Auto Value 250.    (51 Photos)
A full field of Super Late Models was assembled for the Auto Value 250.  (Jesse Thompson Photo)
Steve Halpin and his #03 Super Late Model.  (51 Photos)
Lonnie Sommerville meets with the Speedway 660 Moose during driver introductions.  (Jesse Thompson Photo)
Lonnie Sommerville's #23.  (51 Photo)
Ben Rowe (#8) leads Greg Fahey (#20) in practice.  They would meet again in the feature race.  (51 Photo)