Auto racing: Chris Thorne opens season with Late Model win


WISCASSET — Ben Ashline warned his rookie driver over the team’s radio that a lesson was about to be coming from one of Wiscasset Speedway’s most accomplished veterans.

Ashline was right.

Four-time track champion Chris Thorne of Sidney wheeled around Whitefield’s Jake Hendsbee on a restart with nine laps remaining and held on for a season-opening victory in the 40-lap Late Model feature at the track Saturday night. Hendsbee, making his first career Late Model start after jumping up from Wiscasset’s Outlaw Mini Stock division, finished second.

“We’re on four new tires, so that’s a big help,” Thorne said. “Whenever it’s cooler out, this car always seems to be better. It stayed good all last year, which was the first time it was good throughout the whole summer, so if we can maintain that we’ll be in good shape.”

Josh St. Clair of Liberty was third, while defending Late Model champion Andrew McLaughlin rallied to finish fourth after starting 20th in the 21-car field.

“We basically ran away with (the first half of the race), and the caution was terrible for us,” said Hendsbee, who thought finishing second the first time out was as good as winning. “But I think we would have won it.”

While he was cruising to a nearly straightaway lead over the first 20 laps, Thorne, St. Clair and Will Collins — former champions all — were locked together in a tight battle for the second spot. Ten laps from the finish, Thorne used the lapped car of D.C. Alexander to trap Collins low and take the second spot. St. Clair soon followed that move into third.

But even with that bit of intriguing racing for position, it was Hendsbee — under the guidance of the 2018 Coastal 200 winner Ashline as his spotter — who threatened to steal the show.

Unfortunately for him, when the caution flew for the second time on lap 31, it allowed Thorne to line up to Hendsbee’s outside with St. Clair tucked to the inside in third.

Thorne cleared Hendsbee by half a car length at the start-finish line on lap 32, and on lap 33 he dropped his No. 17 clear to the bottom with a comfortable lead. St. Clair tried to catch Hendsbee in the middle by pulling off a three-wide move to the inside on the backstretch that just came up short.

“They’re really good,” Hendsbee said of the competition on the restart. “I had a big talk from Ben about it. That was a big thing for me.”

“I told him just to hug the bottom, and if those guys were faster, they’d go around him (on the top),” Ashline said.

Another caution soon followed, but Thorne’s veteran coolness on the restart allowed him to motor off to his 25th career Late Model win at Wiscasset.

“I was lucky to get the jump on him on the outside,” Thorne said. “Thankfully, we were able to get the quick caution so I was able to stay ahead of him for a couple of laps there.

“I was fighting behind Will and Josh, trying to get by them (earlier). At that point, my car was getting real, real free. The caution really helped me. Without the caution, I probably would have been a third-place car at best.”

Collins exited the race for pit road under the caution flag while running fourth, and did not return to the race.

Thorne wasn’t the only driver who thought he had a third-place car at best.

“We struggled last year, and this is kind of a new ride to us,” St. Clair said. “We’re close, not far off, but we were free at the end and fell short. The last restart, I thought I might be able to hold him on the bottom, but (Hendsbee) was quick. He did a good job. I had a third-place car.”

• • •

Jonathon Emerson of Sabattus celebrates his Strictly Street division win Saturday night at Wiscasset Speedway. Kennebec Journal photo by Travis Barrett

Jonathon Emerson of Sabattus won the 25-lap Strictly Street feature by leading all but eight laps. But his joyride out front nearly fell apart in the final three circuits.

When Shawn Austin’s car slowed to a stop on the backstretch and brought out the red flag, it had the potential to completely shake up what had been an otherwise follow-the-leader race.

Emerson restarted in the top spot with his father, Zach Emerson, lined up to his outside in second. Bryan Robbins restarted third.

Zach Emerson briefly took the lead on the lap 23 restart, before Jonathon muscled under him for the lead a lap later. All that was left was to hold off Robbins — who made it interesting off the race’s final turn by nearly pulling off an inside move for the win.

“It was just a race to get to the end, and thank god it worked out,” Jonathon Emerson said. “I knew (Robbins was going to try), I was just hoping I had enough power to get to the finish line first.”

Robbins spent most of the evening trailing the father and son tandem, but he got his shot at a win when the pair drifted up the track slightly heading through the final two turns.

“I was kind of surprised I had a shot at the end,” Robbins said. “Those guys are going to race each other hard, so I just had to be patient and wait and try and find an opportunity to go.”

In the Outlaw Mini feature, Zach Audet appeared to have the field covered before mechanical issues brought his car to a halt with less than 10 laps remaining. That handed the lead — and the win — to Jimmy Childs of Leeds in the 35-lap event.

Pittston’s Jason Kimball finished second, while West Bath’s Robbie Greenleaf came home in third.

Just four cars turned out for the opening race for the Modified division, with Nick Reno of West Bath holding off reigning track champion Adam Chadbourne of Woolwich.

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