It isn’t the guy standing in victory lane that always gets the biggest win.
That was the case for Pittston, Maine’s Ben Ashline and his low-budget racing team at the conclusion of the American-Canadian Tour Governor’s Cup at Lee USA Speedway (NH) last Sunday. After starting 24th for the 150-lap event, Ashline made consistent progress through the field throughout the race on his way to crossing the finish line in the seventh position.
Ashline, a former winner on the American-Canadian Tour at Oxford Plains Speedway (ME), is no slouch when it comes to running towards the front in ACT Late Model events. On that notion alone, his seventh place finish on Sunday isn’t very shocking.
What makes his finish rather surprising is the fact that the race on Sunday was his first time back in the driver’s seat since being sidelined for 18 months after requiring arthroscopic surgery to repair a pair of labral tears in his shoulder. When surgeons went in to repair the two labral tears, they also discovered two small rotator cuff tears and a bunch of frayed muscles that required repair.
“They cleaned all of that up and sewed up the tears,” said Ashline. “At that point, I started going to physical therapy. My regular physical therapy was twice a week and then I had aquatic therapy twice a week. I was going to physical therapy four times a week for six months following the surgery.”
With his car sitting in the garage looking the same as it had when they last took it off the trailer following an October 2012 race at Riverside Speedway (NH), Ashline was still awaiting the OK from his doctor to race. He didn’t receive the final go-ahead from his surgeon until two weeks prior to the ACT season-opening event.
That transition of going from visiting his physical therapist four times a week to crossing the finish line in seventh place at the conclusion of the Governor’s Cup made Ashline pretty ecstatic about the results on Sunday.
“You might as well call that a win in my books,” Ashline said about his seventh place finish. “Two weeks ago, I didn’t really think I was going to be racing. I had a doctor’s appointment and my surgeon went over everything and gave me the go-ahead to race.”
When Ashline finally received the go-ahead from his doctors, he joined his family-owned race team in preparing the car for the season-opener. The rule changes to the ACT shock package threw another curveball at Ashline’s team, as they had to incorporate the rule changes to the ACT Late Model program since they last competed over 18 months ago.
“It threw a big wrench at a lot of people before opening day,” said Ashline. “Obviously, a lot of rules had changed as far as sway bar, nose height, and shocks. I needed to change a lot of stuff on our car.”
Getting no sleep on Friday night, Ashline worked through the night to put the finishing touches on his No. 15ME to get the car where he wanted it to be for practice on Saturday. His team didn’t leave their Pittston, Maine garage until 9 am on Saturday and ended up missing a pair of practices after having a fuel pump go bad on their pickup truck on the way to the track.
“We made the plans for my father to come to the shop to hook onto the trailer with his pickup and leave at six. He showed up at six and I walked into the room, he said, ‘Jeez, are you wearing the same clothes you had on last night or have you not been home?’ I said, ‘I haven’t been home.’ I was a little tired on Saturday, but it is racing and I wouldn’t sleep all week if it meant I could race.”
When Ashline and his team finally arrived at the track after two practice sessions had already been completed, they didn’t find the speed they had hoped for early on. His team threw major changes at the car throughout the day on Saturday and Sunday before finding the right setup to crack the top-10 at the end of the day on Sunday.
“We kind of threw everything together,” Ashline said. “This isn’t what I expected to pull out of a weekend that we basically went in so unprepared for. We made a lot of changes after the heat race and after the consi; we just kept getting a little better. Consistency is what wins the race. You’ve got to be around at the end. Luckily, we were there at the end and had a car good enough for a top-10 finish”
Following Saturday afternoon’s practice session, Ashline told Speed51.com that he did have some soreness in his shoulder; he rated his shoulder at 50-60% entering Sunday’s qualifying for the Governor’s Cup. On Monday, after driving over 200 laps on Sunday, the Maine driver was feeling some soreness in his shoulder, but nothing excruciating.
“I was obviously a little sore, but a majority of that was from being out of the car for all this time,” Ashline said. “I gained a little bit of weight since my last race, so I’ve got to shed those pounds. It certainly wasn’t excruciating or agonizing at all.”
For someone who didn’t know if he’d even be at the race track on Sunday, being around the front of the field at the end of the 150-lap feature was very assuring for the driver nicknamed “The Kid”.
Ashline’s time away from racing before and after the completion of his surgery had him sitting around questioning if he’d ever be behind the wheel of a race car again. The thought of coming back and registering a top-10 in his first race back didn’t even enter his mind.
“I wondered if I was ever going to have a shoulder that was 100%,” Ashline said. “I wondered if I was ever going to have a shoulder I could race with that wouldn’t bother me. There was a long time through that recovery that I doubted very seriously if I was ever going to be able to race again. That takes a toll on you.”
With one race under his belt, Ashline will now look towards getting his body in peak physical condition to compete in as many American-Canadian Tour events as possible. Although he went through many hours of physical therapy to strengthen his shoulder, Ashline says his overall physical condition is off from what it was prior to the surgery.
“I’m certainly not in my peak physical condition,” Ashline told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “I might add that will change very soon. I’m working on that.”
Ashline will get back in the driver’s seat for the second event of the 2014 ACT season on Saturday, April 26 at Thunder Road International Speedbowl in Barre, Vermont. He has purchased a full-season ACT license and hopes to compete for the championship if all goes well.
“We’re going to shoot for ACT points. We’ll take what we can get one race at a time. If we can get to the next one, we’ll get to the next one. We’re about as low dollar as you can get as far as getting here.
“We’ll just keep chugging along.”