Jonathon Emerson, shown in 2021, earned his first career Late Model win last weekend at Wiscasset Speedway. Travis Barrett/Kennebec Journal file

WISCASSET — Two weeks before the biggest race of the season turned out to be the perfect time for Jonathon Emerson to score his first career win in a Late Model.

The third-year Late Model driver won the 40-lap Late Model Sportsman feature at Wiscasset Speedway last Saturday night in the division’s final tuneup before the track’s $15,000-to-win Coastal 200 on May 26. Just two races into the young 2024 season, the Sabattus native has been in contention for victory in both starts.

“This is exactly how we wanted to set up for (the Coastal 200),” Emerson said. “We knew we wanted to give a full push to the Coastal, not tear anything up and have a nice clean slate so we could bring the car back, clean it and make sure everything is perfect. At least we know we’ll have speed.”

A former Strictly Shootout winner in the Street Stock ranks at Wiscasset, and the grandson of the late Larry Emerson — a Wiscasset Speedway Hall of Famer and a longtime Oxford Plains Speedway fixture — Emerson admits that his first two years of Late Model competition came with a steep learning curve. But while arming himself with a new car for this summer, he spent the winter eyeing Maine’s signature Late Model event.

Though the races at Wiscasset were points-paying races on April 27 and May 11, Emerson viewed the events as practice sessions.

“That’s our Oxford 250,” said Emerson, who now lives in Oxford. “There’s no doubt. Now that they’ve got the purse, it’s becoming a lot bigger deal now.”


Not everybody in the Wiscasset Speedway pit area has been as content with the early-season returns.

Reigning Late Model champion Will Collins of Waldoboro left Saturday’s race 13 laps from the finish, despite not having a mechanical failure or being caught up in a crash.

“The Coastal might not happen for us,” Collins said following the race. “I’m not going to come down here and run if I don’t feel like I can be competitive.”

Collins has never won the 200, despite winning five of 11 weekly Late Model races in 2022 and finishing in the top 10 in nine of 11 races last season en route to the track championship.

“We’ve got two cars now, and both cars have been horrible,” Collins said. “We’re just chasing our tails right now. It’s not like the field has gotten any faster. Everyone else is going the same speed, we’re just going slower.”

The Coastal 200 paid $5,000 to win for many years before track owners Richard and Vanessa Jordan doubled that purse two years ago. Now, with $15,000 guaranteed to the winner, it’s tied for third as Maine’s most lucrative stock car race.


Only the inaugural Celebration of America 300 on July 3 at Oxford and the 51st Oxford 250 on August 25 offer more at $40,000 and $25,000, respectively. Wiscasset’s own Boss Hogg 150 for Super Late Model/Pro Stock cars on September 1 also promises $15,000 to the winner.

The difference with the Coastal 200, of course, is that each of those other races come a half-season or more into the schedule, where the traditional Memorial Day weekend date of the Coastal 200 gives teams very little time to hit their collective stride.

Collins is a perfect example of a driver that thought he made a bunch of improvements over the winter but has had precious little track time to iron out the wrinkles this spring.

“You’d like to get a couple of weeks of practice in before that so you’re a little more prepared for (the 200),” said Skowhegan’s Kris Matchett, who plans to run the full Late Model schedule at Wiscasset in 2024 after years of competing full-time at Speedway 95 in Hermon. “I think it’s going to bring in quite a few cars. I think you’ll get a lot of guys who will swap over and run it, just because of the purse.”

Track officials estimate maybe a half-dozen “outsiders” will attempt the Coastal 200, which has been the case for the last few seasons. American-Canadian Tour (ACT) Late Models do not have a points race on Sunday, although the Memorial Day Classic at Thunder Road International Speedbowl in Vermont is a similarly marquee event and there are slightly different rules for ACT-legal Late Models and those racing at Wiscasset Speedway.

“We just try to do what we do and do it very well,” Vanessa Jordan said.


Mike Hopkins of Hermon, who won the event last May, and Dave Farrington Jr. of Jay have each won the Coastal 200 despite not competing weekly at the track.

Nobody currently feels as confident about this year’s Coastal 200 as Emerson.

“I can’t even tell you how to explain to you good this feels,” Emerson said of his Late Model win. “We spent literally four to five days in the garage, every single week, for the last three years, and we’d never really even gotten close (to winning). Finally, we had a car we knew we could win with. We gave it everything we could just to get to where we are now.

“Hopefully everything will align (on May 26) and we’ll be in the same exact situation.”

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