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Travis Benjamin gets his third Oxford 250 win

Travis Benjamin wins the 46th Oxford 250

DJ Shaw (3rd), Travis Benjamin, and Derek Griffith (2nd)

(Oxford ME) “Short track racing is alive and well here at Oxford Plains Speedway,” declared 3rd place Oxford 250 finisher DJ Shaw.

“What a crowd,” he added……and who could argue!

The seats were filled, and the crowd was into it for the 46th edition of the OPS 250, held on Sunday.

Travis Benjamin won the Oxford 250 for the third time.  The last time was five years ago.

“I can’t believe it,” said Travis to a gathering on Victory Lane that may have included everyone from his hometown of Morrill (ME), “to have our name on the trophy again.”

Travis surveys the crowd on Victory Lane

There was no mention of Travis on Media Day on Wednesday of this week.  Why? His best run this year had been a 4th in Vermont.

And Travis didn’t show much in the first half of the race to make you think that he would be holding the checkered flag later.  But he has been racing for a while and there had been some changes to the car and in the makeup of the crew.

“We concentrated on the car that I liked, and we got the crew back together that keyed the other two Oxford 250 wins,” explained Travis.

Travis admitted that for the first half of the race he would have been willing to “settle for a top five finish.”

Travis Benjamin (7) leaves pit row

There were seven cautions, however, and things turned Travis’ way during the one on lap 179.  He added four tires and thereafter was in contention, taking the lead for good with forty laps left.

Eddie MacDonald (17) and Ryan Kuhn (72) started in the front

Two cautions, however, in the last twelve laps made things exciting for the crowd and nerve-wracking for Travis, who had gained separation from Derek Griffith and TJ Shaw.  “I was nervous on those last restarts,” said Travis.  “DJ has won a lot of races and Derek is as hungry as anyone, but I was confident in our car at that point.”

Travis broke away quickly on each of the restarts, regained some breathing room, and won his third title.

“Those last two restarts really helped us,” said second-place finisher Derek Griffith post-race.  “I had a better restart run on most of the people around me.  He (Travis) was just a little bit better than we were today.”

DJ Shaw crossed third and didn’t think that the restarts did him any favors.  “We had a long-run car and we got short runs at the end,” explained DJ.

Scott McDaniel ran into trouble

“To be the best car on a one-stop strategy says a lot for our program,” said DJ.  “It was our best race of the year.  We led a lot of laps and they knew we were here.  It’s never a bad day to get a top three in the 250.

DJ was 6th in 2018.  “This is our second 3rd-place finish.  We’ll look to move up next year.”

Mike Hopkins (Hermon ME) got 5th but wasn’t happy about it.  Mike, however, was quick to praise his crew (“They killed it on pit stops”) but was sure that he personally could have done better.

“Right before we came in to take four tires, I dropped down too early and Tom penalized me and put me in the rear,” Mike told me.  “We would have been fifth with four new tires.  I don’t think anyone had anything against us, but it would have made a difference, I think.  We drove from the back to the front twice.  We rode the corners so well and passed a lot of cars.”

Mike had a win in Richmond (VA) in March.  “We killed it in Richmond but haven’t put it together since.  I cost us a chance tonight to win the Oxford 250.”

Winning car

Travis Benjamin explained that the track was hard to read.  “Part of the race I was good outside and other times I wasn’t.  The bottom was like that too.  You just kind of had to go all over the place.”  This was certainly where the years of racing, including many at Oxford, paid off.  Travis had the skills to adjust successfully to the changing conditions.

Travis had nothing but kind words for the racing in the Northeast.  “When someone like Bubba Pollard (last year’s winner) comes up here and we’re lapping him that tells you who’s racing up here.  That’s nothing against the guys down South.  It’s just that the racing up here is the best in the country, hands down.”

Forty-four cars started and eighteen of them finished on the lead lap.

Travis started in 11th place.

The estimated winning total for Travis from the race was $29,000.

Johnny Clark came in fourth.

Bob Bahre was the grand marshall

Former owner Bob Bahre was the grand marshall.

I have to admit the degree to which I was taken in by the talk at Media Day on Wednesday.  I heard there plenty of good words about Curt Geary’s chances of winning the 250………and there were lots of them deserved for the 2017 winner.  When I saw that “7” flashing by in the limited lights of the track later in the race last night I thought it was Curt Geary (also #7).  The PA announcer eventually straightened me out. My bad and I do wear glasses!

Also full disclosure: I did not sit in on the post-race interview with Travis Benjamin in the press box.  However, I did see the Sun-Journal’s video of that interview.  I had actual conversations with Derek, DJ, and Mike after the race.

The crowd was certainly amazing.  The two cautions in the closing laps gave everyone a clear look at the defining moments of the race.

OPS humor?  I heard a seated lady ask a 10-year-old (?) boy, who was walking by, if he had a hole in his sock.  The kid naturally said that he didn’t.  The woman asked, “How did you get your foot into it?”

Part of the crowd at the Oxford 250

Nice weather but did it ever cool off when the sun went down!

Thanks to the OPS staff, especially Mary Mayberry, for letting me in to witness the race.

(All of the pictures above and below will enlarge considerably if you click on them.)

Derek Griffith (2nd place) congratulated after the race

Travis Benjamin on the roof

Earlier race trouble on the turn

Eddie MacDonald and Ryan Kuhn introduced as the two in the first row

Garrett Hall (R) pre-race

Heading the wrong way in an earlier race

Setting up for the 250

Third title for Travis Benjamin

 

 

 

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Oxford Plains Speedway Media Day

Curt Geary, Mike Rowe, Derek Griffith, DJ Shaw, and Garrett Hall

(Oxford ME) Optimism and uncertainty abounded.

Today was Media Day for Sunday’s 46th running of the Oxford 250.

The Honey Badger Bar & Grill setting had five drivers; Curt Geary, Mike Rowe, Derek Griffith, DJ Shaw, and Garrett Hall on hand.  Ben Rowe arrived later.

Mike Rowe

“At my age (69) I’m still excited about the 250,” said 3-time winner Mike Rowe.  “A lot of drivers have a chance to win it.  You can’t make any mistakes.”

“If I wasn’t the winner, I’d want my old man to win,” said Ben (2-time winner) with a smile.

Ben took a second at Oxford in July and he was quoted as saying that “it felt like a win.”  Makes sense when you realize that in Ben’s previous twelve starts at Oxford Plains Speedway his best showing was one fourth.

“It eats at you when you haven’t won a race in a while,” recalled Ben.  “You ask yourself, ‘Did I forget how to do this?’, and ‘Did I forget all I know?”

Ben won the Oxford 250 in 2003-04.  “I got stagnant because we were ahead of everyone else, but they caught up.  It has taken us this long to get back on top.”

Derek Griffith

Young Derek Griffith (22) watched the race the first time he saw it.  “We came over (from New Hampshire) and didn’t make it in.  I was real young.  It broke us down a bit.  We ended up sitting in the backstretch stands.  It was a cool show.”

Derek sounded like an OPS 250 promoter as he discussed the event: “There is nothing like this race.  It’s crazy watching 41 cars drive around the OPS.  Anyone can win.  The amount of talent and good cars that are here for this weekend is amazing.  People that come for the first time will come back for the rest of their lives.”

Derek has won races this year in Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire.

Last year was Garrett Hall’s first try at the Oxford 250. He finished fourth.

Garrett Hall

Despite Garrett’s success in 2017 his lack of experience in the big race is causing him some anxious moments: “I’m losing sleep.  There are so many different factors that run through your mind.  It’s stressful.  It’s not a race that is easy to get ready for.”

One of the biggest struggles includes the length of the race and the infield pit stop that is required.  None of the other races that these drivers run in have the length and that pit-stop requirement.  Not only does the driver have to be on his game but his crew needs to as well.

One driver, however, who is familiar with all this is last year’s winner, Bubba Pollard.  “Bubba is used to running and winning long races (All-American 400, Rattler 250) and has a crew in place that knows what to do,” added Ben Rowe.

Even though Bubba could handle the quirks of a long race, he came in (from Georgia) last year totally unfamiliar with Oxford Plains Speedway.  “What Bubba did last year was impressive.  Some good drivers have raced here for years and never won.  He comes in for the week and wins it!”

Bubba will be in the field on Sunday.  He would seem to be the driver to beat.  “I liked Bubba to win it last year,” said Ben, “even though he had never seen Oxford.  We tested Beech Ridge with him and then we came over to Oxford.  I knew right off the bat that he’s that good.”

Curt Geary

Based on this season’s results at OPS, the 250 favorites would be Curt Geary and Nick Sweet.  Nick has been very good lately at the track while Curt had been good all year.  Curt won the 250 in 2017.

“The race is unique,” added Derek Griffith.  “At times it’s four and five wide.  You get guys that can start dead last in the consolations and win this thing.  That’s what Mike Rowe did in 2005.”

Derek wanted the race to start right away.  “I’m ready to go.  The campers are rolling in and the parking lot is filling up.  I wish we were here with a truck and trailer today!”

I asked Derek if he had any superstitions: “I got a new race suit the end of 2017 and every time I wore it, I got wrecked.  I’ve been wearing my old suit for the majority of this year and we’ve had a good year.”

Garrett Hall gave even more detail to his race-day superstitions.  “I am very superstitious: the racing suit, socks, even underwear.  Can’t bring a grill to the track.  No hamburgers or cheeseburgers….and there’s even more!”

The race should certainly be an exciting one with so many intangibles and so many terrific drivers/cars on the track.

Who will be standing near the $25,000 check on Sunday night?

 

 

 

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All is well for Wayne Helliwell as he wins the 43rd Oxford 250

 

Wayne Helliwell got the checkered flag after winning the 43rd OPS 250

Wayne Helliwell got the checkered flag after winning the 43rd OPS 250

The trophy, the car, and an excited crew.

The trophy, the car, and an excited crew.

(Oxford ME) Travis Benjamin led the 43rd annual Oxford 250 for 159 laps but it wasn’t enough as Wayne Helliwell led the final five laps to earn the checkered flag on Sunday night at Oxford Plains Speedway.

After the last of the cautions (12) on lap 227 an entertaining battle unfolded between 2-time champ Travis Benjamin and Wayne Helliwell of Dover (NH).

By then most of the non-contenders were off the track and there was plenty of open territory ahead for the two leaders after the restart.  But at the speed the two front-runner were going you knew that the race would eventually be won in the traffic ahead.

Travis on the high side and Wayne on the inside early in the race

Travis on the high side and Wayne on the inside early in the race

Wayne was on the inside and Travis was on the next line up.  Travis had used that line to get by many cars during the race.

In lap 244 the two leaders approached field-trailer Garrett Evans (#64).  Garrett was on Travis’ lane and Wayne was on the inside lane beside Travis.  Travis said afterwards that he hesitated when he approached the 64 because didn’t know what the 64 was going to do.  That “hesitation” allowed Wayne to fly by on 64’s inside and forced Travis to drop down in back of him.  Travis would never recover from what happened with the 64 and had to settle five laps later for, what had to be, a disappointing second place.

Travis said afterwards that he thought the difference was that Wayne had pitted for tires fifty laps after he did.  Those fresher tires allowed Wayne to keep up with Travis and to eventually get to the front.  I’ll still go with what happened dealing with the 64 as the actual difference maker.

Wayne Helliwell pits for tires

Wayne Helliwell pits for tires

Exciting race to say the least.

Wayne finished seventh in the OPS 250 last year.  This time he won the race and received a check for $29,500.

DJ Shaw came in third.

Last year’s winner Glen Luce was strong in the early going.

TJ Brackett came out of the very first caution unable to get his car to start and was quickly done for the night.

Travis Benjamin stays high and will get past Mike and Ben Rowe

Travis Benjamin stays high and will get past Mike and Ben Rowe

Ben Rowe finished 4th while his dad Mike ended up 24th.

A couple of the young favorites (Reid Lanpher and Derek Griffith) got into benders early and never could challenge the leaders.  Reid was 2nd last year.

I saw the race from above the sky boxes on the roof.  Nice and breezy up there on a hot afternoon/evening with an extraordinary view.

Only problem with that lofty perch was that it was impossible to get down from there to the track in time to get pictures of the early post-race celebrating.  But you can’t have everything!

Thanks to Tom/Mary Mayberry for arranging the media credentials.

(All of the pictures above and below will enlarge considerably if you click on them.)

Mike Rowe explains some of the finer points of racing to TJ Brackett

Mike Rowe explains some of the finer points of racing to TJ Brackett

Derek Griffith before the race

Derek Griffith before the race

Reid Lanpher before the race

Reid Lanpher before the race

Wayne Helliwell introduced

Wayne Helliwell introduced

Travis Benjamin introduced

Travis Benjamin introduced

Austin Theriault

Austin Theriault

Fender bender involving Jeff Taylor (88), Kyle Treadwell (44), Cassius Clark (13) and Mike Hopkins (15).ops-A14-fb2ops-A13-fb3ops-12-fb-4

DJ Shaw after the race

DJ Shaw after the race

Travis Benjamin after the race

Travis Benjamin after the race

Travis Benjamin pit stop

Travis Benjamin pit stop

Travis got past the 64 early in the race

Travis got past the 64 early in the race

2015 winner Glen Luce pressured by Travis Benjamin

2015 winner Glen Luce pressured by Travis Benjamin

Politics on a fender

Politics on a fender

TJ Brackett out early

TJ Brackett out early

 

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