2 Maine drivers looking to make first TD Bank 250 a memorable one

Reid Lanpher of Manchester poses in his car prior to a race earlier this season. The 15-year-old is a developmental driver in the Pro Late Model series for JR Motorsports, a team owned by NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. Lanpher will be competing in Sunday night’s TD Bank Oxford 250.
Reid Lanpher of Manchester poses in his car prior to a race earlier this season. The 15-year-old is a developmental driver in the Pro Late Model series for JR Motorsports, a team owned by NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. Lanpher will be competing in Sunday night’s TD Bank Oxford 250.
Posted July 19, 2013, at 8:41 p.m.

OXFORD, Maine — Fifteen-year-old Reid Lanpher of Manchester has dreamed about racing in the TD Bank Oxford 250. He will get his first crack at it on Sunday.

So will 31-year-old Nick Jenkins of Brownville.

Ellsworth’s Andy Saunders is renting a race car for $10,000 just to try to qualify for the 250.

And Morrill’s Travis Benjamin will be looking to win his second race at Oxford Plains Speedway in nine days after winning a 150-lap Pro All-Stars Series Super Late Model North race on July 12.

The 40th annual TD Bank Oxford 250 will be held on Sunday evening and 55 drivers had registered through Thursday.

They will be looking to pocket at least $25,000, which is the winner’s share. Drivers also receive $100 for every lap they lead.

The Late Models had been the cars of choice since 2007 but they have been replaced by the more expensive and more powerful Super Late Models under the tutelage of Tom Mayberry, who bought the track from Bill Ryan last fall.

Mayberry is founder and president of the Pro All-Stars Series which has Super Late Model North and South divisions. Drivers in both tours race together in a national series of races and the 250 will be a sanctioned PASS National SLM and North division points race.

PASS SLM South points leader and defending PASS National points titlist Jay Fogleman and his son Tate are entering the race along with Spencer Davis and Brandon Ward, who are fourth and fifth in the PASS SLM South points.

Sixty-two-year-old Mike Rowe of Turner will look to become the race’s first four-time winner.

There won’t be any NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers in the field as there had been from 2004 to 2012.

Lanpher is a developmental driver in the Pro Late Model series for JR Motorsports, which is co-owned by Sprint Cup driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his sister Kelley Earnhardt Miller. He has been running a lot of races in the South as part of his 18-race deal.

He will be driving his own family race car and felt he had a productive practice session on Friday.

“We were only about a tenth of a second off the times turned in by Johnny and Cassius Clark and the Rowes [Mike and Ben],” said Lanpher. “We’re close. If we can get a little more speed, we’ll be in good shape. Jay Cushman is my crew chief and he has done a lot of stuff with Super Late Models.

“To qualify for the race and finish it would be awesome,” said Lanpher, who would be one of the youngest drivers to ever qualify for the 250.

Jenkins has attended several TD Bank 250s but transferred his Late Model car into a Super Late Model over the winter. Qualifying for the 250 was on his “bucket list,” he said.

“I thought this would be the perfect opportunity for me,” said Jenkins.

However, a lack of funds appeared to dash his hopes.

That all changed two weeks ago.

“I was spraying some foam [insulation] at Glass Eels Variety store in Hartland and I got to talking to the owner [Chris Fiore] about racing,” said Jenkins. “He decided to come on board as a sponsor. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have been able to race.”

Fiore also owns Maine Glass Eels in Waldoboro.

“I’m pretty excited about this,” said Jenkins, who was satisfied with Friday’s test session at OPS.

“The car felt OK. We had some left-rear shock issues but we fixed it 15 minutes ago,” said Jenkins, who has raced Late Models and Sport Fours in addition to go-karts and Super Late Models.

“With the [lack of] finances and equipment we have compared to most of the guys here, getting in the show would be as good as winning it for us,” said Jenkins whose father, Rick, is his crew chief. Two of his friends, Steve Beals and Brian Wiles, also have assisted him.

Saunders won the Late Model points title at Hermon’s Speedway 95 last season and is leading the points this season.

His cousin Buster Bean works for Dale Shaw Race Cars in Center Conway, N.H., and Shaw had a car available for the 250.

“I thought about how much I enjoyed racing Pro Stock cars but I didn’t know if I could afford to do it,” said Saunders. “But $10,000 is a fair deal. It includes my tires and fuel and a pit crew. I just have to show up with my helmet.”

Saunders said he has some very loyal fans and friends who have helped pay for the rental of the car.

“I’m going to be realistic. I don’t have any expectations about going down there and winning the race,” said Saunders. “But I’d be disappointed if I didn’t qualify and wasn’t competitive.”

Saunders did qualify for the 2004 TD Bank 250 and finished 29th after starting 29th.

Benjamin, the defending PASS North SLM points champion, is encouraged by his last five races at OPS, which include a win, two seconds and a third.

“We’ve got momentum on our side,” said Benjamin.

He said a driver has to be patient and make smart decisions when it comes to pit strategy.

Benjamin said two provisional spots will go to drivers who don’t qualify in the heat races based on the points standings in the PASS SLM North series.

Since he is second in points behind Joey Doiron of Berwick, Benjamin is guaranteed a spot in the 250.

“But I don’t want to start 41st,” said Benjamin, who is hoping to qualify near the front.

Fort Kent’s Austin Theriault has finished third the past two races and the Brad Keselowski Racing development driver said he is anxious to take the checkered flag because he felt he could have won both of those races.

He will be racing a 250-lap race in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, on Saturday before flying to Oxford. Team owner and defending Sprint Cup champion Keselowski also will be racing in Nova Scotia.

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