OXFORD, Maine — Fort Kent’s Austin Theriault was relieved to qualify for the 40th annual TD Bank 250 at Oxford Plains Speedway which he did by finishing third in the third heat race.
The top four finishers in each of the six heat races qualify as do the top three in the three consolation races and the winner of the last-chance race.
By qualifying early and earning the 15th starting spot, Theriault could consider taking a nap before the 250.
Theriault raced Saturday night in the IWK 250 in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, for the Brad Keselowski Racing team. He is a development driver for the team and works at the team shop in Mooresville, N.C.
He finished fifth while Keselowski, who had the week off with the rest of the Sprint Cup drivers, wound up third.
Theriault flew on the Keselowski race team jet to Portland after the race and got in at 1 a.m. Sunday.
He slept a while and got to OPS at 8 a.m. Sunday.
“It wasn’t worth the money they paid for the hotel room [in Portland],” quipped Theriault.
He had mixed feelings about his finish in the IWK 250.
“We had a caution on lap 125 and we had 10 minutes to make sure everything was perfect on the car,” said Theriault. “But we didn’t get the pit stop down. The car wasn’t ready after the 10 minutes so we had to start in the back and there were 30, 32 cars in the field.
He drove his BKR car up to fifth place.
On Sunday, he jumped into his family-owned car for the 250. He said qualifying early is important.
“That enables everyone to relax,” said Theriault, referring to the fact it relieves the stress.
And gave him the opportunity to take a nap.
Mayberry sticking with SLMs
Tom Mayberry, the new owner of Oxford Plains Speedway, said the TD Bank 250 will remain a Super Late Model for the forseeable future.
The race had been a Late Model race from 2007 to 2012 under former owner Bill Ryan, but Mayberry said the TD Bank 250 is meant to be a Super Late Model race.
“Big horsepower, big tires,” said Mayberry, who is the founder and president of the Pro All Stars Series tour featuring three SLM divisions. “It used to be for the top Super Late Model racers across the country. That’s what it should be.”
Ryan began bringing Sprint Cup drivers to the race in 2004 and it continued through last year’s race. It had been a Super Late Model race until 2007 when Ryan decided to run it for the less expensive Late Models.
Ryan sold the track to Mayberry last fall.
Mayberry said Cup drivers will be welcome to run the race in the future, but he won’t compensate them.
“I’m not going to pay Sprint Cup drivers to come here and beat our [local and regional] drivers,” said Mayberry. “But if they want to come on their own, fine.”
Mayberry said the fans have supported his decision.
“We kept track of it and only three people told us they were upset that we weren’t bringing in the Cup drivers. We had 40 tell us they preferred having Super Late Models [without Cup drivers],” said Mayberry, who noted that the Late Model car counts had been dwinding.
Ryan enjoys being fan
Ryan, who owns the Maine Red Claws of the NBA Development League, was on hand for Sunday’s race.
“It’s a lot of fun,” said Ryan. “I can enjoy the race without dealing with the craziness that surrounds it. It’s nice to be a race fan again.”
Saunders qualifies 23rd
Ellsworth’s Andy Saunders, the defending Speedway 95 Late Model points champion and its 2013 points leader, rented a race car from Dale Shaw Race Cars in Center Conway, N.H., for $10,000 and was able to qualify for the 250 by finishing third in the fifth heat.
That gave him the 23rd starting spot.
Ironically, Dale’s son D.J. won the heat.
He said the car’s setup was “very different from anything I had driven before. It was a strange feeling.”
“When you’re driving in the middle of the straightaway, it feels like you’re driving in a corner,” said Saunders. “The track is a big circle. You have to tiptoe around the place. It’s very easy to overdrive the car. If you have a bad lap, you try to make it up in the next lap and you can’t do that.”
He said he was pleased he qualified in the heat race and said, “I want to thank Dale Shaw and the whole crew” for their work supplying him with a top-notch race car.
Saunders’ sponsors, friends and family helped foot the bill.
Saunders previously ran the 250 in 2004, starting 29th and finishing 29th.
“I got crashed out of the race by [Sprint Cup driver] Kurt Busch,” said Saunders.
Benjamin survives poor draw
The starting spots for the heat races are drawn out of a hat and Morrill’s Travis Benjamin was nervous after he learned he was starting dead last, 11th, in his heat race. That meant he had to pass seven cars in 25 laps to qualify in the heat race.
“I thought it was going to be a long day,” said Benjamin.
But he took advantage of a couple of wrecks and cautions in his heat race to finish second and that gave him the eighth starting spot in the race.
“One advantage to starting 11th is you can pick your lane because you don’t have someone starting beside you,” said Benjamin, the defending PASS Super Late Model points champion and the winner of a PASS North 150 nine days ago at OPS.
Benjamin ran very effectively on the inside groove although most drivers preferred the outside groove.
“The car runs well on the inside,” said Benjamin.
T.J. Brackett earned pole
T.J. Brackett of Buckfield won the pole by taking the checkered flag in the first heat race. His father, Tim, finished second.
“It’s pretty cool. It’s awesome,” said the 29-year-old Brackett, who leads the points in the Pro Late Model at OPS. “I grew up three miles from the track. I’ve been to a lot of 250s.”
Brackett said he finally got a good draw which enabled him to start the first heat race up front and he led the heat race from start to finish. He said he usually got a poor draw and started deep in the field.
Brackett works for Richard Moody Racing and is the crew chief for Turner’s Ben Rowe in the PASS SLM North series.
“He’s my crew chief but now he’s the enemy,” joked Rowe.
Brackett said he was a little nervous when he earned the pole for the heat race.
“I knew the car was good. I didn’t want to mess it up,” said Brackett.
Rowe, Clark get into 250
Rowe and Johnny Clark, who have 10 PASS North points titles between them, started on the front row of the third heat race and finished first and third, respectively, to qualify.
Rowe has four titles and Clark has six.
Both have had had up-and-down seasons this year.
“Jeff Taylor helped a lot with the car,” said Rowe, referring to the Distance Racing Products owner who builds cars, including Rowe’s. “He got us over the next hurdle. We’re not where we want to be but we’re getting close.”
North Carolinian enjoys Maine
Kevin Powell was one of several PASS South drivers in Sunday’s race and the Winston Salem, N.C., driver earned a PASS South provisional and started 39th.
He was enjoying his first visit to Maine.
“The people have been so nice. The drivers have been so helpful,” said Powell.
Another one of the seven provisionals went to 13-year-old Tate Fogelman, whose father, Jay, the PASS South points leader, qualified ninth.
The Fogelmans live in Durham, N.C.