OXFORD, Maine — After one of the most hotly-contested short track battles in recent memory, it all came down to patience and the will to prevail.
Defending race winner Travis Benjamin came from 27th on the 44-car grid, took over the point at lap 227 and held off a hard-charging Austin Theriault to win his second consecutive Oxford 250 Sunday evening at Oxford Plains Speedway.
Josh Childs (Street Stock); Matt Bourgoine (NELCAR Legends); Kris Watson (Outlaw Series); and Mark Lucas (PASS Mods) all notched support division victories on the biggest day of the racing season in New England.
Austin Theriault of Fort Kent led 22 laps, and was in contention most of the race, but settled for second. Richie Dearborn, who just returned to racing this season after two years away, claimed third with a strong effort. Defending PASS North champion Cassius Clark and 2013 Oxford track champion TJ Brackett completed the top five.
“That was quite a race,” an elated Benjamin said in Victory Lane. “I got myself in bad situations a couple of times, I got pretty frustrated there for a while. At the beginning of the race, I got taken back about four or five times. The guys came on the radio and calmed me down a little bit; we had to work for that one.”
Theriault made national headlines last month when he won his first major superspeedway race at an ARCA event in Michigan. On Sunday night, he almost won his native state’s biggest short-track spectacle.
“I still think we had one of the best cars out here tonight,” Theriault said with obvious disappointment in his voice. “We took tires and were riding along, I really felt like we were in a good position to contend for the win. It came down to me and Travis in the closing laps, I’m not really sure what happened. To come away from a weekend that could have been, it’s tough. We stumbled a bit, and Travis was fast at the end. They ran great and deserve the win, but we’re pretty disappointed with second.”
Dearborn was out of the sport for two years, but came back stronger than ever earlier this spring. He looks as if he never missed a beat, and drove like he hadn’t missed a race.
“We’re very happy with this run tonight,” he said as he downed a bottle of water. “The guys worked on the car until 1 a.m. this morning, and they did a great job. They got some things straightened out, and it ran fast the whole race. Those cautions didn’t fall just right for us, but that’s life in racing.”
Benjamin was the sixth different leader in the event. Preston Peltier led the first five circuits before veteran Kelly Moore took over the point. Peltier fought his way back by the former NASCAR champion (1995) from Scarborough, while Shawn Martin was poised to assert himself. The two-time Oxford Late Model champion took over the point at lap 18 and proceeded to drive away.
Finishing sixth through 10th in the 250 were Tyler Dippel, Derek Ramstrom, Ben Rowe, David Oliver and Martin.
Eight cautions slowed the pace, most for minor incidents. Benjamin picked up $27,400 for his efforts in one of the nation’s richest single-day, non-NASCAR races. Benjamin’s margin of victory was just over a second, which translates to a few feet on the track.
Other notable performances in the 41st annual 250 include three-time 250 winner Mike Rowe (18th); 2013 ACT champion Wayne Helliwell Jr. (21st); rising southern star Tate Fogelman (26th) and pole-sitter Preston Peltier (32nd). With 60 cars vying for a spot in the show, action in the six qualifying heats and three consolation races was intense.
This was also an Oxford 250 for the record books, as Benjamin joins an elite list of back-to-back winners. He becomes just the fifth driver to notch that feat, something most drivers can only dream of. For the veteran from Morrill, it was an evening he will not soon forget