OXFORD, Maine — Morrill’s Travis Benjamin was like a 6-year-old who just spied his first bicycle under the Christmas tree.
“I better not wake up. I’m in a dream world,” said Benjamin shortly after winning the 40th annual TD Bank 250 at Oxford Plains Speedway Sunday night.
Benjamin took the lead from Berwick’s Joey Doiron on lap 204, boldly split two lapped cars on lap 209, and won by 1.167 seconds over Dorion.
“This is definitely the highlight of my career,” said Benjamin, who won a Pro All-Stars Series Super Late Model 150-lap race nine days ago at the speedway.
The former Belfast High School basketball point guard won the PASS SLM North points title last year.
Benjamin credited his crew with making his only pit stop a game-changer on lap 145.
“The car had been junk. I couldn’t wait to get it into the pits,” said Benjamin. “It was so loose, I almost spun out 25 times.
But after the pit stop, the car was awesome.”
His crew consisted of his father, Ron (owner), uncle Bruce Benjamin (spotter), car chief Kerry Merrifield, crew chief Ryan Leadbetter, tire man Nate Littlefield and mechanics Jim Hayes, Doug Wilshire and Shane Grindle.
Benjamin won $33,800. He earned $25,000 for winning the race and received $100 for every one of the 84 laps he led.
Rounding out the top five behind Benjamin and Doiron were Jay Fogleman of Durham, N.C., Fort Kent’s Austin Theriault and Farmington’s Cassius Clark.
It was the 19-year-old Theriault’s third consecutive top-four finish as he finished third the previous two years when it was a Late Model race.
In all, 64 cars tried to qualify and 41 started the race.
Buckfield’s Tim Brackett was sixth, Turner’s Ben Rowe was seventh, Alan Tardiff of Lyman was eighth, Dan Hemric of Kannapolis N.C., was ninth and Georgia teenager Spencer Davis wound up 10th.
Ben Rowe led the most laps, 110.
Biddeford’s Curtis Gerry was 11th, Hallowell’s Johnny Clark was 12th, three-time TD Bank 250 winner Mike Rowe was 13th, pole-sitter T.J. Brackett of Buckfield was 14th and Derek Kneeland of Mooresville, N.C. was 15th.
Frenchville native Shawn Martin was 18th and Ellsworth’s Andy Saunders had car trouble which limited him to 27 laps and he wound up last (41st).
Doiron said Benjamin’s daring move to split the lapped cars “won the race for him” because it gave Benjamin some valuable breathing room. Doiron had to then deal with those same lappeds cars as Benjamin pulled away.
Benjamin said his move was more by accident.
“I thought I had plenty of room and I was going to go underneath them but the car on the bottom stayed there and the one on top started sliding down,” explained Benjamin, “So I held my breath. I was still holding my breath two laps later.
“Once I got past them, I was able to open up the gap so I was able to concentrate on running my line rather than checking my mirror to see where Joey was,” said Benjamin.
Doiron said he thought he was faster than Benjamin even after Benjamin passed him on lap 204 and thought Benjamin would drop off as he had earlier in the race “but he never did.”
It was the 21-year-old Doiron’s first TD Bank 250.
“You always want to win but sometimes you get beat by a better car and that’s what happened,” said Doiron, who leads the PASS North points with Benjamin close behind.
Doiron said when he took the lead on lap 194, he should have tried to extend the lead over Benjam.
“But I wanted to save my tires and I was worried about (Cassius Clark) so I stayed on the bottom. My car was way better (than Benjamin’s) on the bottom but he was better on the top,” said Doiron.
Fogleman, whose 13-year-old son Tate finished 25th, said he thoroughly enjoyed his first TD Bank 250 and was happy with his finish but “I wasn’t satisfied.
“I lost the front end late in the run,” said Fogleman. “I needed more front grip. But the best car won the race.”
T.J. Brackett led 20 of the first 21 laps until Ben Rowe passed him on the outside to take the lead on lap 22.
There was a caution for debris on the track on lap 27, the race’s third caution, and Rowe wasted little time pulling away on the restart.
Rowe maneuvered around several lapped cars as he took charge of the race until there was a caution on lap 83, when Scarborough’s Kelly Moore was spun by Larry Gelinas.
Twelve cars used the caution to pit but several of the leaders stayed out including Rowe. Twenty-five cars were on the lead lap.
Rowe again made quick work of the field on the restart and re-established a healthy lead in just three laps.
Doiron, the PASS North points leader, was Rowe’s closest pursuer with Benjamin, Windham’s Corey Bubar, D.J. Shaw and Dan Hemric of Kannapolis, N.C., also running impressively along with Brackett.
Doiron gradually reduced the gap and Brackett, who pitted for fresh tires on lap 83, made dramatic progress and was a close third behind Rowe and Dorion at the halfway mark.
Doiron finally passed Rowe on the inside on lap 129 and began extending the lead.
Brackett also used the inside groove to pass Rowe for second six laps later.
Martin Latulippe bumped Gelinas off the track between turns one and two to bring out the fifth caution on lap 145.
Most of the field pitted on the lap 145 caution although Brackett and Clark, who also had pitted on lap 83, stayed out and assumed the top two spots.
Bubar forged into the lead on lap 146 and, two laps later, Trevor Sanborn and Aaron Ricker got tangled up between turns one and two to create the sixth caution.
Bubar, Clark, Brackett, Benjamin and Johnny Clark occupied the top five positions on the restart.
Bubar hadn’t pitted and Cassius Clark, with fresher tires, moved around him on the outside to take the lead on lap 151.
Benjamin passed Cassius Clark on lap 156 for his first lead of the race.
A multi-car spinout on lap 159 brought out the seventh caution.
Benjamin pulled away on the restart and Fogleman, the leader in the PASS South SLM tour, passed Cassius Clark for second, followed by Doiron.
Thirteen-year-old Tate Fogelman, Jay’s son, lost control between turns three and four on lap 189 and, on the restart, a multi-car wreck between turns three and four brought out the eighth caution and forced several of the 21 lead-lap cars, including Theriault, to slide off the track to avoid it before driving back onto the track.
Bubar took the worst of the damage and had to be towed off the track.
Benjamin and Doiron swapped the lead over the next several laps until Benjamin took the lead for good on lap 204.