When Travis Benjamin was a youngster attending the Oxford 250 auto race, he dreamed about racing in it some day.
“I never expected to win it. I just wanted to be a part of it,” Benjamin said.
Not only has the Morrill driver raced in it, he has won it three times. Now he hopes to become the first four-time winner of Maine’s most prestigious race when the 48th annual Oxford 250 takes the green flag on Sunday night at Oxford Plains Speedway.
“To win it three times is incredible,” said Benjamin, who will drive the Chevy he won the 250 in two years ago. “I’m not going to lose any sleep if we don’t win it a fourth time, but it would be pretty special if we did.”
The 42-year-old Benjamin will be one of two drivers looking for a fourth Oxford 250 triumph, along with 71-year-old Mike Rowe of Turner.
Benjamin took the checkered flag in 2013, 2014 and 2019, while Rowe was victorious in 1984, 1997 and 2005.
Rowe’s son Ben is a two-time winner (2003, 2004) and will be looking for his third, as will Eddie MacDonald from Rowley, Massachusetts (2009, 2010).
They are two of just four three-time winners along with Dave Dion (’75, ’85, ’92) from Hudson , New Hampshire, and Unity’s Ralph Nason (’98, ’99 and ’00).
Farmingdale’s Johnny Clark currently leads the Pro All Stars Series Super Late Model (PASS SLM) North points standings, making him one of the best drivers in the Northeast. Clark is the defending champ of the Oxford 250 and said he likes his chances to repeat.
If he does, he would be the sixth driver to win back-to-back 250s.
“We have as good a chance as anybody,” said the 41-year-old Clark. “We tested the other day and the car is stable. And my team does a good job watching the race play out” and then making the necessary adjustments to the car.
Clark has won two of the 10 PASS North SLM races this season and has five top-five finishes. He is gunning for his seventh PASS North SLM points championship.
Benjamin, who won the points title in 2017, isn’t running for points this season and is instead competing in a select number of races, with the Oxford 250 headlining the list.
Four of the PASS SLM North races have been at Oxford Plains Speedway this year, so he and his team have been working on different car set-ups in anticipation of Sunday’s race.
“It has been hit or miss for us all year long. But the car was real good last weekend until it fell off at the end,” Benjamin said. “So I’m excited. If things fall right for us, we’ll have a real good chance.”
Benjamin and Clark have won a ton of races between them but both said there is nothing like winning the Oxford 250.
“I won the points championship in 2017 but it doesn’t mean anything to me compared to winning the 250,” Benjamin said. “There is so much history. You look at the names on the trophy like Geoff Bodine and Ricky Craven. Then there’s Mike Rowe and Ralph Nason. It’s pretty special.”
Bodine and Newburgh’s Craven went on to race in the NASCAR Cup series and multiple Cup points champions have raced in it including Jeff Gordon, Kurt and Kyle Busch, Rusty Wallace, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Matt Kenseth, Bobby Allison, Terry Labonte, Darrell Waltrip and Dale Jarrett.
Clark and Benjamin said there are plenty of drivers in the field capable of winning.
“There are 25 guys who could win it and another 10 who could win it if everything went their way,” Benjamin said.
“The competition is tighter now,” Clark said. “You could have the fastest car but you also need some luck. I’d rather be lucky than good.”
For example, starting position is determined by a variety of heat races and numbers are drawn for the starting spots for the first series of heat races. If a driver draws a bad number and starts in the back of the pack for a heat race, it is difficult to get up to the front and earn a good qualifying spot at the front of the pack for the 250.
The heat races will begin on Sunday at 1:30.
Winning the 250 is about avoiding wrecks and staying on the lead lap until the later stages of the race when you can become more aggressive and go for the win, Benjamin said.
It is also about having the right pit strategy.
Benjamin pitted at the wrong time and it cost him the 250 in 2016 when Wayne Helliwell Jr. won it.
Helliwell pitted with 91 laps to go, 37 laps after Benjamin’s last pit stop, and his fresher tires enabled him to catch Benjamin.
Senoia, Georgia, driver Bubba Pollard, who won the 2018 Oxford 250, will be making the trek north for the race.
There will be several other races beginning Friday night to fill the weekend schedule capped by Sunday night’s 250.