Quiet On The Homefront: Travis Benjamin Seeks Oxford 250 History

RaceDayCT Northbound 550 BannerIf there’s a way to be the quietest two-time winner of the region’s most prestigious stock car race, Travis Benjamin has found the way to do it.

benjamin in car (1)

Photo by Lindsay Ellison/Lindsay Ellison Photography

Benjamin, of Morrill, Maine, is the two-time defending champion of the AIM Recycling USA Oxford 250, yet the 2012 Pro All Stars Series champion heads into this weekend’s 42nd annual event flying well under the radar. Qualifying begins at 1:30 p.m. Sunday for the more than 70 expected entries, with the feature slated for early in the evening.

“Nobody thinks we’re for real,” Benjamin said. “You know what? It doesn’t really bother me. I kind of like it, actually.”

In a very short time, Benjamin has built quite the resume at Oxford Plains Speedway, the .375-mile flat oval that’s hosted various incarnations of Oxford 250 history. It’s been a NASCAR Xfinity Series (formerly Busch Series) race, an American-Canadian Tour race during the ACT’s early Pro Stock days, an open Super Late Model competition, a Late Model race during seven sometimes turbulent seasons, and, most recently, a PASS-sanctioned Super Late Model race.

benjamin on track (1)

Photo by Lindsay Ellison/Lindsay Ellison Photography

Benjamin became the first driver from Maine to win the Oxford 250 in seven years when he won it for the first time in 2013. Last summer, he became the fifth driver in the race’s history to win it in consecutive years.

On Sunday, he has a chance to add his name to a a short and exclusive list should he grab the checkered flag for a third straight year. Only Unity, Maine’s Ralph Nason, who did it from 1998-2000, has ever won three straight Oxford 250s.

“Words really can’t express it,” Benjamin said of being a multi-time Oxford 250 champion. “I’ll be at my house working on something, and I’ll have to run downstairs to make sure the trophies are still there. And I still can’t believe I have two of them.

“People ask me if I’m going to be disappointed if we pull out of (Oxford Plains) Sunday night without the trophy. Yeah, I’m going to be upset of course, after the last two years and what we’ve done. But no matter what, I’m pretty proud of what my team has accomplished the last three years with championship, too, the year before that (in 2012). For years, all I wanted was the chance to be a competitor in the race.”

That Benjamin is a legitimate contender to take the more than $25,000 that’s guaranteed to the race winner each year is mildly surprising. Make no mistake — the entire 250 weekend is a test of driver, race car and crew, with two long days of practice followed by the unpredictability of qualifying through multiple rounds of heat racing and a main event featuring live pit stops. A small team like Benjamin’s isn’t supposed to have the advantage.

In fact, small teams are at such a disadvantage, it took 28 years until Gary Drew became the first weekly Oxford Plains Speedway competitor to win the track’s signature race when he did it in 2001. Until that point, a veritable who’s-who of short track (and future NASCAR Sprint Cup Series) stars littered the victory lane ceremonies — Geoff Bodine, Bob Pressley, Chuck Bown, Ricky Craven, Dave Dion, Mike Rowe and Nason among them. Kyle Busch won the 2012 Oxford 250.

Benjamin is quick to point out that his team — which ranks third in the PASS North standings entering this weekend — isn’t truly a “small” team.

“It’s really not a race for (small teams),” Benjamin said. “We’re not big by any means, but we bust our ass to make this car go. I mean, I have a pretty decent budget to work with — but I think one of the reason’s we have a really good shot again this year is that there’s nobody else in that pit area that has the same team, same crew chief, same car all together for the last three years. That’s what we’ve got, and we’ve had it all three years.

“Nobody has the same car (still). We know that car, we know what makes it work. That’s what I really feel is in our pocket right now. We know what adjustments work. My crew chief (Ryan Leadbetter) and I gel, we get along well, and that’s the piece of the puzzle that is really important.”

In 2013, following a round of pit stops, Benjamin used lapped traffic to pull off a brilliant move and make the pass for the lead on the backstretch in the final third of the race. Last year, pit strategy again gave him track position to capitalize on a late restart.

One of the reasons that Benjamin might not be getting a serious look from fans and experts alike this week is that his season to this point hasn’t exactly been smooth. True, he sits third in the standings, but he’s winless for the first time since 2011. Qualifying has been an issue.

Among the drivers who have started every race this season, Benjamin’s average starting position of 12.75 is by far the worst — both leader Mike Rowe and second-place driver in the standings, D.J. Shaw, average more than two positions better than Benjamin, and that includes a handicapping system that won’t let winning drivers start higher than 10th.

In his first four races this season, Benjamin didn’t start better than 19th. Three weeks ago at Oxford Plains, he started 24th before driving all the way to the top five in the first half of the 150-lap event. He slowed for a lapped car that lost control in front of him, costing him nearly a straightaway in track position before finishing sixth.

“We haven’t won a race this year, but what people don’t look at is where you start versus where you finish,” Benjamin said. “This year, we’ve had only four Top-10 starts. In that race at Oxford, I got to fifth and I was trying to save my stuff and wait until the last 30 laps or so. Maybe I shouldn’t have waited so long, but I’ve never bee type of driver to go win four, five or six races a year. I’m not going to wreck my race car to try and get one more spot.

“Honestly? People don’t see me as the favorite all the time, and it doesn’t bother me. As a team, this has been one of our best years. In 2012, we were really good on banked tracks, but horrible on flat tracks. In 2013, it was the opposite. This year, we’ve got as good a package as we’ve ever had on every kind of track, and my whole team is better.”

And if his No. 17 team is as good as he believes it is this weekend, Benjamin will join Nason — who was inducted into the Maine Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2010 — in the history books with three straight Oxford 250 wins. Rowe, with 151 career wins at the track, and Dion are the only other drivers to win three.

“Ralph’s right from Waldo County, like I am. I remember watching Ralph as a kid. I remember racing against him. I would never even consider myself in that realm with him,” Benjamin said. “I remember those guys would roll in in a ratty looking trailer, but when that car got on the track, they meant business and everybody knew it.

“That’s what I remember about those guys. I try and do the same thing. I really feel like we put our money where it needs to be spent, on the things that matter.”

And, right now, the only thing that matter’s is hoisting that Oxford 250 trophy one more time.

Even if the rest of us never seem to see it coming.


  1. Nice article right there. Nobody respects this guy but he isn’t mortgaging his house to race SLM’s either. Bet he is around long time racing in the northeast.
    This looks to be one of the best fields of SLM drivers in a long time to race the 250, I can think of 25 plus drivers who have a chance to win it all on Sunday.
    ( now cue Andy b aka the Spinner to come tell us how sucky it will be).

  2. Andy Boright says

    I just hope that for all the money teams and fans will be spending this weekend, the race doesn’t turn out to be as disappointing as the big PASS race at Airborne (NY) was.

  3. 19 cars showed up, which is about normal for SLM racing in todays world. The race was won by Doiron who started 11th. How is that disappointing for the PASS race ( not talking about the ACT race).
    ** Lee Fields Memorial race at Mobile this past weekend with the Southern Super Series, an extra distance 200 lap race : 18 cars
    ** Howie Lettow Memorial a couple weeks ago at Madison with ARCA midwest: 17 cars (race had 73, yes SEVENTY THREE, cars in 2012 )
    ** World Crown at Gresham with Southern Super Series: 0 cars, race and track are defunct
    ** CARS tour is running at it’s “home track” in the heart of SLM country and a whopping 17 SLM’s on the entry list.

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