OXFORD – When it was announced last fall that the TD Banknorth 250 would become a Late Model race, most competitors figured this year’s race would be up for grabs.
That fact bore true Sunday night as an independent racer from New Hampshire, who competes on the ACT circuit, took down the biggest prize of them all in regional short-track racing.
Roger Brown, known as the Rocketman, dominated the second half of the race and held off a strong late-race charge from Oxford regular Dale Verrill to seal the biggest victory of his career.
Brown took the lead from Carey Martin on Lap 142 and survived a caution-plagued event. Fifteen cautions slowed the proceedings, most for minor incidents.
Verrill hung on for second, while American-Canadian Tour (ACT) regular Scott Payea finished third. Oxford drivers had the upper hand in this year’s 250, as Jon Brill came home fourth and two-time Late Model champion Dennis Spencer Jr. completed the top five.
With the $25,000 winner’s purse and lap money combined, Brown earned a little more than $30,000.
“I guess I can take tomorrow off now,” said Brown, who started 30th on the 44-car grid. “I knew Dale was coming, but I also knew that if I protected the bottom, he’d have to go through me to get by me. I just kept it down and ran as fast as I could. I can’t believe I just won the Oxford 250.”
There were nine lead changes among six different drivers. Local favorite Shawm Martin led the first 41 circuits before Carey Martin took over the point. Martin, a multi-time champion at Oxford, swapped the lead with Martin before taking command solidly at lap 51.
Darick Barker, Mark Bowie and Kenny Harison were also feature winners on the biggest day of the season for the western Maine oval.
Verrill was thrilled with his runner-up finish, saying he felt confident in his car late in the race.
“I was gaining on Roger there as the laps ran down,” he said. “I wish I would have gotten aggressive a little earlier, but the tires were starting to fade, and I wanted to finish. If we would have had five more laps, I might have pulled off the win. I’m still happy as can be to be here.”
Because of the numerous cautions, several cars expected to contend for the win got into trouble.
Payea was elated to score a podium finish, and expressed his joy at being able to compete in the 250 with the change in car type.
“This is more than I expected tonight,” he said. “I’ve had some good runs in ACT competition, but to come here and finish third in the Banknorth 250 is just wild. There are some pretty big names that have scored top three runs in this race, and I might not belong on a list with those guys. But we had a fast car and stayed out of trouble, I guess that’s what it takes to finish well in a huge race like this. We’re tickled, we’ll head back to Vermont with big smiles.”
Nextel Cup veteran Terry Labonte was involved in a multi-car crash on Lap 102, which ended his day. Cup racer Kevin Lepage never challenged the leaders. Both drivers needed provisionals to make the race.
In earlier feature action, Barker drove to a convincing victory in the Mini Stock division. The Jay driver drove past early leader Joe Treadwell to take command on lap 10 and led for nine circuits. Bill Thibeault got the jump on the race’s only restart, but his time up front was short-lived. Barker powered back by on lap 21 and hung on for top honors.
Bob Guptill started eighth and finished second, while sophomore sensation Adam Polvinen placed third. Jay’s Ashley Marshall came from deep in the field to claim fourth at the finish, while Kevin Bishop completed the top five.
Bowie picked up his victory in the first of two 20-lap features for the Strictly Stock division. The Mechanic Falls driver took the lead from Jeff Moon on lap 20 and cruised on to the checkered flag. Moon hung on for second while Derek Mingo was third. Mingo is a first-timer at Oxford. Oxford veteran Robert Clark and Auburn’s Mike St. Germain completed the top five.
Harrison recorded his first career Strictly Stock feature win in the second 20-lap tilt. The Durham driver has recorded more than 30 wins in the now-extinct Limited Sportsman division. Kim Tripp started seventh and worked his way up to a runner-up finish, while Tommy Tompkins finished third. Skip Tripp of Sabattus and Dave Brannon completed the top five in a fairly trouble-free affair.