The Hot Corner: No more degrees of separation for Glen Luce

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OXFORD — Perhaps you’ve played the game: Connect Kevin Bacon to any actor or Babe Ruth to any baseball player in six steps or less.

Glen Luce, despite projecting a rugged look and an attitude younger than his 48 chronological years, is that guy at Oxford Plains Speedway.

Former son-in-law of Mike Rowe, who won the Oxford 250 three times. Brother-in-law of Ben Rowe, who walked away with the trophy twice. Stepbrother of Tracy Gordon, who should have one or two on his resume. Brother of Scott Luce, an Oxford Late Model champion.

The guy who got close enough in the 250 to Kevin Harvick’s bumper to smell exhaust but settled for second to the future NASCAR Sprint Cup champion in 2008.

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“I finally have my own status,” Luce said. “That’s a good way to put it. It’s a good feeling to accomplish something on our own. This is much better. I don’t have to be the other guy. I’m in a dream. It’s unbelievable.”

Luce etched his permanent place in Turner folklore, Oxford history and national notoriety Sunday night with his victory in the summer classic.

Journeyman is considered a backhanded compliment in sports, but what else would you call a driver who had one — ONE! — previous super late model victory and eight feature wins, period, in a career that dates back to the late 1980s.

As in a decade before 17-year-old runner-up Reid Lanpher of Manchester was born.

While we’re on the subject of bridesmaid results and minimal degrees of separation from local racing legends, Luce recalled a race early in his first incarnation as a pro stock racer, against the late Al Hammond.

“It was a Saturday night. I caught Albert. I refused to move him and ended up second. Another guy came up, a youngster, moved him and won the race,” Luce said. “Albert called me up Monday and said, ‘Thank you very much. You’ve got my respect.’ That meant more to me than a win.”

Luce, who grew up in Strong, stepped away from racing for 10 years shortly thereafter to build his business, Glen Luce Logging and Chipping, Inc.

At the first peak of his comeback, the 250 transitioned to an ACT late model race. Late on a Monday night, to cap a weekend besieged by torrential rain, Luce lurked but couldn’t find a way around Harvick.

“My kids got his autograph,” Luce said. “They pointed at me and said, ‘That’s my dad.’ He said, ‘I know, he was the white car that kept getting closer at the end of the race!’”

Though competitive in recent years, bouncing between ACT and the PASS super models, Luce hadn’t approached that level.

Fortunes slowly changed in the middle of last season, after Luce joined forces with chief mechanic Seth Holbrook, a consistent winner with the likes of Mike and Ben Rowe and Kyle Busch. They shot for the moon over the winter, purchasing a car from Busch’s shop in North Carolina.

“The expectations we’ve had during the year, we just didn’t meet it,” Luce said. “Seth was talking with Bond (Suss) from KBM, and we were doing some things we shouldn’t have been doing. We came up here and right out of the box it was fast all week.”

Luce was a top-five car in every practice session. Still, the team was a bundle of nerves before it met for the 6 a.m. commute Sunday.

Each man knew that no great car or pit crew has been to the 250 winner’s circle without a truckload of good fortune.

“I actually gave the crew a pep talk on the way in. I said we’ve done all we can do,  and now it’s up to luck and God, I guess, when we pull a pill out of the hat,” Luce said. “I was trying to keep their spirits up, and then I was the one who succumbed to kicking the dirt after drawing last in the fourth heat.”

Luce quickly charged to fourth — the final transfer spot.

Then the racing deities gave their blessing.

“We ran into another car and had a tire going down, believe it or not,” Luce said. “If we’d had a caution, I might not even have qualified. The stars were right. The car was right.”

You need correct strategy and flawless execution in the live pit stops during the race, too.

Luce rolled down pit lane just prior to halfway for fuel and two tires. When Mike Rowe spun on lap 191 to necessitate the first caution in a while, and every other lead-lap car except Shawn Martin and David Oliver committed to another stop, Holbrook asked his driver to do the same.

He had just exchanged the lead with Joey Doiron, who absolutely needed to pit.

“The calls were unbelievable,” Luce said. “To take four (tires) with 60 to go, I was skeptical, because we were third then. They had an unbelievable stop and got me out first in line before the rest.”

Martin held off Luce until lap 201. Then it was Lanpher who shadowed the leader’s every move, often in heavy traffic, until the checkers.

“They were keeping me informed. They told me not to burn up the car. They told me I was getting too far out and save some,” Luce said. “I did look at the scoreboard once and felt the car bobble and I was l like, ‘Pay attention and watch the track.’ The laps just seem to tick really slowly when you’re out front.”

Nothing like when he was chasing Harvick in real life, or family history in the back of his mind.

Luce’s father, also named Glen, was a multi-time winner at OPS in the 1960s before his untimely death.

“All races are hard in themselves, I think. It just goes to show that Travis Benjamin, Mike Rowe, Ben Rowe, Ralph Nason, all the multi-time winners, to see how they did that is crazy,” Luce said. “It’s a dream come true for me, but for those guys, they’re great champions.”

Four days earlier, at the pre-race press conference, Luce called the 250 “a bucket list thing.” He joked Sunday night that he didn’t mean it literally. One of his plans this fall is to go skydiving with future son-in-law Joe Pastore.

Winning the 250 won’t be the greatest thing to happen to Luce this year, either. His daughter, Briana, is due with her first child in October.

“I thought it was going to happen down there (victory lane). She was pretty excited,” Luce said. “I had to sign the card for her shower the other day. I wrote G, R, and my girlfriend starts spelling it. I said, ‘I know how to spell grandfather.’ It’s just a hard one to say.”

Oxford 250 champion? On his own merits? That rolls off the pen and the tongue.

Kalle Oakes is a staff writer. His email is koakes@sunjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @Oaksie72 and his Facebook fan page.

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