OPS 250: Taylor back behind the wheel

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OXFORD – So much for Jeff Taylor’s weekend off.

Taylor wasn’t expecting to drive in this year’s TD Banknorth 250. He hadn’t raced all season and had simple plans for the biggest racing weekend in the sate of Maine.

“Watching,” said Taylor of his Sunday agenda. “I didn’t have any plans. I had some offers, but we’re taking the year off. We’d wait and see how things straightened out.”

That plan took a sharp left turn and the watching Taylor was doing was in his rearview mirror. Taylor was a last-minute substitute for Ben Rowe. Both Ben and his father, Mike, were forced to miss the 250 because of a race in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. It was the first time Mike Rowe, a three-time winner, will miss the 250 since 1987. Ben, a two-time winner, missed the race in 2005 but has been a regular over the last decade.

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“They knew the weather wasn’t very good up there,” said Taylor, of Norridgewock. “So we knew this could happen. If it was going to happen, you might as well try to get ready for it.”

While Taylor drives Ben’s bright yellow No. 4, Patrick Laperle, of St. Denis, Quebec will be in the driver’s seat of Mike Rowe’s red 24.

The Rowe’s were in Nova Scotia for the PASS sponsored IWK 250 pro-stock at Riverside Speedway. When rain postponed Saturday’s race, it was rescheduled for Sunday. Mike and Ben are regulars on the PASS circuit and are currently first and second respectively in the points standings.

Taylor had test-driven Ben’s car last Tuesday and learned Saturday that the need of a replacement driver was imminent. Having worked with Richard Moody Racing and helping test drive the car, he wanted to help out.

“I don’t know who called who, but (Saturday) at between four and five, they cancelled the race up there,” said Taylor. “So we knew I was going to drive it then.”

Taylor is taking a crash course in driving Ben’s Late Model machine.The owner of Distance Racing Products in Fairfield, Taylor has built his share of Late Models but isn’t accustomed to racing them.

“I’ve never even driven these cars before,” said Taylor. “I haven’t raced at all this year. Probably not the best scenario.”

He said he’s just trying to get comfortable in the car and learning how it handles.

“It’s a race car, but it’s just different racing,” said Taylor. “I don’t know if it’s really for me, but it’s just different.” Getting accustomed to the car is a bigger chore than getting mentally prepared to race at the last moment.

“We’re all racers,” said Taylor. “We’ve all raced forever. So it’s just like getting up and getting something to eat.”

Taylor, a nine-time OPS track champion, has had many near misses during his 250 career but never won. Now he gets another try by accident.

“You never know,” he said. “We’ve had some pretty good cars and not gotten anything for it. If things did go well, the cars weren’t so good.”

Laperle had been contacted by Mike Rowe about driving his spare No. 23 car. Laperle test-drove his own car, and Rowe’s 23 car during practice sessions Saturday. When word arrived that Rowe wasn’t likely to make it, he was offered the 24 car.

“They heard that they cancelled the race,” said Laperle. “They asked me if I wanted to drive the 24. I asked my sponsors and my crew. I said ‘If I practice and am quick with the car, I’ll do it.’ I practiced the last practice with the 24 and thought it was pretty good. So I said ‘Okay, I’ll change.'”

It was a nice luxury for Laperle to have three cars to choose from and ultimately settle with Mike Rowe’s wheels.

“I got to try all three and pick one of them,” said Laperle. “The 24 just semed more comfortable.”

Laperle said he wasn’t happy with the car he was intending to drive. Rowe’s car seemed to handle better. He felt more comfortable and thought since Rowe’s driving style was similar to his own, it made for a good fit.

“My car was quick, but it was hard to drive,” said Laperle. “I had to work a lot with the steering wheel. The 24 was much easier, and I think it will last a lot longer.”

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