Scarborough native Kelly Moore drives off Turn 4 at Oxford Plains Speedway on May 20 duing the ACT-PASS Twin 150s. Moore won the track title at Oxford in 1984 and was the 1995 NASCAR Busch North Series champion, but he has yet to win the 250. (Submitted photo)
As hard as it is to believe, several of New England’s most famous and successful short track drivers never managed to win the prestigious Oxford 250.
Men who’s careers transcended generations of fans. Drivers who won just about every other major event promoters and track owners could dream up. Yet, try as they may, they couldn’t quite put all the pieces together on one of those special summer nights at Oxford Plains Speedway.
Robbie Crouch, Dale Shaw and Kelly Moore were among the very best in Northeastern Late Model stock cars during the peak of their careers. None of the three titans ever took home an Oxford 250 victory.
Crouch, forever known as the “Tampa Tornado” for the way he blew into New England and his hometown in the Sunshine State, enjoyed a Hall of Fame career that included two NASCAR North championships (1983-84), four ACT titles (1986-88, 1990) and 46 wins on the NASCAR North/Busch North Series.
He was inducted into the New England Auto Racers Hall of Fame in 2006.
Crouch finished second an amazing three times in the 250, yet he isn’t bitter.
“It was frustrating to not win that thing in ways, but it was a Godsend in other ways,” Crouch said. “In 1981 when I finished second the first time, I was running the team for my car owners Ron Lamberdi and Glen Wright.
“I was driving the car, paying the bills and we had a nice sponsor with Green Mountain Kenworth. That was the year I got together with Maine-based chassis builder Steve Leavitt. That $20,000 I made for finishing second was huge.”
Sometimes, it doesn’t take a win to provide a boost for the team overall.
“There couldn’t have been a bigger shot in the arm for me at the time,” Crouch said. “I was disappointed that I didn’t win it, but the money was great, and it beat third place.”
Crouch says among the trio of his close-but-no-cigar 250 experiences, one sticks out the most.
“The one that really sticks in my craw that I didn’t win was in 1986,” he said. “I had dominated the race, had by far the fastest car, and if it wasn’t for losing a lap in the pits, I would have won it and probably led every lap.
“So that was the one that got away. I ended up finishing second to Chuck Bown, but that doesn’t tell the story of the race. I unlapped myself under green, and ended up a few car lengths short at the finish-line. That one really hurt.”
Along with the frustration of coming up short at the end, Crouch recalls another highlight of that mid-summer classic in July of 1986.
“I had a heck of a battle with Dave Dion for second place as I was working my way back into contention,” he said. “If I could have gotten by Dave a little easier, I might have gotten a little closer to Chuck. But he wasn’t about to give up the lead.”
Dale Shaw made 20 attempts to win the 250 during a stellar 25-year career. Best known for winning the 1994 NASCAR Busch North Series championship driving Quint Boisvert’s famed Skoal No. 7 entry, Shaw never quite bagged the big one.
“It would have been nice, but not winning it wasn’t the end of the world, either,” Shaw said. “It might have been frustrating at the time, like when I finished second to Dave Dion in 1992, but looking back on it now, it doesn’t seem as painful.”
Shaw also finished fourth in 1998 and knows he gave it all every time.
“All you can ever do in this race is work hard at preparing the car, make sure you have enough tires and a decent crew and make your best effort,” Shaw said. “I made my best effort whenever we ran a 250, and I’m good with that today.”
These days, Shaw’s focus is on his son DJ’s efforts, along with a newfound protege, teenager Gabe Brown.
“I know we always have a shot at winning the 250 with DJ behind the wheel,” Shaw said. “He runs hard, runs smart and goes for the win. I know Gabe is young and still learning, but he has to be considered a dark horse.
“He has a new car for the 250 and a brand new engine. We’ve got to get him some practice time in it, but I think he’ll be in good shape. He’s worked hard to be more prepared for this year’s 250, and I hope it pays off. He has the talent.”
Scarborough native Kelly Moore was one of New England’s hottest drivers during the 1990s. Moore was particularly good at time trials, and still holds the record for most career poles (45) in what is now known as the NASCAR K&N Pro Series.
Moore won the 1995 Busch North Series title and 27 races during a record-setting career. As he approaches 60, he’s still active in racing and won a 50-lap Super Late Model feature at Oxford Plains Speedway on June 30 in impressive fashion.
“The 250 really hasn’t been all that kind to me over the years,” Moore said. “The one time we thought we were on our way to win it, in 1988, Bob Haley lost a rear end plug and oiled the track down pretty good with 20-something laps to go.
“They threw the yellow, I slowed up, and Dick McCabe went flying by and went on to win,” Moore said. “We had led twice for a total of 150 laps that day, so that was pretty disappointing. I do remember taking home a check for $38,000, which tells you how we did. At least that helped us.”
That wasn’t the only time the famed Busch North Iron Man had a strong car at the 250.
“In 1992 we had a very fast car, won the pole and started fifth after the redraw,” Moore said. “We made it just 30 laps in and blew the clutch. I kept that clutch on the wall in my race shop for years. It was symbolic of the one that got away.”
Moore says the frustration of not winning the 250 in 13 attempts has been a thorn in his side. He’s making a serious attempt in 2018, and feels good about his chances given recent results.
“I haven’t been racing these last few weeks so we can be better prepared,” he said. “I’ve taken some time off to work in the race shop, but I don’t have the time I used to for racing. The car is almost done, we’re putting a big effort into it and my guys are excited to get to the track.
“We feel like we’ve been running a lot better than we have in the past. The last few years we’ve gone to the 250 but haven’t felt like we were a big threat. I feel better about it, but there are so many variables. That qualifying draw still determines what kind of day you’re going to have.”
Dale Shaw (52) holds a lead over Eric Williams (7) in a qualifying heat of the ACT 100 in 2004. (Sun Journal file photo)
Hall of Fame short track driver Robbie Crouch stands next to his car prior to the start of an American-Canadian Tour race in 1992. During his storied career, Crouch made 15 starts in the Oxford 250 and finished second three times. (Submitted photo)
Robbie Crouch, left, keeps his crew chief Brian Latuch company as he checks tire pressure prior to a practice session during the 2007 Oxford 250 weekend. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)Dale Shaw is chased down by eventual race winner Jeremie Whorff during the 2006 Oxford 250. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)Robbie Crouch, left, and fellow driver Brad Leighton, right, talk in the pits prior to a Saturday afternoon’s practice during the 2007 Oxford 250 weekend. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)Dale Shaw during the 2003 Oxford 250 weekend. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)
New Hampshire short-track legend Dale Shaw won the 1994 NASCAR Busch North Series championship and dozens of races all over the region, but his best Oxford 250 finish was second to Dave Dion in 1992. (Submitted photo)