Fort Kent native Austin Therrialt waits by his car after introductions for the Oxford 250 on Sunday at Oxford Plains Speedway. (Brewster Burns photo)
OXFORD — Many storylines begged for attention heading into the 45th annual Oxford 250.
One was defending champion Curtis Gerry and how he would fare on Sunday. Gerry pulled off into pit road after the first turn of the fourth qualifying heat with what would turn out to be a broken panhard bar.
The chance at defending his title appeared grimmer and grimmer as the day went on, but late in the afternoon Gerry won the last chance qualifier race and started the race in 34th.
Gerry finished in 37th after wrecking on lap 205.
A story that caught the attention of race fans for Sunday’s race was Fort Kent native Austin Theriault making his return after a controversial early exit and 35th-place finish in 2016.
“As competitors you are always pushing the limits, it’s just part of racing,” Theriault said. “If no one pushed the limits and kept doing the same thing then they’d get beat after a while. As far as I am concerned, a lot has changed since two years ago. I am always trying to get better.”
Theriault finished Sunday’s third qualifying race in third place, which was good enough to earn him a starting position of 13th. The goal, obviously, was to go for the win, but as Theriault quickly found out earlier this week, a lot can change in two years.
“The track doesn’t have as much grip as it used to, and everyone is just struggling right now,” Theriault said. “Oxford is always tough because you get three days of practice and every day is a bit different. You feel like you are good then something changes. We have encountered that a lot this weekend, and the best thing we can do is try to stay on top of it.”
Despite wijnning the ARCA series championship in 2017, Theriault has been without a full-time sponsor this year. So he decided to return for his home state’s big race, even though he entered the Oxford 250 at a disadvantage to drivers who consistently put miles down at Oxford Plains Speedway.
“You’re racing against people who race here multiple times a year, and if you come up for one race then you shouldn’t be as good as them,” Theriault said. “We are in the race so we felt like we needed to take a swing if we were going to compete for the win, and that’s what we are here for.”
Theriault struggled throughout the Oxford 250 and finished in 30th place.
Elsewhere on Sunday was 15-year-old Austin Teras, who earlier this year picked up his first Super Late Model victory in the 50-lap Trophy Dash at Oxford Plains Speedway. The early July win was just a stepping stone for Teras, of Gray, who raced in his first 250 on Sunday.
A common complaint from drivers Sunday was the changing grip and terrain of the track over the weekend. Teras and his crew focused on adjustments as the day went on.
“The change of the race track changes a lot throughout the day, and you’re racing through three different race tracks,” Teras said. “If you’re perfect in the morning then in the afternoon you could be way off. It was real slick and greasy on Saturday.”
Teras was edged-out by Johnny Clark for the win during the fourth qualifying race, but his time was good enough for a ninth-place start in the big race.
“I started third, got under and followed Johnny, then had a restart when I was in second,” Teras said. “I cleared him at 10 laps, then had a caution, then we had a loose end and I went to the bottom and Johnny was able to just inch me out at the end.”
Even though he has raced at tracks from Nevada to Florida, Teras knows his age puts him at a disadvantage.
“Definitely see the experience come into play,” Teras said. “You can’t overcome experience. They know things you don’t, they’ve seen things you haven’t and they’ve done things you haven’t. Sometimes they just look down at you. Some people give you respect as long as you race them with respect.”
Teras led laps 199-201 before Ben Rowe took the lead at 202. Teras finished 34th, 25-laps down as his car seemed to have died near the end of the race.
‘Like the Daytona 500 for us’
Someone with decades of experience is Turner’s Mike Rowe, who, at 68, still runs with the best of the best Maine has to offer. Rowe won the fifth qualifying race in convincing fashion to start the Oxford 250 in fifth place.
“The 250 is like the Daytona 500 for us,” Rowe said. “It’s always been big for us and people come out to watch. There’s a lot of great cars and great talent here, so it’s going to be a good show.”
Rowe is one of the more experienced drivers competing but still acknowledges that the race has a bright future.
“There’s a lot of young fellas coming in and they’re doing a great job, too,” Rowe said. “We will see if they can go out and race 250 laps. You’ve got to be patient and try to be there in the last 50. That’s what we are trying to do.”
Rowe ended up finishing 29th.
Tough early ending
Twenty-one-year-old John Peters entered Sunday with an abundance of confidence and his father and crew chief, Greg Peters, at his side. Peters crashed his car during a consolation race and failed to qualify for the final race Sunday night. For Peters, from Westbrook, reaching the 250 was a “bucket list” item for him and his father.
“He’s always been my crew chief,” Peters said. “As I’ve grown older we have started to bounce a lot of ideas off each other. He’s always been my go-to set up guy.”
Austin Therriault races down the backstretch in early going at the Oxford 250 on Sunday. (Brewster Burns photo)Mike Rowe waves to the fans after being introduced prior to the Oxford 250. Rowe received the loudest and longest applause during driver introductions. (Brewster Burns photo)Mike Rowe leads his qualifying heat. Rowe won the heat to qualify for the Oxford 250. (Brewster Burns photo)Austin Teras (29) from Gray find himself in traffic early in Sunday’s Oxford 250. (Brewster Burns photo)
Mike Rowe runs sixth in the early laps of Sunday’s Oxford 250. (Brewster Burns photo)
Austin Teras (29) led the field at Lap 200 after taking over the lead by staying out during a caution at Lap 199. Teras led Joey Polewarczyk Jr. to the line and held him off on the restart. (Brewster Burns photo)