TURNER – For race fans around central Maine, the thought of Ben Rowe driving anything other than the familiar bright yellow No. 00 Hi-Tech Motorsports Chevrolet is difficult to grasp.
In the past five years, spectators grew accustomed to watching the many successes Rowe and team owners Tom and Eileen Estes of New Gloucester achieved.
Driver, crew chief and sponsor moves are a common occurance in auto racing. From NASCAR Nextel Cup Series teams on down to the local short track, it’s become an accepted part of the game. For Rowe, a two-time TD Banknorth 250 winner and three-time Pro All Stars Series (PASS) champion, change means a move to the Richard Moody Racing operation – and a new challenge that began in last Saturday’s New England Dodge Dealers 150 at Oxford Plains Speedway.
The team’s first outing was an up-and-down affair. Rowe started 19th on the 33-car grid, steadily worked his way up into the top five, then was involved in the 12th and final caution on lap 134 when several cars got together exiting Turn 2. The resulting damage relegated Rowe to 19th in the final standings.
Round 2 on the 18-race PASS North schedule is set for Sunday afternoon at Speedway 95 in Hermon.
“At the end of last season, Tom decided he was going to cut back to a partial schedule,” Rowe said. “I’m extremely thankful for all that he did for my career, but I’m still interested in racing full time and chasing points. We discussed future plans and elected to go our separate ways, but it was a mutual agreement, and we are still good friends.
“We sure had a terrific run.”
In their five years together, Rowe and Estes won just about every major Pro Stock event in the region, including back-to-back TD Banknorth 250 crowns in 2003-04, along with PASS championships in 2002, 2003 and 2005.
Eight-time OPS Pro Stock champion Jeff Taylor will drive Estes’ part-time PASS effort.
Rowe will drive Moody’s second ride, teaming with Travis Khiel of Denmark.
“Richard was willing to commit to a second full-time program for me, and I’m happy to be here,” Rowe said. “I get along great with Travis; he’ll make a super teammate. This whole deal has come together in about six weeks.”
After being housed separately, the two teams now share the same shop in a building Rowe found in Auburn.
“Richard went out and bought this custom tractor-trailer to haul both cars, and the new shop allows us to pull it right inside and go to work,” Rowe said. “The whole package is really coming together nicely. This is a world-class opportunity I couldn’t ignore.”
Several of Rowe’s crew members made the move to Moody’s operation, which eases the transition. Brian Burgess, Rowe’s former crew chief, did not come with him.
“I’ll miss working with Brian, but he chose to stay,” Rowe said. “He knows the door is always open here, but I also respect his decision to stay with Tom. Brian was a huge part of my success at Hi-Tech.”
Although Rowe says the new team is gaining in overall preparation, there is still a lot of work to be done.
“We don’t have everything in place to go after the championship just yet, but we will soon,” Rowe said. “We’ll have a two-week break after Speedway 95, which gives us the time to meet our goals. By the time we get to the third race at Canaan, N.H., on May 27, we’ll have the new cars ready, new engines from PCCW installed and backup cars in a separate trailer. At that point, we should be ready for a run at the title.”