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 state of Maine.
“Watching,” Taylor said 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 detour Sunday, and the only watching Taylor was doing was in his rearview mirror. Taylor was a last-minute substitute for Ben Rowe.
Both Ben and his father, Mike, with a combined five victories in the 250, missed the qualifying races because their planned PASS race Saturday in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, was postponed until Sunday because of rain.
It was the first time Mike Rowe, a three-time winner, missed the 250 since 1987. Ben, a two-time winner, had qualified for every race since 1996.
“They knew the weather wasn’t very good up there,” said Taylor, of Norridgewock. “So we knew this could happen.”
While Taylor drove Ben’s bright yellow No. 4, Patrick Laperle, of St. Denis, Quebec, was in the driver’s seat of Mike Rowe’s red No. 24. Neither Taylor nor Laperle earned a spot during qualifying for the 250.
The Rowes were in Canada for the IWK 250 pro-stock race at Riverside Speedway. Ben and Mike are regulars on the PASS circuit and are currently first and second, respectively, in the points standings.
The Rowes flew back from Canada and arrived in time for the race, but because backup drivers were in their cars during qualifying, both Ben and Mike were denied the provisional as the last past champion. That nod went to Jamie Aube, who won the race in 1989.
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.
Taylor took a crash course in driving a 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.”
The nine-time OPS track champion has had many near misses during his 250 career, but never won.
Taylor was locked out of his qualifying heat Sunday when Pete Potvin held off his charge for the third and final qualifying spot. In the consolation race, Taylor was leading, but jumped the gun on the pace car and was sent to the back of the pack. He made up ground, but was disqualified when he spun out the car ahead of him on the final lap.
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.
“I asked my sponsors and my crew,” Laperle said. “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 ‘OK, 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.
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.”
Laperle was competitive during qualifying, but couldn’t work his way up from the back of the pack.