TURNER – One of his earliest recollections is of victory.

It wasn’t his win, but he was close enough to the celebration to get a taste of it.

Ben Rowe had no aspirations for auto racing glory. As a kid, he was just another spectator in the Oxford 250 crowd on a summer night in 1984. The biggest difference between him and any other youth that evening was that his father made history at Maine’s premiere auto racing event.

“I was just a kid running around the grandstand,” said Ben. “It was a big deal. All the Busch guys were up here racing and nobody from Maine had ever won.”

Now one of the state’s most promising young drivers, Ben has seen his father win twice and has won a pair of 250s on his own.

“I’ve seen guys come year after year and never win this race,” said Ben. “I never thought I’d ever even win it, let alone win it back-to-back. Winning back-to-back is unheard of.”

The Rowes could be the first family of Maine auto racing. With the TD Banknorth Oxford 250 approaching, both could further their storied history.

Ben could join Ralph Nason as the only driver to win three straight. Mike could not only win his 150th career race at Oxford Plains Speedway but also has a shot at winning his third 250 in as many decades. Only Nason and Dave Dion have won three.

The race is on for which Rowe gets to No. 3 first.

“He’s been telling everybody he is, but I’ve got news for him,” said Mike, who has qualified for the 250 a record 28 times. The last year he missed competing was 1987.

“It’s pretty neat, actually,” Mike added. “We’ve got as good a shot as he does. He’s definitely got a lot more chances of winning his third one. I’m getting a little over the hill here now.”

Chip off the old Pro Stock

The staples of the 250 still remain. It provides great competition and a hefty paycheck for the winner. It also offers a racing atmosphere like no other.

“It’s huge,” said Ben. “Last year, standing up there and getting introduced in front of all those people, it was crazy. A sold-out crowd, standing room only, it was awesome. Just being in that race is something else, let alone winning it.”

With an upcoming week of preparations and hype, it’s like the Super Bowl for Maine’s racing season.

“It’s like a Daytona 500 for us little guys,” said Mike. “It’s like the biggest race there is for us.”

Out of 14 father-son teams that have competed in the 250, Mike and Ben Rowe are the only ones to each win. Mike’s son, Tom, has also competed but is likely to sit this race out because his wife is expecting.

Mike’s first victory came with great fanfare back in 1984. It wasn’t just that Rowe was the first Maine native to prevail.

“I was the only V-6 car in the field,” said Mike. “Nobody thought we could stand a chance, and we ended up beating them.”

Though Ben witnessed that feat, aspiring to be a 250 winner, or a racer at all, was far from his mind.

“I never really thought I’d be racing here to tell you the truth,” said Ben, who along with Tom is one of nine pairs of brothers to race in the 250. “One day (Mike) brought a mini-stock home, and I turned 16 and started racing. It just kind of progressed from there. I never really said, I want to win the 250.'”

By the time Mike Rowe won his second 250, Ben was in the field racing against him in 1997. The replica check for $39,800, his biggest racing payday, still sits on his garage wall.

“He’s learned a lot and is doing a great job,” said Mike. “It’s good that it’s happened that way.

“When he first started racing, I tried to tell him everything and help him. He’s a quick learner, and it didn’t take long. Now he’s kicking my butt.”

Ben said he learned a great deal from his father. His greatest learning experiences were by just getting into the car and riding with him while testing at various tracks.

He not only had the benefit of his father’s experience but also had his father’s legacy to follow.

“I never really ever let it bother me,” said Ben. “I know a lot of guys kept harping on me. I just basically said that, I’m my own deal.’ I know a lot of guys don’t like me just because of who he is, and they haven’t even met me. I just went out and did my own thing and was fortunate enough to win a lot of races and two 250s.”

Ben’s first 250 experience came in 1998. He was a late entry. Gray-New Gloucester’s Tom Estes needed a driver and took a chance on the kid with the famous bloodlines. Ben led much of that race, but ran out of gas and finished second to Nason.

“I knew he’d be racing,” said Mike, “but I didn’t know he’d get into the 250. The first 250 he ever ran, we figured he’d be lucky to get in, and he almost won it.”

In 2003, Ben started on the pole with his father right beside him. Ben took the flag and Mike finished fourth. Last year, Ben won despite being 26th, the worst starting position to ever win. Between the two of them, they have eight top-three finishes.

Though watching his father win in 1984 didn’t spark similar dreams immediately, it’s helped Ben appreciate the success he’s had.

“That win was awesome,” said Ben. “Anybody who puts all that hard time and effort should win that race at least once. I know it’s not going to happen. To know people work their whole lives to win that one race, to get that one finally out of the way, it was like getting that monkey off my back.”

To the power of three

After 35 years of racing, Mike said he’s not sure how much longer he’ll compete. As long as he can keep winning, he’ll keep racing, he added.

A week before this year’s marquis event, Mike is excited about his chances. He’s had a fine season and expects to make a charge next Sunday.

“We’ve had a good car,” said Mike. “We only won two races, but we should have won five, but that’s the way it goes.

“We should have won both Oxford races, but we just didn’t capitalize on them, but we really feel good.”

Ben, on the other hand, has been struggling. He hasn’t been happy with the way his car has performed. When he used another car recently, one supposedly just like his, it ran much better.

“We’ve got something messed up somewhere,” said Ben. “They’re working on it right now. We’re going to go up and test it in a couple of days and hopefully, we can get things worked out.”

They’ll both try and bring out the best in their respective cars and themselves because this one paycheck can make an entire season.

Ben shrugs off the pressures of being a two-time defending champion. He said that’s the past and that he’s just one of the pack. His father likes the idea of his son being labeled an early favorite based on last year.

“It’s great,” said Mike. “So I can go out and beat him this year.”

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