Short track legends have been known to age gracefully, if grace is defined by winning races against competitors young enough to be their grandchildren.

Sometimes all it takes is a little extra motivation to turn back the clock even farther and faster.

Mike Rowe got a double dose of that fire in his belly this past offseason.

The 62-year-old whose name is synonymous with Maine racing first felt those hunger pangs when Tom Mayberry purchased Oxford Plains Speedway from Bill Ryan and announced that the TD Bank 250 would return to super late model specifications.

That was October. Less than one month later came the tragic news that Jason Fowler, 31, son of Rowe’s off-and-on car owner Dick Fowler, had been killed in a highway accident.

A father and a friend soon set out to pay tribute the only way racers know how.

Advertisement

“Dickie called and wanted to know if we could run a few races in memory of Jason, and that’s what we’re doing,” Rowe said.

Rowe won the opening night NASCAR Pro Series race at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in Scarborough, where he and the Fowler crew teamed up for a track championship in 2009. They’re second to Dan McKeage in the current point standings.

Combine that with Rowe’s status as the acknowledged King of Oxford — his 150 feature victories and three TD Bank 250 titles are records and he also owns seven speedway championships — and it’s no stretch to call him a co-favorite heading into Sunday’s 40th annual summer classic.

“People keep saying, ‘When is he going to retire?’ He keeps beating me, so why is he going to retire?” said Ben Rowe, Mike’s 38-year-old son, himself a back-to-back 250 winner in 2003 and 2004. “He’s going to be tough. They have a brand new car.”

In addition to breaking a tie with fellow three-time champions Ralph Nason and Dave Dion, a Mike Rowe victory also would make him a winner in four different decades, backing up his triumphs in 1984, 1997 and 2005.

And it would break a record many suspected would stand forever: Nason was the eldest champion at 60 when he won the third of his consecutive 250s in 2000.

Advertisement

It’s enough to make Rowe drop a word popularized by a succeeding generation.

“It would be awesome. That would be the highlight of my career, right there, winning four of them and being the only one to do that,” he said.

Rowe’s team had a car built specifically for the 250 in the Kezar Falls shop of renowned fabricator Steve Leavitt.

Its number — 88J, representing Jason Fowler’s number when he raced and his initial — and the family’s traditional green-and-white paint scheme with the Polar Beverages logo all are part of the tribute.

“We (drove) it once and it was a little bit tight,” Rowe said. “We went back and changed a lot of stuff, and hopefully we can get it right.”

Rowe has gotten it right in a variety of conditions against a wide array of rivals over the years in the 250. The common denominators have been patience and opportunity.

Advertisement

It was a high-profile NASCAR race in 1984, featuring five drivers who eventually would compete in Sprint Cup. Rowe lurked until making his run to the front in the final 50 laps, becoming the first Maine driver to win and the first to use a V-6 powered car against primarily eight-cylinder competition.

Thirteen years later, with NASCAR having evolved into a nationally televised weekly phenomenon, the 250 had settled in as a regional super late model race. Rowe was about to fall from contention with a flat tire when another driver’s spin brought out a caution and allowed his crew to replace the rubber without losing a lap.

“That’s what you need are the breaks,” he said. “It was just luck, and that’s what we need to win this thing on Sunday.”

Rowe’s primary job in 2005, or so it seemed to the masses, was to teach his then-20-year-old teammate, NASCAR sensation Kyle Busch, the nuances of Oxford. He did his job to perfection, with Busch leading until his engine expired just shy of lap 200.

Around that same time, Rowe pitted for tires and began to run down leader Johnny Clark. And when Clark hit the curb and lost momentum with nine laps to go, Rowe was there to pounce on the mistake and claim the historic win.

Three different decades are a minor distinction. Rowe has been so good, so long, that he’s won the 250 under three different title sponsors.

Advertisement

So much has changed about the sport since Rowe ruled Saturday nights in the vaunted ‘Quick Five.’ They still call it stock car racing, but the older guard finds that to be a misnomer.

“Today it’s about shocks and springs. You get the right combination of shocks and springs and that’s basically what it is,” Rowe said. “If you get the shocks right, the car’s awesome. If it’s off a little bit, you’re junk. That’s the only thing I don’t care for about it.”

Being seasoned does have its benefits, however.

With super late model racing having such a low profile at OPS since 2006, Rowe’s ridiculous level of local knowledge — he won his first race in 1969 — might be enough in itself to make him a favorite. Although he doesn’t see it that way.

“We’ve got so many good drivers it doesn’t matter. The last PASS race, Travis (Benjamin) won it, D.J. (Shaw) was second and I ended up fourth. Johnny (Clark) goes good. Cassius (Clark). Benji (Ben Rowe). So many good drivers,” Rowe said. “I can list off 15 drivers right now that can win the thing. I don’t think I have an advantage just because I’ve been around there two or three times.”

And with those words came the wry smile to underscore the dry humor.

You’d better believe he’s one of the favorites.

[email protected]


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: