OXFORD — Geoff Bodine. Ralph Nason. Ben Rowe. Eddie MacDonald.

Let’s see: One of the top 50 drivers in NASCAR history; an irascible, indomitable local legend; and two guys who are still winning races and championships by the fistful, fluffing up the engraved writing for their regional hall of fame induction plaques someday.

Does Travis Benjamin belong at that level, with those dudes, ascending toward that Oxford 250 and New England short track racing pantheon?

“That’s ridiculous,” Benjamin said Sunday night after making it back-to-back wins in the summer short track classic. “My career, it’s been a roller coaster. It really has. There were a lot of years I was ready to get out of it.”

He’s in now. All in. And approaching all-time greatness.

Largely unknown until a year ago to the people who don’t ardently live and die with the every-other-weekend-or-so highs and lows of the Pro All Stars Series, Benjamin probably feels more like an overnight sensation than Rowe, MacDonald, Johnny Clark, Cassius Clark and his contemporaries in the game.

He’s no Austin Theriault or Tyler Dippel or Daniel Hemric. The dream of his phone ringing with an invitation to test or drive a NASCAR Sprint Cup or Nationwide car or Camping World truck is long gone.

“This is my element,” Benjamin said. “I’m 35 years old. I’m not going anywhere. Most of us aren’t going anywhere unless we come up with some huge sponsors.”

There’s an easy-going, aw-shucks element to his personality that doesn’t fit the gritty, smoky avocation he’s chosen.

Call up his social media profile picture or crane your neck his way at a press conference and you’ll see more reminders that Benjamin is father of Kaiden, aspiring go-kart racer, than that he is a star in his own right.

Boasting and talking about himself aren’t two things Benjamin does supremely, but it’s time to deck out that prime real estate with a banner or a hat that at least suggests a titanic accomplishment.

Back-to-back.

Forty-one years this race — the summer passion of so many on both sides of the fence — has been around, and only five men have been able to defend the title.

The race was so new, so different, when Bodine bagged his wins in 1980 and 1981. Some would argue his is the greatest double-whammy, as it unfolded when the 250 was reaching its peak under NASCAR sanction. Bodine beat the legendary Butch Lindley one year and survived a mid-race skirmish with tough, “Terrible” Tommy Ellis the next.

Nason’s era felt like a foregone conclusion. The questions in those years were what lap would the Sultan of Slaw take the lead, and would he have the patience to sift safely through lapped traffic? Nason still is the only man to win three of these things in succession.

Rowe hasn’t yet matched father Mike’s three total titles, but he plucked his pair a decade ago with a mix of domination, patience and good fortune. Not unlike Benjamin, really.

And MacDonald defied the adage that sometimes you have to lose a big race to win one. He topped two, in the late model era, and when his primary mode of transportation was K&N Pro Series East cars.

Benjamin tried the K&N (then Busch North) route as a younger man with younger aspirations. Didn’t fail. Just ran out of money.

“We did OK with what we had. I shouldn’t have tried to run a full season. By the time it was over I was almost broke,” he said. “Your dream is to go NASCAR racing. That was the next step, and I thought the more I raced, the more these guys would see me. Those years you’re kind of going up the ladder, not that this (PASS) was a step back, but at that time it kind of was.”

Come to find out, this series and this elusive track fit Benjamin like a pair of old, faithful driving gloves.

On the heels of winning the 2012 PASS North championship, his two Oxford 250 victories are part of a stretch in which he was won four of his past five starts at the 3/8-mile speedplant.

He unearthed the crown jewels in different ways. A year ago, Benjamin raced from last to second in his heat race, took the lead shortly after a mid-race pit stop, and took the field by the throat.

Benjamin emerged from the dreaded consolation round and 27th starting position this time around. Again, he was the beneficiary of a brilliant stop by the Ryan Leadbetter-led crew. Again, he outlasted Theriault, Joey Doiron and Cassius Clark, along with where-did-he-come-from Richie Dearborn.

“My crew is so good. They really are,” Benjamin said. “At one point in the race, my uncle, me and my crew chief were yelling at each other. I was getting frustrated because I wanted to go. My crew chief said, ‘No, don’t use it up.’ I knew we had a good car. We’d pass six or seven guys, and then we’d get stuck behind somebody and fall back six or seven spots. It was really frustrating.”

The tougher the journey, perhaps the more enjoyable. And the more frequently it happens, the easier it is for Benjamin to soak in.

In victory lane, Benjamin told his boss at Belfast Variety — who doubles as his dad, Ron — that he’s taking a personal day on Monday.

“Last year I was pumping gas for some lady about 8 o’clock, so it set me back to reality in a hurry,” Benjamin said “Two wins, I’m going to enjoy it.”

See? He’s starting to sound big-time already.

Kalle Oakes is a staff writer. His email is [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Oaksie72.


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