BUCKFIELD — Over the past several decades, a handful of family names have become synonymous with success at Oxford Plains Speedway.

From the Rowes (Mike, sons Ben and Tom), to the Hammonds (the late Al and son Brad), the Childs’ (Jimmy, Bill Jr. and Bill Sr.) and the Hewins’ (Kurt, Ryan and Kyle), a multi-generational devotion to racing and winning at Oxford has forever identified them with the historic western Maine oval. 

Now, one third generation driver from Buckfield with a more-than-familiar surname has duplicated his father’s feat of becoming a two-time champion. 

T.J. Brackett clinched his second straight Pro Late Model championship Sunday afternoon, recovering from an early spin to finish eighth in the season finale edging Shawn Martin in the closest title bout in years.  

“I think any time you can go back-to-back like this proves the first one was no fluke,” a relieved Brackett said after 75-lap battle. “The level of competition was much higher this year than last, making it tough to win races. I’m super proud of this whole team.” 

For Brackett, 2014 was a career-best season in a 15-year run at Oxford. He not only won three races during that championship drive, he also ran strong in the prestigious Oxford 250, finishing fifth. 

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“This has definitely been my best year to date,” Brackett said. “Aside from the weekly races, we were strong in the Super Late Model events we’ve run, as well. Overall, it’s been a big success from my perspective.

“From a racer’s standpoint, there’s been so much improvement at the track since Tom Mayberry purchased the facility. The car counts, the level of competition, the purse, everything has come together. When you look at how much they pay to win ($1,500 in Pro Late Model), it’s really a no-brainer when it comes to where to run for points. I’m very happy with what Tom and his staff have done at Oxford.” 

That big purse not only draws good drivers, it inspires them to push even harder to win. Over a dozen teams made an appearance in Victory Lane during 2014.  

“What’s nice is that if you can run in the top 10 every week, you can actually afford to come back and race the next week without hurting the budget. That is appealing to a weekly racer, who often doesn’t have a ton of sponsorship.

“Out of the 20 to 24 cars we’ve had each week, you have over a dozen that can run up front now. It makes for great racing, but you’re forced to run hard the entire race. Nobody cruises for 20 laps any more; they race to win the entire 50 laps.” 

Brackett, now 30, has matured immensely in recent seasons. His ability to learn each week and store that information away for future situations is unsurpassed.

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“Last year, things really started to come together as far as point racing goes,” Brackett explained. “We only won one race, but our consistency helped earn that championship. This year, we focused on points the first half of the season. We wanted to have some security so we would be assured of a spot in the 250.

“On that big weekend, we found some things on the car that gave us more speed. Since then, we’ve been shooting for wins, and they’ve come. It didn’t feel like we were point racing, we were just trying to win every race.” 

After working alongside his father and two-time champion Tim, T.J. began his own driving career in Mini Cup cars in 1999. In a 10-race series, he earned six wins and never finished outside the top five.

It was evident early on he had the talent and drive to ascend the racing ladder.

“At the age of 12 or 13, I was racing against grown men in that Mini Cup deal. After winning a title there, I thought I was going to be the next Jeff Gordon. I went from those little cars right into a Late Model, and that was a big mistake. For the next three years, I did nothing but wreck and create havoc.

“It was pretty horrible, really,” he said. “I wasn’t a favorite of fans or other racers. I was repairing fenders and body pieces every week. I finally got my first win during the third season, which was a big relief.”

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As with any race team, this kind of success doesn’t come from the driver alone. Brackett has a close friendship and five-year business association with Seth Holbrook, one of Maine’s best minds when it comes to making a race car go fast. 

“Seth is one of my best friends,” he said. “When it comes to shocks and chassis setups, he is the absolute best. My end of things is the welding and fabrication, putting things together. He got his start when he was young working on my father and Mike Rowe’s cars.

“Seth stays up-to-date on all the latest and greatest technology, which really helps. I think what’s different about us is that we compete with far less money than most teams. We do all the work ourselves, which saves us a ton of money. It might look to some like we have a big budget, but we really don’t. I definitely wouldn’t be where I’m at without Seth’s help.” 

While Brackett’s team may have a bit less financial backing than some, he’s quick to express his appreciation for local sponsors and key people vital to his success. 

“I’m lucky to have support from the great people at Ferland Farm, Trenoweth & Sons Trucking, Steve’s Signs and Holbrook Farms. I couldn’t do all this without their contributions. 

“Along with Seth, I’m also fortunate to have a great team, made up of Travis Dan, Joe Martin, Brad Hammond, Steve Alexander, my young son Colby (the famous Go-Kart racer), and my parents (Tim and Jennifer), who help me every week. 

“It takes a talented team and supportive family to keep this all moving forward,” Brackett concluded. “I’m lucky to have all of that in place. When you look in the record books and see me, my father and Vanna listed among the winners and champions, it’s quite an honor. I’m just proud to carry on this family tradition.”

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