Gary Drew celebrates his victory in the Oxford 250 at Oxford Plains Speedway in July 2001. Portland Press Herald file photo

Twenty years after his triumph, he’s back.

The winner of the 2001 Oxford 250, Gary Drew, is looking to go back in time as he attempts to earn a spot in the big race for the first time since 2006. Drew’s last attempt at qualifying for the 250, in 2017, fell short. That’s a major reason why he is returning to Oxford Plains Speedway this weekend.

“Well, the last time, 2017, I didn’t like the way we went out. We didn’t qualify for that race and I didn’t like the way we went out and stopped racing,” Drew, who lives in Casco, said. “So I’ve been kind of itching to get back (to) a little bit of doing racing before it gets too late in my life.”

Life, and how it has changed for Drew since 2017, is another reason he is seeking redemption.

“I lost a grandson in 2018, and my son, also, the same weekend as the 250 in 2018, so there’s some sentimental value to go back and race and try to win on the anniversary of my son’s death,” Drew said.

The seed for this year’s attempt was planted last year, when Drew bought a new race car from longtime builder Jeff Taylor.

“I had called Jeff — I kind of stayed in contact with him and would call him every once in a while, see how he’s doing and everything — and he says, ‘I got a chassis sitting right here with that maroon Gary Drew color,'” Drew said. “And I said, ‘Well, how much for that?’

“He said, ‘Well, I built it for another guy, but the guy was too big for it.’ So, he says, we can work out a little deal on it. And so I said, well, why not?”

Taylor is one of Maine’s most sought-after car builders, and he had so much other work to do that he wasn’t going to have time to get Drew’s new car ready in 2020.

“I said I’m not in a hurry, anyway, I’m so busy with work, and let’s shoot for next year,” Drew said. “And then I touched base with him again this spring, and he had a ton of cars to build, and I said, ‘Well, if we can get it ready a couple weeks or a month before the 250 so I can go out and shake it down and get a little time on it, it would be great.'”

Gary Drew and his father, Homer, and his pro stock racing car, a 2000 Chevrolet Monte Carlo, in Otisfield in July 2002. Portland Press Herald file photo

Drew’s excavation business was one of the reasons he got out of racing in 2007. That and the 250 switching to a Late Model race instead of Drew’s preferred Super Late Models (to which the race has returned).

His business still keeps him busy — Drew said he works seven days a week sometimes and he’s struggling to find good help — but he did find some time last Friday to get in the car and run some practice laps at Oxford Plains Speedway.

“It went real good for the first time out in, you know, I hadn’t been in a car in four years. So we turned some pretty good times and it needed some fine-tuning,” Drew said. “I don’t know if we’re going to be able to get that fine-tuning. I’m real busy with my business, my excavation business and stuff, so that’s the downfall of that, the testing and stuff. But we’re going to give it everything we can and try to get qualified and see if we can make a run at this thing.”

Gary Drew tests his new car at Oxford Plains Speedway last Friday in preparation of this year’s Oxford 250. Submitted photo

Just getting back in the car felt great, Drew said.

“It was something that I could strap my helmet onto and forget about everything but that race car at the time when I got back into, you know, firing that thing around the race track. And you just forget about everything and you just concentrate on the race car,” he said. “And being brought up in racing and everything, it was just a big pleasure to be able get back and do something.”

Drew is hoping to rekindle the magic he found in 2001, but this year’s attempt has some parallels to his experience in 2000 — which was the first time he ran a Jeff Taylor car.

“We had gotten the car that Friday before the 250,” Drew said, “and we didn’t have hardly any time, we just finished putting the car together and we practiced a little bit Saturday, I believe it was, and then Sunday I had won my heat race with duct tape numbers on it. We didn’t even paint the car or nothing because we didn’t have time. So we stuck 71 with duct tape numbers on it and it was white.

“And we’d started third, I believe it was, and we’re going, and I was actually going for second, and just trying to get the car together so quick we overlooked a few things, and the rear end slid over and the drive shaft was wearing against the loops that protect the driver and end up blowing the driveshaft. So we would have had a strong run in 2000 with that car brand-new. And then we came back in 2001 and won it.”

Drew said people still ask him what year he won the big race, and both he and the person asking can’t believe it was all the way back in 2001. He said time has flown by since that victory.

Despite whatever odds are stacked against him this year, Drew’s intent Sunday is to win. And if he can’t, he’s hoping Taylor can finally win — “He deserves to win this probably more than anybody out there, and I’d be tickled to death to see him win it,” Drew said — with Drew finishing second.

Gary Drew heads for the checkered flag and victory at the Oxford 250 at Oxford Plains Speedway in July 2001. Portland Press Herald file photo

First, Drew needs to get comfortable with a car setup that he’s not used to. He said that he’s relying on Taylor to steer him in the right direction.

Drew had things going the right way during the test session, and after about 10 laps of setting the brakes in and other such adjustments, “it was go time.”

“I was like, ‘Now I’m ready to go,'” Drew said. “So we put the hammer down and that’s where we’re at.”

Drew’s wife, Carolyn, and his brother Ricky have been trying to drum up support — especially tire money so he can get as much practice as he can this coming weekend — on Facebook. He said the response has been overwhelming.

“There’s a lot of people been stepping up and trying to help out, and I just hope I don’t let them down,” Drew said. “I hope we get qualified and I hope we have, you know, a good race. We’ll see what happens here this coming weekend.”

And he hopes to stick around the racing scene, beyond this year’s attempt.

“We’ll try to race as much as we can and go test some and try to, if we don’t have a very good showing this year in the 250, hopefully next year or something will be more prepared for it,” Drew said. “But I’m optimistic about this year. I think we have a good shot of getting in and having a good run.”

Gary Drew celebrates after winning the Oxford 250 at Oxford Plains Speedway in July 2001. Portland Press Herald file photo

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