Johnny Clark, bottom, and Jeff Taylor, top, jockey for position midway through the Oxford 250 in 2020 as they negotiate through lapped traffic. Clark went on to win the race and end his string of hard luck in the 250 but continuing Taylor’s, who finished second. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Editor’s note: To commemorate the 50th Oxford 250 on, we turned to former Sun Journal staff writer and columnist Kalle Oakes to look back at some of the key moments in the history of one of the nation’s best short-track races. Friday’s paper had the top drivers; today he writes about the most heartbreaking finishes.

Many committed, long-term fans of the Oxford 250 can name most if not all of the winners, as Scott Robbins so memorably recited in victory lane after his victory in 2002.

What perhaps separates the junkies from the casual observers, however, is an equal ability to rattle off the list of drivers who would, could and should have.

By the very nature of its format, the 250 is a race that cultivates heartbreak as much as heroism and regional racing immortality. There is a lengthy list of great racers who were on the cusp of the ultimate prize, only to be poked in the chest by the fickle finger of fate.

Some of them had already won the race or would enjoy their moment in the sun not many years later. But sadly, others were a Cinderella story who would never have a chance to dust off the glass slipper again.

Here are 10 snake-bitten souls from the first 50 years of this ever captivating, sometimes agonizing battle royal of a stock car race.


10. Junior Hanley. Sometimes rotten luck rears its ugly head even before the main event takes its initial green flag. Hoping to become Canada’s second winner in a three-year span, Hanley got through the dirty work of qualifying races as the pole winner in 1979.

Then the rain arrived with no end in sight that summer evening, prompting officials to postpone the event and call everyone back a week later. Problem was, Hanley had a prior commitment and wouldn’t be able to make a return trip. He vacated the plum starting spot to Ohio’s Mark Malcuit.

A week was worth the wait for Tom Rosati, who remains the youngest winner of the Oxford 250 at 19 years of age. Hanley would have to wait until 1993 to score that elusive 250 crown under the American-Canadian Tour pro stock banner.

9. George Summers. The origins of 250 heartbreak started with the inaugural race in 1974, which was a 200-lap open competition event. Summers absolutely dominated the night. Even after his gas tank ran dry and he was forced to pit with three laps to go, Summers believed he had lapped the field and that the checkered flag was still a mere formality.

Alas, scoring showed that Joey Kourafas had been running on the same lap as the leader and was the winner. Summers filed an official protest that took almost a month and didn’t change the outcome.

OPS owner and promoter Bob Bahre added 50 laps to the race the following year, in part to ensure that everyone would have to make a live pit stop. Would an extra 50 laps that first year have changed Summers strategy to push the limits of his tank? Or would it have been enough time to charge from the back of the field, overtake Kourafas and erase all doubt? We will never know.


8. Jeff Taylor. Pick your heartbreak, really. The nine-time Oxford Plains Speedway Super Late Model champion is arguably the most accomplished active driver to regularly compete in the 250 and never win it.

The triumphs by Dave Whitlock, Jeremie Whorff and Kyle Busch stand out as years in which Taylor ran up front for an extended time, only to fall shy of the winner’s circle for various reasons.

But we’ll go with the most recent near-miss of 2020, when Taylor self-policed and rolled down pit road a second time after believing he had passed a stop sign after his first pass for tires and fuel. It cost him invaluable track position and vaulted similarly long-suffering Johnny Clark to a 250 crown.

7. Johnny Clark. Speaking of the perennial Pro All Stars Series champ, he was in prime position for a second 250 title in three summers last August.

As so often happens in long green-flag runs, though, slower traffic blanketed every lane of the track in front of the leader. Clark had to check up at one point, only to have runner-up Cole Butcher nudge and turn him around in the fourth corner.

Butcher went on to become the first Canadian winner since Whitlock in 1995, but perhaps at the expense of a Maine fan base, many of whom hold the veteran Clark as one of their favorites.


6. Butch Lindley. The southern stalwart won the 1976 edition and was never out of contention for the 250 title in the final decade of his abbreviated life. A two-horse race with Geoff Bodine in 1980 was no exception.

Bodine and Lindley, Lindley and Bodine. The two were a lap ahead of the field coming down the stretch, and with fewer caution flags prolonging the proceedings, both attempted to go without a fuel stop rather than risk their place up front.

In the catbird’s seat with fewer than two laps to go, Lindley heard the telltale sound of his engine coughing with thirst. Bodine bolted away to the win … and ran out of gas on the cool-down lap.

5. Ralph Nason. We know him as the guy who won three in a row and polarized the fans at every turn during that dynasty. But almost a quarter century earlier, Nason was certain he was the winner of the 1976 crown jewel.

He let Lindley pass with minimal challenge, thinking that the rebel was only regaining a lap he had lost to the yank earlier in the evening. In what became a recurring theme of the early years, scoring told a different story and registered Lindley as the leader and eventual winner.

How different would 250 history look if transponder scoring technology had been around in the 1970s and 80s? Again, your guess is as good as ours.


4. Billy Clark. The “Farmington Flyer” was the scourge of OPS Late Model Sportsman weekly racing in 1987 and reinforced that point with a dominating drive in the middle stages of the 250.

With fewer than 50 laps to go, Clark, who it is said was not using one of the two-way radios that soon became universal even for local drivers, pitted under caution. There is a strong chance he had the fuel and tires to finish the job without that stop.

Jamie Aube inherited the lead and pulled away for the first of his two 250 victories. Clark would wait more than three decades before celebrating in victory lane with his son, Cassius.

3. Ben Rowe. Fuel and a scoring dispute dominate any discussion of the 1996 race. Rowe, then a pro stock rookie, pitted near midway and calmly picked his way to the front when others fell by the wayside.

Far ahead of the pack, Rowe was in line to join legendary father Mike as a 250 winner when his car gave a telltale cough and slowed to a crawl on the frontstretch with two laps remaining. His Saturday night-legal car carried a smaller fuel cell than the touring competitors, and it proved his downfall.

His misadventure left Larry Gelinas as one of the most unheralded 250 conquerors, although to this day you’ll find observers who swear he was a lap in arrears after an early off-track excursion.


2. Joey Kourafas. With one title already in his grasp, Kourafas owned a healthy advantage and was poised to join Bodine as the second two-time winner in 1985.

After the white flag, Kourafas drifted high in turn two to make his final sojourn through slower traffic. One of the lappers inexplicably swerved into his lane, forcing Kourafas to slam on the brakes and avoid disaster.

Dave Dion dove to the low side of the track, passed both Kourafas and the offending slower vehicle, and it was he who collected that coveted second 250 victory a decade after his first.

1. Alan Wilson. This one is just a crying shame. You can make a case for Rowe or Kourafas to be in the top spot, but each had his day in the 250 sun either fore or aft.

A native of Hebron, a stone’s throw away from the track, Wilson was a Charger and Street Stock champion at Oxford Plains Speedway who perennially made do with a smaller budget than his rivals after ascending to Late Models. He and his pit crew were known to borrow a fellow competitor’s paved driveway to practice the live 250 pit stop that wasn’t part of their normal procedure.

Driver and team seemed to have all the stars aligned with a substantial lead over the field and only five laps to go in 2004. Then in a blur it was gone. Wilson’s blue car kicked up dirt on the backstretch and nearly brushed the wall. One of his tires had gone slack at the worst possible time.

His 250 dreams were dashed, and to this day, Wilson is the poster guy for “so close, yet so far” in the summer classic at his home track.


Former Sun Journal sports journalist Kalle Oakes attended or covered every Oxford 250 from 1979 to 2015. He is now sports editor of the Georgetown (Kentucky) News-Graphic. Stay in touch with him at

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