Column By: AMY HARROP / RPW – OXFORD, ME – The wind chill cast a cold spell on Oxford Plains Speedway on Sunday, but the racing action was heating up on the track. Fans from all over New England visited the track for the first Pro All Stars Series race at the track for the 2018 season; an event that precedes the “Crown Jewel” Oxford 250 in August. The day’s events also consisted of the PASS modifieds and the Street Stock division, making for plenty of enjoyable racing action for the fans to enjoy.
The day started out with the Street Stock qualifying heat, where Tyler King sailed into victory. King is no stranger to being at the front of the pack at Oxford, seeing that he took home the win in Saturday’s Street Stock main event at the speedway. King continued his domination later in the day in the 40-lap feature event, sailing away with a half track lead before taking the checkered flag. Matt Dufault, Gary Babineau and Cole Watson followed, rounding out their race weekend on a high note.
Jariet Harrison and Bruce Helmuth took home wins in the PASS Modified qualifying heats, later starting on the front row for the 40- lap feature. Bruce Helmuth took the early lead in the main event, pulling away from the field until a string of early-race cautions brought the field back together. By lap 14, 2017 PASS Modified champion Ben Tinker had made his way to the front of the field, locking himself in a 3-way battle for the top spot. He eventually captured the lead on lap 15, setting his sights on the victory. After running at the front of the field all day, Matty Sanborn fell to the back of the pack mid-way through the race, eventually heading to the pits due to mechanical issues. By lap 35, Tinker had pulled away from the rest of the pack by an entire straightaway. He pulled off the victory, beginning his quest to defend his title in 2018. Gary Shackford, Bruce Helmuth, Jariet Harrison and Patrick Sullivan followed, rounding out the top five.
Three 15-lap qualifying heats started the day for the Pro All Star Series competitors. Each driver would later make it into the main event, but the qualifying heats determined the starting order for the feature. Defending PASS champion Travis Benjamin took home the first heat race win, followed by Nick Sweet and Curt Gerry.
Notable competitors among the field of drivers on Sunday included Travis Benjamin (defending PASS champion), Wayne Helliwell, Jr. (former Oxford 250 champion and returning to the track in 2018), Nick Reno (weekly Wiscasset SLM driver in his first full-time SLM season) and Cassius Clark, who won Saturday’s Super Late Model feature event in Oxford’s 2018 season opener.
Travis Benjamin and Nick Sweet started on the front row for the feature with 2017 Oxford 250 champion Curt Gerry in tow. Benjamin took the early lead, but disaster was on the horizon for two heavy-hitters in the race. The day started on a sour note for TJ Brackett, who slammed into the wall in turn 1 on lap 2. 2017 Beech Ridge Motor Speedway champion Reid Lanpher was in the wrong place at the wrong time, getting caught up with Brackett and eventually being scored a lap down early for taking a trip down to pit road to fix the damages before crossing the Start/Finish line. Nick Sweet found his way back around Benjamin on lap 10, but Travis Benjamin was still nipping at his heels. The defending champion stole back the lead on lap 27 before Saturday’s winner Cassius Clark took his piece of the pie on lap 30, pulling away from the rest of the field.
Beech Ridge Motor Speedway Hall of Fame driver Dan “Naughty 40” McKeage fell victim to mechanical issues on lap 45, retiring the #40 machine early. Cassius Clark was on a roll by the mid-point of the race, putting driver after driver a lap down. Glen Luce, Wayne Helliwell, Jr., Dave Farrington, Jr., Ben Rowe and Joey Doiron were among those that fell prey to Cassius Clark and the leaders before reaching the halfway mark.
By lap 100, Curt Gerry had made his way to Travis Benjamin’s door, challenging him for second. He grabbed the spot the following lap, setting his sights on the #13 of Clark. At the time, a handful of lap-down cars separated the two leaders. Curt Gerry began chipping away at the lap traffic in front of him, trimming the distance between his #7 machine and the #13 car. Clark got caught up on lap 132 while passing the lap-down car of John Peters, allowing Gerry to get within 4 car lengths of him.
With all but 4 cars in the field a lap down, the two leaders went to battle on lap 135. Clark briefly pulled 2 car lengths away from Gerry, but Gerry still had him within reach. Curt Gerry pulled back to his door on lap 140, begging for the perfect moment to strike from the outside line. Curt Gerry turned the tables on lap 146, taking a swing for the lead from the inside line this time around. This maneuver stuck, propelling Curt Gerry into the lead with just four laps to go.
Gerry sailed into victory after leading just 4 laps; the four most important laps of the day. The victory marked Gerry’s third consecutive Pro All Star Series victory at Oxford Plains Speedway in his last 3 starts at the track. This victory was a huge feat for Gerry and the #7 team, who entered the 2017 race season with no PASS victories to their name. Gerry celebrated with his friends and family in Victory Lane, who reveled in his accomplishments with him.
Curt Gerry will try to do it all again next weekend at his home track of Beech Ridge Motor Speedway, who will be hosting their PASS season opener on Saturday, April 28th. We hope to see you there!