Following his win in the 2013 Oxford 250, Belfast, Maine’s Travis Benjamin returned to his family-owned convenience store, Belfast Variety, the next morning to begin his normal Monday morning routine of servicing the local customers. At that time, his $33,000 win in the prestigious Super Late Model event the night before felt so unbelievable that he didn’t get to enjoy and celebrate the victory as much as he thought he maybe should have.
This past Sunday evening, with a large group of fans from his hometown cheering him on from the grandstands, Benjamin put on another stellar performance at Oxford Plains Speedway (ME) and pulled his red No. 17 into victory lane as the winner of the Oxford 250 for the second straight year. Only this time, he made sure he was going to celebrate the win the way it was meant to be celebrated.
“I told my father in victory lane on Sunday night that I wasn’t going to be coming into work tomorrow,” Benjamin told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “I told him I wasn’t coming into work because I was going to enjoy the win. It was so surreal last year that it really happened that I didn’t really get to enjoy it that night.
“Last year, there was a bunch from Belfast that went to the race, but this year the crowd doubled because everybody expected us to win. It was fun; it was really fun. There were a ton of people from town there and that’s what it’s all about. We did some celebrating last night,” Benjamin told us on Monday.
Despite telling his father that he wouldn’t be showing up to work on Sunday, Benjamin still made his way to the Belfast convenience store on Monday morning. As Benjamin puts it, “If that store isn’t running, then he isn’t racing.
“My family is a group of hard workers. My dad is at that store every freakin’ day. I did celebrate last night, but I was at work today. I had to get back to work.”
In addition to the prestige that comes with winning the Oxford 250, Benjamin took $25,000 plus lap leader bonus money back to his hometown following his win on Sunday night. For a race team that is considered by many to be “low buck,” the winner’s share of that purse gives Benjamin’s team the opportunity to balance their budget and complete the rest of their 2014 schedule.
“To be honest, if we didn’t have a good day yesterday then my checkbook was going to be in the negative come today,” said Benjamin. “I was going to have to find some money somewhere to pay for the 250.
“This season we have been good, but we’ve had a few wrecks and when you wreck you need a couple grand to fix it, plus you don’t bring in as much money. You can get behind in a hurry and I was very tight. My budget was very tight going into this last weekend and now this gives us the opportunity to finish the season.”
Benjamin’s recent success over the last three seasons, which includes two Oxford 250 wins and a 2012 Pro All Star Series North championship, comes after years of hard work building a Super Late Model program that can compete with the best in the Northeast. The 35-year-old racer looks at one particular move that he made just a few years ago as the major reason why he has been able to join the top-tier of drivers competing in the SLM ranks.
“I used to have two race cars, but both race cars would be okay equipment and we needed it to be good equipment,” Benjamin said on Monday afternoon. “I told myself that I had to get what everybody else has got. I asked myself what I had to do in order to do that.
“What I had to do is sell my second car to get one very good car. Ever since I made that move and scaled back my team so that my one car was as good as everybody else’s, it’s turned my program around 100%. People do call us a low buck team and we are a low buck team compared to most of the teams, but what we’ve been doing is just spending the money we do have in the right places. That’s why we can compete with those guys.”
During the offseason, Benjamin’s expenses to get on the track were lowered when he was presented with a new Bell Housing kit from Quarter Master Clutch. Benjamin received the Bell Housing kit after winning the Speed51.com Quarter Master Clutch Performer of the Year award for his performance during the 2013 version of the Oxford 250. That same Bell Housing kit he received for his performance the year before was in his car on Sunday when he won the race for the second straight year.
“That baby is all in that car,” Benjamin said of the 5.5 Optimum V Magnesium Bell Housing kit that he received before the season from Quarter Master Clutch. “I’ve got my fingers crossed that I win it again. To a team like mine, that is the stuff that I was missing. That was what I needed to buy over the winter to be that much better. To be able to win that was unbelievable.”
Since 2012, Benjamin’s team has found the recipe for success at one of PASS North’s most visited tracks, Oxford Plains Speedway. Benjamin has won four of the last five events held at the famed 3/8-mile Maine oval and has recorded top-five finishes in seven of the last eight races at the track. The only race he didn’t finish in the top-five was the night he finished 10th and clinched the 2012 series championship.
“I’m praying that next year PASS just goes to Oxford all year long,” Benjamin said jokingly. “We’ve really found a few things at that track.”
As a result of his win on Sunday, Benjamin joins an impressive list of four previous back-to-back Oxford 250 champions that includes Geoff Bodine, Ralph Nason, Ben Rowe, and Eddie MacDonald. All four of those names are among the most well-known short track racing figures in New England. Benjamin, the Maine native, who grew up dreaming about winning just one Oxford 250, was very humble when he talked about his name being added to that list.
“To win one is pretty sweet, to win back-to-back is unbelievable,” said Benjamin. “The list of names that have done it, to be in that group, is damn special.”
Out of the four drivers that have been able to win two straight Oxford 250’s, only Ralph Nason has been able to make it three in a row the next year. Benjamin hopes that he can join Nason on the list of drivers to win three straight and believes he has the tools in hand to do so.
“That would be some sweet,” Benjamin said when asked about the possibility of a three-peat. “I never imagined winning one, but winning three would be unreal. There’s no question that we can do it.
“The way this car runs at Oxford and the way that my team has been working together, there’s no question that we can do it.”
-By Brandon Paul, Speed51.com Northeast Editor – Twitter: @Brandon_Paul51
-Featured Photo Credit: Norm Marx