For years Oxford Plains Speedway has been one of one of the greatest obstacles of Wayne Helliwell Jr.’s racing career. Between crashes, mechanical failures and late-race struggles, the Dover, New Hampshire considered the track to be his kryptonite over the last decade. That all changed Sunday night when strategy, steady pit stops and a final charge to the front all culminated with Helliwell winning the 43rd annual Oxford 250.
After leading 145 laps in the 2015 Oxford 250, Helliwell returned to Oxford Plains Speedway at the beginning of 2016 with new confidence, first winning the PASS Non-Winners race on July 3 then coming back weeks later, tying with Joey Polewarczyk, Jr on July 3. All of that led up to the biggest prize of all.
“It’s unbelievable. I still don’t even believe it. It’s crazy,” Helliwell told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “I would have never put together in a million years this season here. The last three races up here has been mind blowing.”
At first it looked as though Helliwell once again did not have a race winning car for the biggest race in the Northeast. He pitted early for right side tires on lap 82, and when a caution fell on lap 159 the No. 27 team decided to take a gamble by giving up track position to put on their remaining four tires.
“At the beginning of this race I didn’t think I had anything. The car was good for about 20 laps then it got really, really tight. I felt in my opinion that we pitted too early to take that first set of rights,” Helliwell said. “Bruce made the call there on lap 159 to take the second set. I was having trouble hearing on the radio and I said, ‘you make the call.’ He said, ‘come.’ We came and low and behold it was the perfect more right down to the wire.”
With cautions playing in Helliwell’s favor over the final third of the race, he soon found himself in the second position behind two-time Oxford 250 winner Travis Benjamin who had led the majority of the race. Helliwell could keep his car on the inside, but Benjamin continued to rule the outside as he had all weekend. Helliwell needed some kind of help and that’s exactly what he got.
“We swapped lanes, got right to the bottom and we could get even, we just couldn’t get the umph to get up and out of the turn. We just kept rolling and rolling and rolling. The longer the run went, we both started to step up a little. I got a half a groove up which pushed him up,” he explained. “I think once we rolled up the track a little bit we started inching up, and I think Garrett Evans sealed the deal when he (Benjamin) had to bail out. Luckily enough we didn’t catch anymore lapped traffic and we pulled one out.”
Helliwell edged ahead of Benjamin to lead the final six laps in route to the victory. Although lapped traffic played a key role in the battle, Benjamin knew that the difference in tire freshness was evident.
“The car was really good and I really thought I could beat him,” Benjamin said after the race. “I had a really good drive up off and I really thought I could beat him. My car could go on the bottom, too, but I ran the outside all night long so I thought that’s where I could be and he wouldn’t be able to get by me. We ran up on that lapped car, and he was probably up high enough I could have squeezed in there but I think it was the pit stop. With 40 lap fresher tires, that’s a big key to that race. I’ve won races by pit stops and now I feel like I lost one tonight.”
Though there were multiple opportunities to pit for the two remaining tires in his pit, Benjamin knew that giving up track position would be a big mistake.
“At that point we really couldn’t, we had control of the race. Wayne was really the only one I felt was going to come up through. Cassius and those guys came up through but I didn’t’ feel like they were going to be as good as he was because he’s been really good here lately. It never really crossed our mind. We kind of talked about, it’s a hard deal. You have to make a split-second decision and you live and die by it.”
At the end of the night Helliwell’s abundance of enthusiasm seemed to match the amount of disappointment in Benjamin.
“It’s hard to be disappointed with second, but I’m very discouraged. It would sure sound a lot better winning three out of four.”
DJ Shaw, Ben Rowe and Joey Polewarczyk, Jr. completed the top-five on Sunday night.
Visit Speed51.com’s Speed Central coverage for more information on the 43rd annual Oxford 250.
-By Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com State Editor (CT, MA, Long Island) – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com
43rd Annual Oxford 250 Unofficial Results
|1||27nh||Wayne Helliwell, Jr.|
|5||97||Joey Polewarczyk, Jr.|
|19||46||Dennis Spencer, Jr.|
|24||23||Dave Farrington, Jr.|