For the last few years, 2018 Pro All Stars Series (PASS) National champion Derek Griffith has preferred to race pretty much everywhere but Oxford Plains Speedway. In nearly every trip to the storied 3/8-mile oval in western Maine, the outcome was far from the desired goal.
Last month, that all changed during the 46th annual Oxford 250. Griffith, of Hudson, N.H., put in a career-best effort to secure second behind now three-time winner Travis Benjamin, proving his LCM Motorsports crew was beginning to get the place figured out.
On Sunday afternoon, Griffith showed that 250 run was no fluke, as he finally shook the monkey off his back for good with a convincnig victory in the Honey Badger Bar & Grill 150. Ben Rowe led the event for 94 laps yet settled for second, while three-time PASS champion DJ Shaw finished third.
Benjamin crossed the stripe in fourth, while Reid Lanpher completed the top five.
“Ben and DJ made me work for it today,” Griffith said. “Mike (Hopkins) and Ben were really flying at the start of the race. I was just holding on; I wanted to make sure I saved my stuff. I can’t even believe it. This place has beat us up since 2012, I didn’t even make it into my first 250.”
His road to the top took patience, persistence and hard work. After the win, it was redemtion at last.
“We won a weekly show a while back, but we had been struggling in the long distance races here. To win a PASS race here means the world to me. I said at the beginning of the season that if I won a PASS race here it would make my year. I don’t know what to say, except I owe it all to this great race team.”
Griffith took the lead from Rowe on lap 113 just one circuit after a restart and hung on for top honors. He was the fourth driver to lead the race, following Alan Tardiff, Rowe and Mike Hopkins. Griffith set the pace from lap 85 to lap 103 before Rowe got back by him.
Rowe was elated several weeks ago at Oxford when he landed on the podium, and was pleased again on Sunday despite having watched the win slip away in the closing stages.
“Our car was at its best on the long runs today,” Rowe said. “It took me eight or 10 laps to really get up to speed after a restart. I tried holding Derek off, but I didn’t do a good enough job of keeping him hung up in the outside lane as I should have. He cleared me and I got back to him, but it was just too late.”
Shaw, who has also improved his performance at Oxford in a big way during 2019, seemed content with his podium finish as the season begins to draw to a close.
“We had a good car on the long runs today, up through until about 50 laps to go,” Shaw said. “It never really came back to life after that late caution. I don’t know why, it just didn’t fire off like I need it to on that last run. We were free the whole race, but were able to maintain our position better than most.”
Finishing sixth through 10th in the Honey Badger 150 were Ryan Robbins, Jeff White, 2019 Oxford points champion Curtis Gerry, Scott Moore and Mike Hopkins. Fourteen of the 30 starters finished on the lead lap, while four cautions slowed the pace. Griffith’s margin of victory was under a half second.
Other notable finishers in Sunday’s Honey Badger 150 include recent PASS winner Nick Sweet (11th); Scarborough’s Garrett Hall (12th); six-time PASS champion Johnny Clark (18th); 2018 Oxford points champion Gabe Brown (16th); and three-time 250 winner Mike Rowe (29th).
The PASS Modifieds were also in action on Sunday, with Waterford, Maine, native Spencer Morse driving to victory. The PASS North Super Late Models now move to the high-banked 1/4-mile oval of White Mountain Motorsports Park next Saturday night, Sept. 21, in North Woodstock, New Hampshire. Qualifying races begin at 6:30 p.m.
-Story by: Phil Whipple, Speed51.com Northeast SLM Correspondent
-Photo credit: Speed51