Northwest Super Late Model star Garrett Evans made the 3,100-mile trek across the country last week in order to add the Oxford 250 to his list of big time Late Model events that he has attended. Although the East Wenatchee, Washington driver came up short in his bid to win the race on Sunday, he had an impact on the outcome of the race, but not in the way he had hoped for.
After battling his race car in the closing stages, leaders Travis Benjamin and Wayne Helliwell, Jr. swooped in on Evans blue No. 64 while battling for the lead. Helliwell used Evans as a pick to hold up Benjamin on the outside and pulled away to win the 43rd running of the prestigious race.
“We knew we had nothing for anybody at that point and hadn’t really all night,” Evans told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “We just wanted to get out of the way and didn’t want to be in the way of the leaders at that point. I thought we were out as far as we could get it. I didn’t know that we had done that and I apologize. We were wanting to be out of the way completely.”
Despite some of the difficulties on race day, which resulted in a 23rd place finish, the trip had been well worth it for Evans.
“I’m really glad that we came here,” he said. “It was probably one of the coolest race weekend I’ve ever been involved in ever. In today’s era, especially on asphalt, racing is kind of fading a little bit. You just need to come to an event like this and see that there’s still some life left in the sport. We’re really proud to be part of it and I haven’t seen anything like this in a long time.”
Evans also made it clear that he plans to make the long journey to Maine again in the future with hopes of giving the race another shot.
“We’re gearing up for it now,” Evans said emphatically. “We know what we’re up against and can’t wait. It’s a different kind of racing than what we do back home. We have straightaways where you get off the gas, get on the brakes and get back on the gas; here it’s all about momentum and driving around in a circle. They’re all good racers up here that race you clean and race you hard, a good bunch of guys.”
DEFENDING WINNER LEADS EARLY, FADES LATE
Defending Oxford 250 champion Glen Luce looked to be a favorite early on in the race, but as the evening wore on, things seemed to get away from Luce and the No. 7L team. After pitting for tires on lap 159, Luce struggled to get back to the front and settled for a 10th-place finish.
“For some reason the car picked up a lazy push in the center, it wasn’t rotating,” Luce explained on Monday morning. “I told them what it was starting to do when I was leading, and I thought I was taking it easy. I didn’t think I was burning it up. I don’t know if the sun going down had anything to do with it. It shouldn’t have been that much of an effect on it. Either way, we lifted the track bar to help it rotate and it still didn’t help it rotate; it made it even worse on my exit. Not only was I fighting the tight center, I was then free off and slipping and sliding.”
One year after winning the event, Luce considered the top-10 finish a disappointment due to the team’s high expectations.
“We all set around waiting for the haulers to clear out so that we could leave and we thought back about last year we would’ve been ecstatic with a 10th and leading a few laps and showing them we were there,” the 2015 Oxford 250 winner said. “But now with our history of winning last year, that definitely changed things.”
HEARTBREAK FOR BENJAMIN
Luce’s disappointment was greatly eclipsed by that of eventual runner-up finisher Travis Benjamin’s. The two-time Oxford 250 winner led over half the race only to be passed by Helliwell with six laps to go. During post-race interviews, the emotion was hard for Benjamin to hold back.
“It’s hard to be disappointed with second, but I’m very discouraged,” he admitted. “It would sure sound a lot better winning three out of four.”
CAREER-BEST EFFORT FOR SHAW
The Oxford 250 has been a race that DJ Shaw, for one reason or another, had struggled in prior to Sunday night. He turned the page on Sunday night by battling near the front and recording a third-place finish.
“I've shot myself in the foot here more than once and it feels good not to do anything stupid,” Shaw said with a laugh. “We had a really fast car at the end. I don't know if we had anything for them. We couldn't quite seal the deal with Travis on the first set of tire, but we were close and there's not a whole lot more to ask for than that."
Shaw hopes to take the experience, along with what they learned from the weekend, into the 44th annual Oxford 250 next year.
"I kind of feel like we are where Wayne (Helliwell) was last year. I have the experience with it now,” Shaw stated. “I've always loved the (PASS) 300 and I've always had pretty good success there and I've always just seemed to do something stupid here. We made it work this year and had a really good car, just not a really versatile car. We needed the bottom and it kind of hurt us. It was definitely good at the end but we just couldn't make the moves on restarts when we needed the bottom so bad."
PRE-RACE FAVORITE POLE COMES UP SHORT
Joey Polewarczyk, Jr. became a major pre-race favorite along with Helliwell after the two raced to a draw earlier this season at Oxford. After working hard during the two practice days and recording a solid performance in his qualifying heat, “Joey Pole” got into trouble early on.
“We got it going pretty good and then pretty early on in the race, lap 8, the 01 (Jake Crum) had a distributor break and I happened to be right behind him. I got caught and spun and I guess I went over the curb in the infield,” Polewarczyk explained. “I don’t really think it hurt the car, I haven’t unloaded it yet, but it just got pretty tight after that. It may have spun a trailing arm, I don’t know.”
The No. 97 team got their driver headed back in the right direction, making the appropriate adjustments and getting him back into the race. A late pit stop for four tires seemed to be a possible winning move until the car tightened up, with Pole settling for fifth.
“Those guys, I hate to admit it, but they were just better than us,” Pole said. “They had it figured it out and we just got a little bit too tight when we took those four tires. We’ll write it down in the notebook and next year we’ll know when we take those four tires maybe we’ll need to make an adjustment to free it up a little bit. We’ll put it in the notebook and learn from it.”
The fifth-place finish was the third straight top-five finish for Polewarczyk in the race after winning the race in 2012 and finishing fifth in 2015.
SARGEANT FINDS APPRECIATION FOR 250 GRIT
Boca Raton, Florida’s Dalton Sargeant has racked up some impressive performances in his young career and entered the 250 with high expectations. But Sunday would turn out to be a rough one for Sargeant and the No. 55 Bond Suss Racing team.
After having to race in through the consolation race and getting bounced around during the race, Sargeant brought the car home in 15th. While the day didn’t pan out as panned, Sargeant gained a major appreciation for the amount of grit that goes into running the event. Sargeant expressed this and compared the 250 to another major Late Model event on Twitter Monday.
“On the way home to NC, #Oxford250 is one of the toughest races I've ever run, 42 really good cars on a tough track where experience is BIG.
“We learned a ton, I don't think the #Oxford250 gets enough credit, may be tougher than the (Snowball) Derby.”
ROUGH NIGHT FOR BRACKETT FAMILY
Many of the local fans had their eyes set on the father and son combo of Tim and TJ Brackett entering Sunday night’s race. Both had already won two feature races at Oxford in 2016 and TJ showed plenty of speed by setting fast time in Friday’s practice session.
But the night didn’t go as planned for the local family from Buckfield, Maine. A mechanical failure on TJ’s No. 61 sidelined him just eight laps into the race, while Tim was collected in some early trouble before dropping out of the race 46 laps in.
-By Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com State Editor, Brandon Paul, Speed51.com Editor
-Photo credit: Speed51.com