One year ago, New Hampshire’s Wayne Helliwell, Jr. had finally achieved a dream that had taken him nine tries to accomplish; a win in the prestigious Oxford 250 at Oxford Plains Speedway in Maine, one of the greatest Late Model prizes in the nation. The word he used to describe the triumph over and over again was “unbelievable.” Now with the 44th running of the 250 just days away, Helliwell is still using that word to describe what happened the year prior, both in how time has gone by and the fact that he enters the weekend trying to win a second.
“I can’t believe it. (The past year) has flown by. It’s unbelievable. It feels like it’s only been three or four months,” Helliwell told Speed51.com powered by JEGS.
“When I stop and think about it, it’s an unbelievable feat when I look back, thinking about my big memories of 250’s in the Ralph Nason days when he was just on a tear there and he could run three or four wide. So I look at it like that and I can’t believe that we actually pulled one of these off. Not much has changed since, so I’m still kind of high on hopes that we can do this again.”
But while some things have stayed the same, some things did change for Helliwell after his greatest moment. An illness later diagnosed as Multiple Sclerois kept Helliwell out of the orange Bruce Bernhardt No. 27 car the rest of the 2016 season as he set about his treatment. Over the winter things began improving for Helliwell as he returned to the shop to help with the team cars.
But his return to the cockpit would not come until July 15 for the Pro All Stars Series North race at Star Speedway near his home in New Hampshire, where he posted a solid top five finish. He followed that up with the next two PASS North races at Oxford and Lee USA Speedway (NH) and additional testing as a tune-up for time himself and the team’s cars.
“We’ve been using a couple of these races as tune-ups for myself. Just to get me back to feeling good and figuring out which adjustments we need to make and when. So I’m really chomping at the bit to get back to it.”
Helliwell and the Bernhardt team have since been left with a choice. Race with the new car that they built over the winter and spring, or bring out the older car, which worked its magic in the 250 last year.
“It’s been kind of 50/50, because we brought the old car out, which is the car we won the 250 with last year and we’ve also dabbled with the new car. The new car has been really good at times and really off at times, but we’ve been able to pinpoint what those issues were. In the big picture I’ve been pretty pleased with how the cars have been running.”
As for the car of choice going into the weekend, Helliwell believes it’ll be the car that is tried and true.
“We are going to bring back the old car. It’s been going very well. Last week and over the weekend we got a lot of maintenance done on the car. Now we’re down to making sure all the spare stuff is stocked in the trailer so we’re not caught with our pants down.”
The three-time American-Canadian Tour champion has admitted that he does not know all about what competition is coming from across the rest of the nation, but he does believe that no matter what, the guys to beat will be on the local and regional level. In particular, it will be the same driver that he battled for the win in 2016.
“I think it’s going to be pretty stout, there’s at least eight to ten guys that could easily pull it off. Probably the number one there would be Travis (Benjamin), he’s been very consistent over the last couple of years and him and Petit Motorsports have been spot on lately along with (Glen) Luce. I’m looking forward to going up against those guys and seeing how everything shakes out.”
With this being Helliwell’s tenth try at the Oxford 250, he knows how the entire weekend goes, and what the to-do list includes, especially for the two practice days on Friday and Saturday.
“I think Friday is a good day to work the bugs out, make sure the car is mechanically sound, and get the team all together. Make sure they each know what their job is, what everyone expects of each other and just kind of get into that rhythm and not get caught up in wholesale setup changes. Just ride through, let everybody do their job and get through Saturday to Sunday and that’s when you got to pull the pin and make things happen.”
Even though Helliwell is guaranteed to make the field for the 250 Sunday evening, the key to winning lies in getting lucky before drivers ever turn a wheel in any sort of competition. He is speaking of the infamous heat race draw.
“Everything’s about the draw. That’s the key thing right there because you could draw a front row starting spot in a heat race or you could be tail. I’ve been on the tail, it’s not good drawing a ‘99’ pill or something like that back in the day. If we can walk away with another good draw and be able to finish in the top four spots in a heat race and just get in quick is a big deal.”
Helliwell knows that some things are out of his and the team’s control. But as for what they do control, he is very confident that they have a handle on it and that if circumstances prevail, he can wheel the 27 to the checkers first once again on Sunday.
“I think we’ve done enough maintenance, double and triple checked almost to the point of OCD, so we can catch anything that could go wrong before it happens. I think with the team we’ve got, everybody’s crossed their T’s and dotted their I’s. I think we should be pretty good.”
Tickets for the 44th Annual Oxford 250 are available at http://www.oxfordplains.com/ .
For those who are not able to make the trip to the state of Maine for the Oxford 250, Speed51.com will have a live pay-per-view broadcast available. Live video tickets are available for purchase here.
-By: Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com CT, MA, RI & Long Island Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com