By his own admission, Travis Benjamin of Morrill had been having a miserable season on the Pro All Stars Series North Super Late Model tour.
That all changed Sunday night when he won the 46th annual Oxford 250, becoming just the fourth driver to win it three times.
He joins an elite group that includes Unity’s Ralph Nason, Turner’s Mike Rowe and Dave Dion of Hudson, New Hampshire.
Benjamin, who started 11th, said being a three-time winner and sharing an accomplishment with such an iconic group of racers is a great reward, especially considering that he hasn’t won a lot during his career.
“[It’s] crazy because this is [just] my hobby, something I enjoy doing,” Benjamin said.
“I haven’t won that many races my whole career. I’ve been very fortunate to get the big wins.”
He spoke to the importance of his crew’s contributions in a long race such as the Oxford 250 because the pit stops are critical.
“They’re really, really good at it,” said Benjamin, who won back-to-back Oxford 250s in 2013 and 2014 and was second in 2016.
The former basketball point guard at Belfast Area High School entered Sunday’s race with 12 wins among 166 PASS North races and the team struggled early this season.
“If you had told me a month and a half ago that I would win it, I wouldn’t have believed you for a second. I didn’t think we would even be competitive,” the 40-year-old Benjamin said Monday.
He had won PASS SLM North points titles in 2012 and 2017, but had posted only two top-five finishes and no victories in his first 10 PASS races this season and was seventh in points before the Oxford 250.
Benjamin and his team decided to run three weekly Saturday night races at Oxford Plains Speedway to prepare their Petit Motorsport Chevy for the 250. He also drove an Aug. 11 PASS race at Oxford.
The team chose not to run the PASS North Aroostook Savings and Loan Firecracker 200 at Spud Speedway on Aug. 4 to concentrate on Oxford.
The strategy paid off.
“Every time we raced at Oxford, the car got faster and faster,” Benjamin said.
And a pit strategy also played a pivotal role.
“We pitted twice [rather than once], which is something we normally never do,” Benjamin said. “On our first pit stop, we took two new tires. On the last one, we took four. I wasn’t quite sure that was the right call. Last year, [winner] Bubba Pollard did it just the opposite, taking four and then two.
“But it worked out for us,” he added.
Benjamin’s car was at its best during the final stages of the race, enabling him to survive restarts with 12 and four laps remaining, respectively.
“We had such a strong car, I really felt I would have had to make a big mistake to lose it,” Benjamin said.
Benjamin credited longtime friends and crew members Ryan Leadbetter and Nate Littlefield of Lincolnville, and Kyle Keene of Belfast, for playing vital roles in the triumph.
They have been with him for several years, including the previous two Oxford 250 wins.
Benjamin noted that they are doing it for the love of the sport and are not getting paid.
Biddeford-based Petit Motorsports also supplied some crew members.
This is Benjamin’s fourth season with Petit Motorsports, but it is the first year the car has been housed in his race shop in Morrill rather than in Biddeford. That enabled him to more conveniently work on the car with his friends.
He is elated to provide car owner Peter Petit with his first Oxford 250 winner in 12 seasons, which included stints with Mike Rowe and Curtis Gerry as drivers.
“He is the heart and soul of this team. He has worked his butt off to help pay for this,” Benjamin said.
He said Petit remained positive and encouraging even when things weren’t going well.
“It is unbelievable. The guys worked hard. I can’t say enough about them. ” Petit said. “This is really special for me.”
Petit admitted he was confident before Sunday’s race.
“I told one of our sponsors this was going to be our year,” Petit said.
Petit had brought in Benjamin four years ago after Mike Rowe departed.
”Travis has a great family,” Petit said. “We’ve never had any issues in our four years together.”
Benjamin said his family support system, including father Ron and uncle Bruce, has also been instrumental in his success.
The win was worth approximately $29,000.
Derek Griffith of Hudson, New Hampshire, finished second while D.J. Shaw of Center Conway, New Hampshire, Johnny Clark of Hallowell and Hermon’s Mike Hopkins rounded out the top five.
Frenchville native Shawn Martin finished 15th and Reid Lanpher of Manchester, with three top-three finishes the past four years, wound up 20th.