OXFORD — It all started with a six pack of beer and a pizza. Now there’s a cat involved, too.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

The crowning career achievement in the Oxford 250 for Morrill’s Ron Benjamin, a race he never qualified for himself, was seeing his son win the race in back-to-back years in 2013 and 2014. Even six years removed from watching Travis Benjamin conquer Oxford Plains Speedway, the elder Benjamin choked up at recalling the victory.

“Holy moly. I still get emotional about it,” Ron Benjamin, 66, said Saturday during practice for Sunday’s 46th annual Oxford 250, where his son will attempt to join Mike Rowe, Ralph Nason and Dave Dion as the only three-time winners in history. “It’s big. To do it ourselves out of our own little shop, that just means so much. The guys, they don’t get paid. They don’t get any money. It was just a dream.”

Benjamin owns a trio of convenience stores along the midcoast, which in a roundabout way was his introduction into auto racing. He would bring pizza and beer each Saturday night to Unity Raceway as his contribution to one of the local race teams competing there. Until one night in the early 1980s when everything changed.

“The driver says he’s all done,” Benjamin recalled. “I told him he can’t be done. I’d just found him a $500 sponsor, which was a lot of money in those days. He said he didn’t care, that if I wanted it I should just take all his stuff and drive it myself.

“He said he didn’t care how much I gave him. So, I ended up buying a brand new Pro Stock, motor and everything, for $500.”

So there’s Benjamin, nearly in his mid-30s, beginning his career in Maine’s highest weekly division despite never even driven so much as a Street Stock.

He tried several times in the 1980s to qualify for the 250 himself as a driver, but he never succeeded. For Travis, who grew up watching his dad try to compete with the best short-track drivers in the nation in the Oxford 250, seeing his name on those trophies today is incredibly humbling.

“For me this race has always been about being a kid, sitting over in the grandstands and you had everybody in there,” Travis, 40, said. “Jeff Gordon. Ricky Craven. Darrell Waltrip. Everybody raced this race. This is the only place in New England that those type of names are on that trophy.

“To have my name on that trophy with some of those guys, that’s what makes it big for me. That’s what’s pretty special for me when I look at that trophy.”

Speaking of that trophy, it actually belongs to the family cat now.

Apparently, Ron’s best friend in the whole world — feline as it may be — is a big fan of the hardware.

“I love trophies,” Ron said. “When I left my house today — and this is crazy — I told my cat, ‘I’m bringing you home a trophy.’ He’s my buddy. I said, ‘I’m bringing you home a trophy.’

“I’ve got all my Oxford 250 trophies still, but the money’s long gone. I can go look at that trophy any day of the week, though, and remember the night.”

For decades, the Oxford 250 and its $25,000 winner’s purse was billed as the richest one-day short track race in the United States. There are other races that pay on the same scale now, but there isn’t one that dates back nearly half a century.

This family never raced for the money, even with tens of thousands of dollars and an additional $100 per lap for leading on the table. In that sense, you could say that it’s never been all about the Benjamins for the Benjamins.

Travis comes by his affinity for trophies honestly, apparently.

“It’s more than the money. We’re not in it for money,” Travis said. “I’ll tell you what, if somebody wanted to run a series, I don’t care what it paid. If they had 10-foot trophies that looked beautiful every week, you’d have cars.”

There were more than 50 cars on hand for the first two days of Oxford 250 practice this weekend. The top half of those were separated on the time sheet by a quarter of a second.

Travis Benjamin believes the competition level has increased exponentially even in the five years since he won his second Oxford 250. If those bragging rights are out there for the taking — particularly for a small team — then the two-time Pro All Stars Series champion would be happy to claim them.

His father believes he can.

“He’s got nothing to prove to nobody,” Ron said.

Travis Benjamin enjoys the time with his father on the road, the time they spend with their family and friends, going from race to race trying to add another trophy to the collection.

And when it comes to the Oxford 250 — “It’s always been a dream for Pro Stock people, or any racer, to be part of this,” Ron said — Travis takes the time to enjoy it a little more than normal.

It’s a race his father dreamed of one day taking part in.

It’s a race they’ve won together twice.

And it’s a race that still matters to the racers here in Maine.

“As I’m getting older, this race means more and more because there’s fewer I’m going to have,” Travis Benjamin said.


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