Travis Benjamin, with his father Ronnie and son Kaiden, celebrates winning the Oxford 250 at Oxford Plains Speedway in 2019. His three Oxford 250 wins tie him with three other drivers for the most in history. Brewster Burns photo

 

OXFORD — Those who define the moment — and don’t let the moment define them — are afforded the opportunity to pen their own pages in the books of history.

In the Oxford 250 over the last decade, no driver has better defined the moments than Morrill’s Travis Benjamin. The understated racer heads into Sunday’s 47th chapter having won three of the last seven Oxford 250s, including consecutive wins in 2013 and 2014.

Only three other drivers in history — Dave Dion, Ralph Nason and Mike Rowe — have won three Oxford 250s. Nobody has won four.

“Every year that I’ve won it, we’ve flown under the radar,” Benjamin said Saturday, a day in which rain washed out the entire schedule of on-track activity at Oxford Plains Speedway. It was a rare day off smack in the middle of Oxford 250 weekend, something that had never happened before.

Given the way 2020 has gone, abnormal has become the new normal, anyway. What was once inconceivable has become what’s expected.

If Benjamin were to win a record fourth Oxford 250 on Sunday, it would be both expected and inconceivable all at the same time. The 41-year-old driver has proven more than capable of winning the Oxford 250, yet nobody ever seems to drop him on their short list of pre-race favorites.

How does he go so unnoticed up until the very moment he’s adorned in flowers and a bubbly spray of celebration in victory lane time and time again?

“You know, I haven’t ever really won many 150-lap races,” Benjamin speculated. “Most of my wins are in 250-, 300-lap races. As I’ve gotten older, I’m not as aggressive as I used to be. I think that helps in these longer races — but it hurts me in 150-lap races. In those shorter races, you’ve got one set of tires, you’ve got to get to the front as soon as you can, get track position and try to hold guys off. In these (longer) races, you’ve got to pit, you’ve got to pick your spots, you get to race.”

The late Tom Curley, who ran the American-Canadian Tour and Vermont’s Thunder Road International Speedbowl for decades until his passing in 2017, loved dissecting races. He delighted in recognizing the sequence of events where a race’s outcome was determined.

It wasn’t winning the pole position. It wasn’t on a restart with 10 laps remaining. It wasn’t using a front bumper to nudge a leader out of the way on the final lap.

Curley would find the moment when a driver went three-wide 80 laps from the finish to jump from eighth to fifth and put himself in contention. Or when a pass for the lead prior to a pit stop secured track position that would not be relinquished. Or when someone would drop out of a heated multi-car battle for the lead, opting instead to nurse tire wear for when those who had been racing too hard too early ultimately began to fade.

There’s always a moment in a race that sets the stage for the ultimate outcome, Curley believed.

“I agree 100 percent with that,” Benjamin said. “In every one that I’ve won, I can remember exactly when it happened. I don’t know if it’s something — I mean, can I explain it? I don’t know. Maybe I’m just lucky.”

Travis Benjamin celebrates winning his third Oxford 250 title at Oxford Plains Speedway in August 2019. Brewster Burns photo

 

 

 

 

 

Though Benjamin has always played the Eeyore role to the optimism and confidence of some of his more Pooh-like compatriots, to dismiss his good fortune as a product of nothing more than luck is irresponsible.

In the midst of a 100 miles-an-hour, 40-car conveyor belt of heat, noise and utter chaos, Benjamin seems able to slow things down to a crawl and make decisions that a mix of adrenaline and bravado would otherwise want to undermine. He not only sees the moment — 100 laps from the finish? 50 laps from the finish? five laps before a scheduled pit stop? — but he understands the significance of its arrival.

In 2013, a risky move to split two lapped cars helped him pad a comfortable lead over runner-up Joey Doiron. The following year, he went three-wide to get to the runner-up spot and be in position to later take the lead from Austin Theriault on a restart en route to victory. Last summer, it was the way he sensed it was time to go, pressing the issue to climb out of the back half top 10 in the second half of the race.

But it’s not always the races he’s won where Benjamin saw the moment as it unfolded.

“Even in the ones I lost, I could tell right when it happened,” Benjamin said, noting his defeat at the hands of Wayne Helliwell Jr. in 2016 or how he was leading with 30 laps to go in 2018 before Bubba Pollard went on to win the race.

As a fellow driver entered in this weekend’s Oxford 250 said, “Travis has a very high race I.Q.”

It’s high enough that for the last decade of the Oxford 250, no driver has recognized the moments better than Benjamin has. And certainly, no driver has capitalized on them, either. If he’s able to do it one more time on Sunday, he’ll have done something none of New England’s racing royalty has done before.

“It crosses your mind, obviously, but I really don’t lose sleep over it,” Benjamin said. “I never in my wildest dreams thought it would happen that I would win three of them. I’ll say this, though: The work ethic is there. I want to win a fourth one. I’m putting effort into everything this weekend, but I lose more sleep thinking about how to make the car go faster than I am worrying about winning four.

“Those guys who have won three of them, they’re legends. I’m not a legend.”

Not yet. But if he finds the moment is right again Sunday night, he well could write the book on how to become one.


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