Mike Rowe of Turner is introduced to the crowd before the start of the Oxford 250 in August 2021 at Oxford Plains Speedway. Brewster Burns photo

OXFORD — Mike Rowe recalled saying just two words when he received the prostate cancer diagnosis last February.

“This sucks,” the 72-year-old Rowe recalled saying.

Nobody is bulletproof, and that includes one of the most celebrated auto racing drivers in state history.

Cancer has prevented Rowe — a 2014 Maine Motorsports Hall of Fame inductee who has won more than 200 career races — from racing a full-time schedule this season.

Rowe, a Turner resident, plans to be at Oxford Plains Speedway on Sunday for the 49th annual Oxford 250, although for the first time since 2012 he will not attempt to qualify. Rowe has won the prized Oxford 250 three times, tying him for the most in race history with Dave Dion, Ralph Nason and Travis Benjamin. 

As he continues his recovery, Rowe will turn his seat over to his son, Ben Rowe, who won consecutive Oxford 250 titles in 2003 and 04. 

“I could tell that it took a lot out of him,” said Ben Rowe, of seeing his father make his first and only start of the season in a Pro All Stars Series (PASS) race at Oxford Plains on Aug. 13. “That Sunday, we did a (vintage race car show at Wiscasset Speedway), and he just didn’t feel 100 percent, and that was after just the one-day race.

“We talked about it there a little bit. On the way home from that, he called me and said, ‘If you’re willing to run it, let’s go that route.’”

“It was a no-brainer,” Mike added. “He was available, he knows how to get around Oxford and I know he’ll do a great job.”



Mike Rowe, who runs a construction business, said he started feeling sick last winter. He finally decided to see a doctor when he started thinking about what a summer racing season would look like.

After a biopsy in February revealed he had prostate cancer, Mike attacked treatments much in the way he’s attacked race tracks for the last half century.

“He really had a good attitude. He said he’s strong and tough and he can beat this,” close friend Karol Hill said. “The doctors told him that this was a type of cancer that can be treated and beat, and Mike never thought he couldn’t beat it. All of May and June he had his treatments in Scarborough, and he never missed a day of work.”

The race car has been on the track all season, with grandson Max Rowe competing in the weekly Super Late Model division at Oxford, where he has a victory and sits eighth in the current point standings.

Mike Rowe drives around Oxford Plains Speedway during a Pro All Stars Series Super Late Model race on Aug. 13 on Oxford Plains Speedway. His son, Ben Rowe, will drive the No. 24 car at this weekend’s Oxford 250. Oriana Lovell photo

On Aug. 6, Mike Rowe took the car out for a few practice laps and declared himself ready to tackle the 150-lap PASS event the following Saturday.

“I told him that he doesn’t have anything to prove to anybody,” Hill said.

That advice, along with concerns about a four-day grind in the summer heat at the race track during Oxford 250 weekend, ultimately led to Mike deciding not to force the issue this year.

“I knew I’d have to lay off and take it easy,” Mike said. “I’ve got to regroup, which is why I’m not running this weekend. Maybe late fall or next spring, but I’ll be back at some point.”



Ironically, it was his father’s cancer diagnosis that led to Ben Rowe being available this weekend.

After 16 seasons and six championships together, Rowe and Richard Moody Racing parted ways in mid-July after a pair of disappointing finishes at White Mountain Motorsports Park in North Woodstock, New Hampshire.

Though Rowe and RMR won the American-Canadian Tour Late Model championship in 2021, the organization has just three PASS North Series wins in 149 races dating to the beginning of the 2013 season. RMR’s lone series title came in 2007.

“At the end of last year, I could see the writing on the wall with what was going on,” Ben said. “It wasn’t fun, it was a chore going to the track. It’s three full-time guys, all the money that (Richard Moody) can put in it, it’s the best-funded team in the Northeast. Then when you run that bad, it takes a toll on everyone.”

Rowe said he’s had several opportunities to get back into a race car, but after more than three decades of racing every weekend across the country, he decided to step back and spend more time to be with his family.

Ben said his father’s prostate cancer was a reality check.

“It was a lot to process,” Rowe said. “Everything that I do is with him — working every day, racing every weekend. It was an eye-opener, for sure.

“That’s kind of why I stepped away from the Moody deal. I like a lot of those guys, but we’re only here for a short period of time. If I can’t go to the races and have fun, then why do it?”



The Rowe name is as synonymous with the Oxford 250 as Fenway Park is to the Boston Red Sox.

Together they have five Oxford 250 titles — Mike’s three crowns came in 1984, 1997 and 2005. Mike Rowe has started 39 of the previous 48 Oxford 250s and owns 10 track championships and 152 career feature wins at Oxford Plains.

Ben Rowe of Turner will be racing his father Mike’s car this weekend at Oxford Plains Speedway. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Mike Rowe was in the starting lineup for the first Oxford 250 in 1974 (it was a 200-lap race) and has competed in the race in several different incarnations. He won it as a NASCAR-sanctioned event in 1984 and again during the short-lived Northeast Pro Stock Association (NEPSA) era in 1997. Current Oxford Plains Speedway owner and Pro All Stars Series president Tom Mayberry finished eighth in the 1997 race.

Rowe has also competed in the Oxford 250 under two different versions of the American-Canadian Tour (the original Pro Stock/Super Late Model version and the current crate Late Model one) and against some of the biggest names in motorsports — not just from the Northeast and Canada, but also NASCAR stars like Geoffrey Bodine, Harry Gant and Dale Jarrett.

For Ben Rowe’s part, since nearly winning the race in his debut as a rookie in 1996 — he ran out of fuel just a few laps from the finish — he has 11 top-10 finishes in 24 career starts.

The Oxford 250 has included at least one of the Rowes in all but two races since 1996 (2007 and 2012).

In 2007, in response to the Oxford 250 becoming an ACT race, the Rowes competed in a 250-lap Pro All Stars Series race that was scheduled in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. In 2012, Ben planned on running both the race in Canada and the Oxford 250 on the same day and even went as far as having another driver qualify his car — but he didn’t make it back to Oxford until well after the race had started.

The father-son duo will again make Oxford 250 history this weekend; this will be the first time Ben drives a car owned by his father.

“It would be awesome,” Mike Rowe said of what it would mean to have Ben win the race in his car. “That would probably be better than winning it myself if he could pull it off, to have him win his third.”

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