–by T.J. Ingerson (@TJIngerson)
OXFORD, Maine – Bruce Bernhardt began his quest for an Oxford 250 win after being part of the race winning Dion teams.
He earned his own as a car owner and crew chief on Sunday night at Oxford Plains Speedway.
Bernhardt’s driver Wayne Helliwell Jr. made a late race pass on Travis Benjamin after the two went door-to-door for 20 laps to claim the win in the famed $25,000-to-win race.
“I didn’t actually see (the pass),” Bernhardt said. “I just saw (Helliwell) come out (turn four as the leader). (The last five laps were) very long.
“But I knew in my heart that he would get it done.”
Bernhardt grew up going to the race track with the Dion family and was in victory lane for Dion’s last Oxford 250 win in 1992. His car that Helliwell drivers are schemed similar to that of Dion’s too — primarily orange with big, white numbers.
“That’s what drove me. I wouldn’t be in this sport if it wasn’t for them,” Bernhardt said of the Dions. “This past Saturday, I went to a party that was all the Dion brothers, all the old sponsors, all the fans. They’re all patting me on the back ‘you can do it, you can do it’.
“They’re the main reason I’m here.”
Bernhardt and Helliwell made a decision to continue to chase a 250 win after the 2012 season when the track was sold to the Mayberry family and the race returning to the Super Late Model rules package.
“When the Mayberry’s took over this race, we didn’t have a car to run,” Bernhardt said. “We said ‘hey, we have to build a car to go run the Oxford 250.’ It took a while to get it up to speed.
“But we finally found something.”
The team finished seventh in the Oxford 250 one year ago after they led the most laps. This season, they entered as pre-race favorites after back-to-back PASS North Super Late Model wins at the track.
“Who would have thought that we would be really good at Oxford?” Bernhardt said.
The team that normally competes on the ACT Late Model Tour left that car in the shop despite a point counting event at Oxford on Saturday night to focus solely on winning the biggest short track race in the northeast.
“Wayne and I have worked very hard for this,” Bernhardt said. “I got a lot of slack for not running our ACT car yesterday, but we were focused on this race.
“And the only way you can win this race is be 100% in it.”
Bernhardt will now see Helliwell’s name be listed next to the great champions of the Oxford 250 and join three-time winner Dave Dion’s.
The win comes less than one month after Helliwell was involved in a controversial finish with Joey Polewarczyk Jr. at Oxford where the finish was declared a dead heat.
“There’s no controversy. They can say what they can say,” Bernhardt said. “But they can say we won this race.”
1 – Bruce Bernhardt (right) and Wayne Helliwell Jr. (left) share an embrace after they won the 43rd Oxford 250 on Sunday night. (T.J. Ingerson/VMM photo)
2 – Bruce Bernhardt (left) in Oxford 250 victory lane in 1992 as part of Dave Dion’s third victory in the famed race. (Victory Racing Cards/VMM photo)