–by T.J. Ingerson (@TJIngerson)
OXFORD, Maine – Wayne Helliwell Jr. had a lot of outside expectations entering the 43rd annual HP Hood Oxford 250.
He more than filled them.
The Dover, N.H., driver completed a pass on Travis Benjamin with just six laps left to win the $25,000, 250-lap event on Sunday night at Oxford Plains Speedway.
“I don’t know, I really don’t,” Helliwell said when asked what it means to win. “I’ve been coming here for years and come to watch my dad try to run. He struggled equally as much as I did for a number of years. I’ve come up here throughout the years and never had success. I’ve been part of the buy a million tires and race every heat race, consi race, non-qualifiers race, and finally make it in and you have no tires. I’ve been on all sides of it.
“It wasn’t until last year that we stumbled upon something that has carried us into this year. It’s unbelievable. It’s mind blowing.
Helliwell started in the fourth spot and ran inside the top five for much of the first 75 laps of the event. But when a lap 82 caution flag flew, Helliwell and his Bruce Bernhardt-led team decided it was time to use some strategy.
The No. 27 EKeys4Cars/Rydemore Ford hit pit road for the first of two pit stops, two right-side tires. Helliwell would make marginal gains back up through the field – moving from 18th to 10th in 50 laps, but would inherit the lead when Benjamin led a group of cars down pit road for four tires.
Helliwell held the top spot until a lap 159-caution when Helliwell returned to pit road and surrendered the lead back to Benjamin, this time for four tires. He restarted 18th — but with 40 laps fresher tires than most in front of him — he zoomed back to the front at a torrid pace.
Helliwell got back into the top five by lap 185 and into third by lap 212. Following a restart on that lap, Helliwell moved into the second spot and began challenging Benjamin for the top spot. A lap 226-restart saw Helliwell and Benjamin hook back up in a side-by-side battle until the end of the race.
As Benjamin and Helliwell went door-to-door, Helliwell used the lapped car of Garrett Evans as a pick and power past Benjamin and into the lead on lap 244 for keeps.
“To run like that, side-by-side for so many laps with a purse like that and not get into each other and not end up in a basket, hats off to Travis,” Helliwell said.
“The new tires there at the end put us in really good spot to capitalize there at the end.”
Helliwell’s win comes after being named one of the pre-race favorites, one year after he was a surprise fourth-place finisher.
“I’m usually pretty good at staying even keel and just worry about ourselves and do our own deal,” Helliwell said. “I know Bruce (Bernhardt) this week and over the weekend, he’s been stressed out beyond belief. He’s white in the face. I’m just like ‘relax.’
“It did add extra stress from last year. And the last two races we’ve had here with the wins, there’s been a little bit of pressure. But I tried to stay level headed and stay out of that. I just like to hang back in the trailer and make the calls and do our deal. I think it worked out great.”
The win for Helliwell comes in a car designed similar to that of Dave Dion. Car owner Bernhardt was a longtime team member of Dion’s and was in victory lane for Dion’s last win in 1992.
“I’m very, very proud to bring this to New Hampshire and for Bruce and (crew member) Kurt (Knight) and the guys that were part Dave’s team for so many years,” Helliwell said. “It really means a lot to them.”
Helliwell’s 250 win comes four years after the return of Super Late Models to the Oxford 250. The Bernhardt team made the decision to compete in it that year and had to design and build a Super Late Model to go into their stable of race cars.
“It was a long battle,” Helliwell said. “We built the Super Late Model we had here tonight, and it’s pretty much an ACT car. When push came to shove, if we were in a tight point battle this year (in ACT) and wrecked that one, we could have strip (the Super Late Model) and put all the parts on and it would work.
“When we first started, a lot of that ACT stuff translated into it. We come out and we’d be fast in practice and be people would be ‘wooing’, but 30, 40 laps into the race, we’d sink like a ship. It was a lot of late night and a lot of testing and just beating my head against the wall.
“I build them and if it’s not working, I take it personal. And I have to make it work. I was going down a road that was never going to work and once I finally realized that and pulled myself out of there is when we started getting results.”
The team decided to keep their ACT Late Model car parked this weekend despite a point-counting event at Oxford on Saturday. That move, despite being criticized by some, seemingly paid off and allowed the team to concentrate solely on the race winning car.
“Mathematically, we still had a chance, but you have to realistically look at it,” Helliwell said. “I need those three or four other guys to have bad weeks and we need to everyone. Is that going to happen? Probably not. With coming here and the doubleheader, my health isn’t the greatest so to do two of them back-to-back and to stress out everyone, all the extra money, it was a smart decision.
“I think it showed. That was the main decision and we needed to stay focused on (the 250). My average age crew member is about 60-something. I just can’t beat them for all three days.”
Helliwell pointed to longtime sponsor EKeys4Cars as a reason for the turnaround in the team’s Super Late Model program.
“I have to thank Jim Broadhurst from EKeys4Cars for standing up and putting a lot of money forward for us to test,” Helliwell said.
Benjamin, or Morrill, Maine, led the most laps a race-high 159 laps, but settled for a disappointing runner-up finish. D.J. Shaw of Center Conway, N.H. finished third with two-time Oxford 250 champion Ben Rowe fourth. Joey Polewarczyk Jr. of Hudson, N.H., completed the top-five finishers.
Cassius Clark moved the most positions in the 250-lap feature event as he went from 33rd to finish sixth. Garrett Hall challenged Benjamin for the lead on multiple occasions but faded late and settled for seventh. Johnny Clark finished eighth, while Ben Lynch drove from a 32nd place starting spot to finish ninth. Defending race winner Glen Luce led early in the event but finished 10th.
Helliwell will add his name to a list of some of the all-time great New England short track racers with his Oxford 250 win, something he even struggles to get his mind around with his accomplishments thus far.
“I don’t ever look at myself like that,” Helliwell said. “Dion, all those guys that have won this race so many times. Watching it growing up and watching Nason run three- and four-wide around here, it was awesome. And I don’t look at myself like that. Those guys are champions.
“It’s going to take some time before it really sinks in.”
UNOFFICIAL RESULTS – 43rd Annual H.P. Hood Oxford 250
PASS North Super Late Models
Oxford Plains Speedway, Oxford, Maine
Sunday, August 28, 2016
1. (4) Wayne Helliwell Jr., Dover, N.H. – 250
2. (14) Travis Benjamin, Morrill, Maine – 250
3. (2) D.J. Shaw, Center Conway, N.H. – 250
4. (8) Ben Rowe, Turner, Maine – 250
5. (15) Joey Polewarczyk Jr., Hudson, N.H. – 250
6. (33) Cassius Clark, Farmington, Maine – 250
7. (9) Garrett Hall, Scarborough, Maine – 250
8. (16) Johnny Clark, Hallowell, Maine – 250
9. (32) Ben Lynch, Charlotte, N.C. – 250
10. (3) Glen Luce, Turner, Maine – 250
11. (1) Joey Doiron, Berwick, Maine – 250
12. (34) Bobby Timmons, Windham, Maine – 250
13. (35) Mike Hopkins, Hermon, Maine – 250
14. (13) Tracy Gordon, Strong, Maine – 250
15. (27) Dalton Sargeant, Boca Raton, Fla. – 250
16. (26) Reid Lanpher, Manchester, Maine – 250
17. (23) Jeff White, Winthrop, Maine – 250
18. (10) Jeremy Davis, Tamworth, N.H. – 250
19. (29) Dennis Spencer Jr., Oxford, Maine – 250
20. (30) Shawn Martin, Turner, Maine – 250
21. (7) David Oliver, Standish, Maine – 250
22. (5) Mike Rowe, Turner, Maine – 250
23. (19) Garrett Evans, Wentachee, Wash. – 249
24. (22) Dave Farrington Jr., Jay, Maine – 249
25. (21) Shawn Knight, South Paris, Maine – 247
26. (25) Derek Griffith, Hudson, N.H. – 247
27. (18) Tate Fogleman, Durham, N.C. – 245
28. (37) Kodie Conner, Kannapolis, N.H. – 223
29. (39) Derek Ramstrom, Worcester, Mass. – 202
30. (20) Jeff Taylor, Farmington, Maine – 193
31. (40) Scott Farrington, Minot, Maine – 178
32. (36) Bryan Kruczek, Newmarket, N.H. – 174
33. (24) Justin Drake, Burnham, Maine – 159
34. (42) Jeremie Whorff, Brunswick, Maine – 124
35. (6) Austin Theriault, Fort Kent, Maine – 122
36. (12) Kelly Moore, Scarborough, Maine – 120
37. (41) Scott Robbins, Dixfield, Maine – 122
38. (28) Travis Stearns, Auburn, Maine – 104
39. (31) Kyle Treadwell, Buckfield, Maine – 62
40. (38) Tim Brackett, Buckfield, Maine – 46
41. (11) Jake Crum, Newport, Tenn. – 8
42. (17) T.J. Brackett, Buckfield, Maine – 7
1 – Wayne Helliwell Jr. celebrates his HP Hood Oxford 250 win on Sunday night at Oxford Plains Speedway. (T.J. Ingerson/VMM photo)
2 – Wayne Helliwell Jr. and his Bruce Bernhardt-led team celebrate their HP Hood Oxford 250 win. (T.J. Ingerson/VMM photo)