OXFORD, Maine – ACT Late Model Tour regulars fear the locals from Oxford Plains Speedway, and the weekly Late Model drivers at Oxford likewise eye their touring counterparts with some trepidation when they roll into the track a few times each season.
Ben Ashline might just have the best of both worlds.
Ashline, a former weekly competitor at Oxford and current full-time ACT competitor, put a solid and convincing whipping on the field Sunday to win the Armed Forces Day 150. Ashline, of Pittston, Maine, led the final 104 laps for his first career ACT Late Model Tour victory.
“It still really hasn't even sunk in yet,” said Ashline, the 2011 ACT Rookie of the Year. “The car was really good. It stayed so consistent, I feel like I could have run another 100 laps and the car wouldn't have changed. The car was that consistent.”
Joey Polewarczyk Jr. of Hudson, N.H., finished a distant second. Jeff White, last year's Oxford Plains track champion and defending winner of this event, was third. Brent Dragon and Austin Theriault rounded out the Top-5.
“The regulars here, definitely, I do think have an advantage,” Polewarczyk said. “The weather just affects the track a lot, and how they goup it (with traction compound) affects it a lot, too... It's just a really tough place to pass.”
Five of the Top-8 finishers either currently compete at Oxford on a weekly basis or have made several starts in weekly competition over the last few seasons at the track. Ashline said there was no doubt in his mind that his 2009 season, when he spent virtually every Saturday night at Oxford, was time well spent.
Once again, the results seemed to bear out that Oxford regulars have a leg up on the full-time Touring teams.
“I firmly agree with that,” Ashline said. “This place is not easy to get around. You go to Thunder Road, to Lee, all these places with banking, and you can really drive the car. It's so flat here, you have to have so much finesse and carry the momentum. It's not an easy place to hook up.
“There's so many variables that can change.”
Ashline started 13th in the 33-car field, but in less than 40 laps he had cracked the Top-3. When he caught early race leaders Polewarczyk and White, he momentarily tried to put his No. 15 DS Norton Construction Chevrolet three-wide in the far outside groove before thinking better of it.
Only a handful of laps later, on Lap 47, he successfully used the outside to go around White. He never looked back – easily opening up an advantage of more than 10-car lengths after three mid-race restarts.
Ashline's final margin of victory was 7.5 seconds over Polewarczyk.
“We've had good cars. We've had great 40-lap Saturday night cars, but we've got a new car this year from Distance (Racing),” Ashline said. “We started last year, we went into (the season opener), just with the mindset that we needed to make the race and that was going to determine if we would even go to the next race.
“Then we gained a little momentum. These past couple of weeks, people have come up and said, 'Geez, you've got the sophomore jinx.' I hope not – and to come here and do this, we were glad that we could have a good run here.”
Not everybody had such great luck on Sunday. ACT points leader Wayne Helliwell Jr. had a severe overheating problem and finished 30th after completing only 65 laps. Brian Hoar had a flat tire and went two laps down to finish 13th. Jean-Paul Cyr, a seven-time ACT champion who entered the weekend fifth in the overall standings, failed to qualify.
But this day didn't belong to the Tour regulars. It belonged to the home-grown talent.
“The struggles that we've had,” Ashline said before pausing to collect his thoughts, “this makes it all worth it.”
CLICK HERE for a photo gallery from the ACT Armed Forces Day 150.