Throughout the history of motorsports, whether it has been at North Wilkesboro, LeMans or anywhere in between, automakers have subscribed to the adage “Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday”. Often, a big victory over the weekend would steer race fans into showrooms to shop for the winning make of car. The late Dale Earnhardt even announced Monday sales at his Dale Earnhardt Chevrolet dealership in rural North Carolina on TV broadcasts from victory lane after a NASCAR Cup Series victory.
Up in Maine, Jeff Taylor is known for being one of the most accomplished racecar drivers in the state. He has earned a total of nine track championships through the years at Oxford Plains Speedway (ME). Taylor is still winning races these days, but his priorities have now shifted to those of a car builder as he owns and operates Distance Racing Products - building winning racecars used by drivers like Ben Rowe, Mike Rowe and Joey Pole at short tracks throughout the Eastern United States. Even Kyle Busch has wheeled around a Taylor-built Distance creation on occasion.
Taylor won Saturday's night ACT Late Model race at Oxford and it didn't take long after he removed his helmet in victory lane for him to shift from the role of winning racecar driver to winning car builder. After a few victory lane photos, Taylor rolled up his sleeves and got to work getting his #88 Late Model through the technical inspection process, pausing for a few moments here and there to complete his winner's interviews.
A post-race beer or any moments of basking in the glow of his latest victory would have to wait. There was work to do…work that could result in taking care of current customers and selling a few more cars in the weeks ahead. Winning was like a big research and development project gone well for Taylor and his team.
“We do this for a living and we have to go out and run our product,” said Taylor. “We have to see what ails it. You put it in all of these different hands and everyone ends up with something different. It's just the way that it is and it doesn't matter if it is our cars or someone else's. At least if we can go out and do what we did today.”
Taylor led a few laps early, battling hard with fellow car builder Ricky Rolfe (who builds racecars under the RB Performance Banner] for the top spot. Then he watched one of his Distance Racing creations, under the control of Jeff White, check out from the field and lead 92 laps in the middle stages of the race. Taylor was gaining on White slightly, running in second place, and then inherited the lead when White ran out of fuel with just eight laps to go.
Even in thinking about that change of the lead, Taylor still had his car builder hat on.
“Jeff [White] runs our cars and we were pretty damn even,” said Taylor. “If we can do those things, it just gives us credibility with everyone else. So we have to do these things. There's been a lot of things that have changed in our racing, and everyone else's racing, through the years. So we just keep working on it and keep it going.”
If you might think that Taylor is now more focused on being a car builder than a driver, you'd probably be right. He's evolved into that role through the years.
“Things change, owning the business really changes my thinking,” said Taylor.
As a driver, Taylor had few words about the victory to share…but those few words were still philosophical.
“Oh yeah, it feels good to win,” said Taylor with a laugh. “It beats coming out to finish 35th…I've been there too.”
The victory at Oxford comes on the heels of Taylor's first career ACT victory last month at the nearby Beech Ridge Motor Speedway (ME). That gave Taylor a pair of victories during the 2011 ACT season - in only two starts on the year!
“We ran two of them and won the both of them, but today was kind of a gift I would say,” said Taylor. “We [Taylor and White] were pretty even. Unless he was having issues and that let us get that close. It seemed like we could run the same spot on the racetrack, so even if I could get to him, there wasn't much I could do with him…I don't think.”
Don't think though that Taylor isn't fired up as a racecar driver anymore. His passion is still just as strong when it comes to one race on the schedule - the TD Bank Oxford 250.
Taylor has come close to tasting success in that race, but he's also swallowed some bitter pills of disappointment. He's finished second in the 250. He's also dropped out early. He's led plenty of laps, including in this year's race. Eventually though, he finished sixth less than a month ago in the 2011 version of the 250, and after that event, his disappointment was obvious.
“Another one down the tubes,” Taylor said to longtime Lewiston Sun-Journal sports writer Kalle Oakes after the race.
Taylor has been great in the event. His nine career top 10 finishes in the race are eclipsed only by Dick McCabe and Dave Dion - men who have won the 250. Still, an Oxford 250 victory has eluded Taylor. Even after Saturday night's victory, the 250 was still very much on Taylor's mind.
“It's cool [that we won],” said Taylor, becoming a little quieter as he spoke. “We don't race these long races very often. So this is what we need to do to try and find out what we need to try to win a 250. I've done a lot of things here and that's the one thing that I've never gotten. It's not that we haven't had cars that could win. It's pretty much the same race every year (for us).
“I'm sure that I don't have the fire that I used to have 20 years ago…I know that I don't. But that one race is everything. It's what we practice for. We try doing everything we can do. We've car cars that could have and should have won that race. We just never have. It's been called my 'white elephant'.”
While the Oxford 250 has cast a spell on Taylor, another one of the biggest events for ACT-type Late Models in New England has not. That is the ACT Invitational at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in September.
Taylor has earned a spot in the race on the basis of his two ACT victories, but he's not sure whether he will RSVP to the party or not yet. Taylor has eight starts at NHMS during the 1998 and 1999 seasons in what is now that NASCAR K&N Pro Series East division. He finished 11th in the August, 1998 event there - competing in a show that Dale Shaw won and included a number of other notable short trackers like Brad Leighton, Mike Stefanik, Dave Dion, Jamie Aube, Jerry Marquis, Bobby Dragon, Tracy Gordon, Rick Fuller, Ben Rowe, Ted Christopher and Kelly Moore. Some would argue that the series was in its heyday during that time, and Taylor appears to have compiled enough good experience back then at “The Magic Mile” to last an entire career.
“I don't know what we are doing next,” said Taylor. “I don't know [about racing at NHMS]. I've been fortunate to have gone and done that years ago. While it's cool and it would be neat to win there, I don't know.
“I'm trying to look at it business-wise because that is obviously a very different race track. So I'm trying to decide [if it is worth it]…to try and run with Eddie [MacDonald] and those guys. They've got that all figured out. So is it worth it business-wise? Personally…I don't need to. It just needs to make sense. It's a Cup weekend and we aren't campers, so we'd have to get hotel rooms and the last time we went and raced there 10, 11 or 12 years ago, they had three-day minimums. So I really struggle with it….and I shouldn't. As a racer, I should say, 'Great! We're going to Loudon!'. But I don't.
“So I don't know. Time will tell. I'm sure I will sit at home and think about it. We'll have to just wait and see - as dumb as it sounds. I know that I shouldn't be that way. I should think this is great…and for guys like Austin [Theriault] and those guys, it is great. That might mean something in his racing career. We could go there and have a great day and while it might mean something business-wise or personally, it won't get me anywhere. We've done our deal [in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series] and now it's someone else's turn to try that.”
Babb Skips Oxford Show
Bradley Babb was seventh in the ACT Late Model standings entering the Oxford race, but last year's Rookie of the Year winner was a no-show for the races at Oxford. He ran his family's Pro Series car down the road at Beech Ridge on Saturday night and then stopped by Oxford to be a spectator. Speed51.com caught up with him in the pits after the race and Babb explained how finances are keeping him from finishing out the 2011 season.
“We'd like to get some sponsorship for sure, but the car is for sale. We would probably go back to Beech Ridge weekly next year unless we get that sponsorship because it's just so expensive to do this.
“If we had the money to pay someone to work on the car during the week, not even full-time - but just a little bit to get the car ready, it would help. But working on the car cuts into working and that cuts into the money to go to the races and we don't have the sponsorship to do it. So when we have to take time off from logging [the Babb family business], it doesn't pay very good…and then you run 10th and lose money. It's not fun to go to the track and be a 10th place car anymore.”
Theriault Records Another Runner-Up Finish
Austin Theirault recently recorded top five finishes in the Oxford 250 and in the ACT races at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in his family's #57ME Late Model. He also finished fifth at Beech Ridge in an RPM Motorsports entry. Theirault looked to improve on that hot streak and take home his first career at ACT Late Model Tour victory at Oxford, but he had to settle for second place again this time around.
“I thought tonight that we might have been able to pull it off,” said Theirault. “The track felt quite a bit different from the 250 and not having a lot of practice time hurt. Everyone was on the same playing field, but we did try a few things.”
Theirault finished as the lone young gun in a gaggle of veterans at Oxford. Nine-time OPS track champion Jeff Taylor won the race while Brian Hoar, a seven-time ACT champion, finished behind Theirault in third.
“Jeff did an awesome job and Brian was coming,” said Theirault. “A few other guys were coming. The guys gave me a good car [to race with those drivers]. It was a handful, but we held on and finished second.”
We'll have more from Austin Theirault in a feature story later this week at Speed51.com.
MacDonald Rebounds to a Top Five Finish
Eddie MacDonald started deep in the field at Oxford and the two-time TD Bank Oxford 250 winner struggled near the tail end of the lead lap throughout the first half of the race. MacDonald picked up the pace later on though and trucked all the way up to a fourth-place finish.
In addition to a fine finish, MacDonald's #17 team also learned a thing or too during their most recent Oxford outing.
“We tried a couple of different things,” said MacDonald. “We always try to learn new things when we come here after the 250 or early in the year. We got a little bit lost with only 15 minutes of practice. In the heat race, it was good for about five laps and then we went backwards. It's too bad that we had to start so far back. I was trying to be careful not to burn the tires up, but I beat them up pretty bad. That's a long ways to ask the tires to work.”
Sanborn Has a Solid ACT Debut
Longtime Oxford Plains Speedway and Beech Ridge Motor Speedway weekly competitor Matt Sanborn made his ACT Late Model Tour debut on Saturday night. The UPS Delivery Driver by day and racer by weekend had attempted to qualify for ACT events at Oxford and Beech Ridge in the past, as well as for the Milk Bowl at Thunder Road Speedbowl (VT), but he had fallen short. On Saturday at Oxford, Sanborn did anything but fall short.
Sanborn started 30th, worked his way up into the top 15 and salvaged a 20th place finish after pitting under green due to a bolt that came out of his braking system.
Sessions in Back in the Saddle
2001 PASS North champion Sam Sessions was at Oxford running the #1 Late Model that 2010 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series champion Keith Rocco attempted to qualify for the TD Bank 250 with. Sessions practiced the car for Rocco during the 250 weekend and was a natural choice to wheel the car this time around as Rocco was racing an SK Modified at Waterford Speedbowl (CT). Sessions' car never really got up to speed this time around though and the veteran driver finished 21st. Rocco, on the other hand, finished fourth at Waterford.
- Nick Sweet made his debut in the RPM Motorsports #57 Late Model as a teammate to Brian Hoar. Sweet was quick in his heat race, but not as a strong in the feature. He recorded a 12th place finish.
- T.J. Brackett got spun twice over the course of the 150-lap ACT race, but rebounded to a solid sixth place finish. Brackett got to enjoy family bragging rights after the race as his father Tim Brackett finished 11th.
- All 36 entrants in the Oxford ACT race were allowed to start the race. There was no consolation or last chance races needed to set the field.
- Two rain delays made the Oxford race a late one. The first took place in the late afternoon and wiped out much of practice. The second delayed the start of the heat races. The ACT feature was moved ahead of feature races for the Oxford Mini Stocks and Strictly Stocks to allow the traveling teams to get an earlier start home towards their shops throughout the New England states.
- Brian Hoar will remain in command of the ACT Late Model point standings this week when they are officially released. The two-time defending ACT champion finished third, with non-regular Jeff Taylor and Austin Theirault ahead of him. Theirault entered the Oxford race fifth in the standings. Hoar's closest title rival, John Donahue, finished 14th. The third and fourth place points runners heading into Oxford were Wayne Helliwell and Randy Potter. Both of those drivers took home top 10 finishers from Oxford, but still lost ground to Hoar.