If Jimmy Hebert’s victory celebration after Saturday’s American-Canadian Tour Oxford 125 seemed excessive, give the reigning champion some leeway.
It has, after all, been a challenging year.
Hebert slipped around Ben Rowe with 27 laps remaining to secure his second ACT Tour win of the season on the eve of the storied Oxford 250 at Oxford Plains Speedway in Maine.
“Last year we won a lot, so everything kind of came easy,” Hebert said after the race. “This year’s just been really brutal. It feels really good.”
For most of the race, Hebert seemed poised to place or show, but not to win. But as tempers and time claimed the race’s most dominant drivers, Hebert was in position to capitalize.
Rowe was the strongest contender early in the going, setting the pace through the first half of the race. Hebert had climbed from ninth to second by the race’s second caution flag at lap 39. With lapped traffic between Hebert and Rowe on the restart, Rowe had an opportunity to build some distance.
A quick yellow and some dicing for position negated Rowe’s advantage, though, bringing the top five together with most of the race still ahead.
Hebert quickly found himself overtaken by the hard-charging duo of Mike Hopkins and Derek Gluchacki. Hopkins, a first-time Tour winner at Oxford in July, set his sights on the top spot, challenging Rowe at every turn.
Hopkins prevailed at last, working past Rowe on lap 72 and bringing Gluchacki along. Gluchacki, still seeking his first Tour win, made his own move four laps later, taking the top spot for his own. Hopkins remained glued to Gluchacki’s bumper, trying to pressure the sophomore into slipping.
A lap-88 caution gave Gluchacki a moment of respite. A lap after the restart, though, Hopkins turned Gluchacki down the backstretch, ending the Massachusetts racer’s shot at a first career win. Hopkins’ shot at a win went up in smoke, too, as officials directed him to the rear of the field.
Rowe, running third at the time, assumed the race lead, with Hebert taking over second. And without lapped traffic to defend his advantage, Rowe had his hands full. Hebert worked over the veteran, taking the lead on lap 99 and breaking free of the multi-time Pro All Stars Series champion.
Jesse Switser’s spin while battling Hopkins brought out one final yellow with seven laps remaining. Hebert set sail on the restart, leaving Rowe to fend off a late challenge from DJ Shaw.
Hebert, who won last year’s rain-delayed Oxford 250 prelude, took his second career win at the challenging oval.
Shaw, an ACT Tour championship contender, drove past Rowe in the closing laps to finish second. With his runner-up position, Shaw unofficially took the Tour points lead with four races remaining on the schedule.
Rowe slipped to third after leading the early stages of the race. Hudson Speedway winner Jimmy Renfrew, Jr. came home fourth. Hopkins drove back from his penalty to finish fifth.
“Bad Boy” Bobby Therrien was sixth in only his second Tour start of 2021. Gluchacki fought back from his spin to finish seventh, ahead of White Mountain Motorsports Park veteran Quinny Welch. Tom Carey III was ninth, and fellow Bay Stater Trent Goodrow rounded out the top ten.
A two-win season would normally be nothing to complain about. But outside of the wins, Hebert’s season has been, by his definition, miserable.
Hebert finished second in the season-opening tilt at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, but inherited the win after post-race inspection. It was a promising start to a title defense. In the next race at Thunder Road, though, Hebert’s night ended only 22 laps into the feature.
At Lee USA Speedway, where Hebert picked up his first career Tour win in 2013, another driver’s engine failure oiled down the track in practice. Hebert backed his car into the wall and was forced to load up early, effectively ending his drive for a second title only three races into the season.
Hebert’s luck improved only marginally, with his NHMS win and an eighth-place finish at Hudson his only top-ten results seven races into the season. Only once, at NHMS, had he completed every lap in a race. A year ago, Hebert never finished outside the top ten and completed all but one lap en route to his championship.
“The guys needed it really bad too, for the morale,” he said. “I can’t thank everybody enough for sticking behind us this year. I’m just happy to get the monkey off our back.”
Hebert’s jubilant celebration, a frontstretch smokeshow, may have had another significance, as he confirmed he will not chase another title next year.
“We’re going part-time next year,” he said. “With my wife and three kids, the kids are getting older, and they’re kind of ignoring this stuff. So this is my last full-time year.”
With all that at hand, there was more than enough cause for celebration.
Unofficial Results, ACT Tour Oxford Plains 125 at Oxford Plains Speedway:
1. (58VT) Jimmy Hebert
2. (04NH) DJ Shaw
3. (4ME) Ben Rowe
4. (00NH) Jimmy Renfrew, Jr.
5. (15ME) Mike Hopkins
6. (5VT) Bobby Therrien
7. (03MA) Derek Gluchacki
8. (78NH) Quinny Welch
9. (5MA) Tom Carey III
10. (31MA) Trent Goodrow
11. (31CT) Ryan Morgan
12. (17ME) Kris Matchett
13. (9NH) Matthew Morrill
14. (36NH) Erick Sands
15. (25NH) Jesse Switser
16. (2VT) Stephen Donahue
17. (27NC) Robby Gordon Douglas
18. (27ME) Cam Huntress
19. (10NH) Bryan Mason
20. (35NH) Alby Ovitt
21. (04NH) Shawn Swallow
22. (50RI) Mike Benevides
23. (49NH) Matt Anderson
24. (69ME) David MacDonald
25. (77MA) Jim Linardy
26. (21VT) Reilly Lanphear
27. (4NH) Jamie Swallow, Jr.
28. (22VT) Peyton Lanphear