Whoever came out on top in Sunday afternoon’s American-Canadian Tour Oxford 125 was almost certain to be a first-time winner at Oxford Plains Speedway. But Marcel Gravel took the first-time honors another step.
The second-generation short-tracker scored an upset victory, holding off Derek Gluchacki in the closing laps for his first-ever ACT Tour win on the challenging Maine oval.
And with his win, Gravel became the fifth different Tour winner in as many races for the Vermont-based Late Model touring organization in what has become a challenging season to forecast.
A different face in Victory Lane was admittedly a near-certainty Sunday, with only one driver in the field owning an Oxford ACT victory. Plenty of past series winners lurked throughout the field, one of them sure to rise to the top through the race.
But Gravel had other ideas. Starting outside the front row, Gravel exchanged the lead with polesitter Jeffrey Labrecque, Jr. before taking the point for good on the fourth lap. The Thunder Road regular drove off from the field, leaving Labrecque and Alexendre Tardif to battle for second.
Labrecque and Tardif earned a reprieve with Brockton Davis’ spin on lap 34, but Gravel drove off again, with Gluchacki joining the second-place battle. When Cam Huntress’ spin down the frontstretch brought out the race’s third caution with 80 laps complete, Gluchacki was second but nearly a straightaway behind the young Vermonter.
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Gravel once again distanced himself from second on the restart, though as the laps clicked off, Gluchacki began to reel Gravel back in. Slower traffic came into play for both, as Gluchacki caught Gravel in lapped traffic, then struggled to clear those cars as Gravel escaped from the pack.
Gluchacki ran Gravel back down in the closing laps, but he was just short of time to catch the Wolcott, Vt. racer, who held on for the victory.
A full-timer on the ACT Tour in 2020, Gravel had made 19 starts on the road entering Sunday’s race, with a best finish of third at Thunder Road last spring. Gravel had shown speed at Oxford in the past, starting from the pole in 2020, but an eighth-place finish that year was his best result at the track.
Gluchacki, who was absent in ACT’s cross-border trek to Autodrome Chaudière, was smiling after the race but clearly disappointed with second. The Massachusetts racer has finished in the top ten in all of his Tour starts this season, keeping him second in the standings.
“Fireball” Tardif held on for a career-best third-place finish, with points leader DJ Shaw and 2017 Tour runner-up Dillon Moltz fifth.
Tom Carey III was sixth, with Jamie Swallow, Jr., Jeffrey Labrecque, Jr., Chaudière winner Jonathan Bouvrette and sophomore Erick Sands rounding out the top ten. Ben Ashline, whose only Tour win came at Oxford in 2012, finished 14th after racing his way into the top five early.
With veteran Patrick Laperle skipping Oxford, the season-long point standings shook up once again with the season not quite half complete. Shaw, one of only a few full-time competitors to race at Chaudière, holds a commanding lead over Gluchacki, with leading rookie Tardif third in points. Sands and Bouvrette round out the top five, with Laperle sliding from third to eighth. Only four drivers – Shaw, Tardif, Sands and rookie Cody LeBlanc – have taken the green flag in all five races so far. Bouvrette famously failed to take the green at the first three events of the year. The Canadian race has certainly proven to be a wildcard in the title hunt, with another visit to Quebec planned for August.
But the Tour presents a wildcard factor by design, with local and weekly racers always in position to contend for victory. While not a home-track win by any means, Gravel joins former Tour champions Nick Sweet and Jimmy Hebert with 2022 Tour wins on a part-time schedule.
The next event on the Tour schedule, the Midsummer Classic 250 at White Mountain Motorsports Park, is far closer to ACT’s home base in Vermont, inviting even more weekly contenders to upset the Tour regulars in the midst of a title chase.
For Gravel, though, the Thunder Road weekly battle looms larger. The two-time feature winner at the “Nation’s Site of Excitement” is fifth in points and within grasp of the “King of the Road” honors that await later this year.
Sunday’s win could be a confidence booster that propels Gravel to the head of the class.
Unofficial Results, ACT Oxford 125 at Oxford Plains Speedway:
1. (86VT) Marcel J. Gravel
2. (03MA) Derek Gluchacki
3. (21QC) Alexendre Tardif
4. (04VT) DJ Shaw
5. (5ME) Dillon Moltz
6. (5MA) Tom Carey III
7. (4NH) Jamie Swallow, Jr.
8. (12NH) Jeffrey Labrecque, Jr.
9. (41QC) Jonathan Bouvrette
10. (36NH) Erick Sands
11. (7NH) Cody LeBlanc
12. (78NH) Quinny Welch
13. (98MA) Ryan Flood
14. (99ME) Ben Ashline
15. (27NC) Robby Gordon Douglas
16. (27NH) Cam Huntress
17. (33QC) Rémi Perreault
18. (47NH) Brockton Davis
19. (77MA) Jimmy Linardy
20. (04ME) Jamie Swallow, Sr.
21. (21VT) Reilly Lanphear
22. (30NH) Rich Dubeau
23. (69ME) David MacDonald
24. (39VT) Mike Foster