Wyatt Alexander has two starts in the Oxford 250. Bobby Timmons III has three. Both drivers have a best finish of 12th in the event. While neither has won, both have stories to tell about the drivers they have outrun.
Alexander and Timmons were in Oxford Plains Speedway’s busy backstretch pit for the Oxford 250 this year, too. But neither would turn a racing lap on Sunday.
Instead, they had new roles at hand, helping a fellow Mainer in his quest to compete in the 48th edition of the Northeast’s Super Late Model crown jewel. And while they were far removed from their normal raceday roles, both Alexander and Timmons found new enjoyment in competing in the legendary race.
The two legacy racers are part of the enduring story of the Oxford 250. Maine’s biggest race is revered as a regional institution, but recognized throughout the short track community. “In short track racing,” Alexander explained, “you can be anywhere in the country and if an event is known by placing ‘the’ in front of an identifying feature, you know it is a big deal. Mention ‘the Derby,’ ‘the All American,’ ‘the Dream,’ and of course, ‘the 250,’ everyone knows what you are talking about.”
And while the Pro All Stars Series’ touring specialists and well-heeled ringers usually compete for top honors in the $25,000-to-win spectacle, the race remains open to weekly and regional competitors. With a blind draw seeding the first of three rounds of heat racing, a local hero has a strong opportunity to make the field.
As Curtis Gerry proved in 2017, the right moves and the right strategy can take a local hero all the way to victory lane.
Alexander understands the challenge well. The Ellsworth, Me. engineering student has made four attempts at the Oxford 250 since 2015. “I felt like I still had yet to earn my keep at this level until I succeeded,” he said. “In 2018 we built a new Clattenburg Racing Fabrication car and put a lot of focus on Oxford, even though I was still living in North Carolina at the time. That third attempt was all you can ask for.”
Only eighteen years old and enrolled at UNC-Charlotte at the time, Alexander drove the family’s #96 to a 12th-place finish in his Oxford 250 debut. Having re-established himself in Maine last summer, finding weekly success at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway and taking a win in a Granite State Pro Stock Series feature, he made his fourth attempt last August. “We went in with a lot of momentum and had consistent top-five and top-ten speed on the weekend,” he said. Despite the momentum and speed, Alexander settled for a provisional start and a 22nd-place finish.
This year, balancing a championship battle at Beech Ridge, a summer internship and his senior year of college, another attempt was not in the cards. “We toyed with the idea of buying four tires and showing up on Sunday to see what could happen,” he said, “and if we made the race we could purchase the rest of the necessary tires.” But with a feature race on the eve of the 250, Alexander and his family team decided against a halfhearted effort.
Pitted next to Alexander last year was Rusty Poland, one of Alexander’s Beech Ridge Pro Series rivals. And working on Poland’s black Camaro last year was Timmons, trying to help his good buddy crack the starting lineup for his second Oxford 250.
Timmons, like Alexander, is a third-generation racer carrying on a family tradition. Unlike his Pine Tree State peers, Timmons races Supermodifieds. From his Windham, Me. home and shop, he heads out every Saturday night to Star Speedway in New Hampshire, supplementing his weekly schedule with races on the growing 350 SMAC tour.
At first, Timmons followed the regional path of Super Late Model racing, competing weekly at Beech Ridge and occasionally with PASS. By 2017, Timmons had sampled small-block Supermodifieds. Not only did he find the competition more engaging, but the discipline was more sustainable. “I felt we were low-dollar on the PASS tour spending $1200 a week to get $400 to start,” Timmons said last fall. “The 350 Super costs us about $500 a week and we can normally bring home at least half that or more every week.”
At the wheel of cars he builds in his family’s machine shop, Timmons has won multiple features at Star, plus big road wins at Hudson (N.H.) Speedway and Thompson Speedway in Connecticut. Timmons even made three starts in an alcohol-fueled big-block ISMA Supermodified last year. While Timmons has no further fendered aspirations, he readily volunteers to help friends like Poland when his schedule allows.
Before shifting gears to a car without a clutch, Timmons made three successful attempts at Maine’s biggest race. In his Oxford 250 debut in 2015, Timmons finished 19th, seven spots ahead of future NASCAR star Christopher Bell. A year later, he drove from 34th to finish on the lead lap in 12th. Timmons started tenth in the 2017 event, but dropped out just short of halfway.
Those three starts in Maine’s biggest race made Timmons the voice of experience on Poland’s young team last year. “It was tough,” he said of guiding the team through the day. “Granted it’s a big race with all this pomp and circumstance, [but] you just gotta treat it like another normal race at Oxford. Get your car good enough to make it and then worry about the race itself.” Poland fell to the last-chance qualifier, where he ran strong before finishing third to Ray Christian III and Cassius Clark. “Unfortunately we weren’t good enough,” Timmons said. “I believe tire selection was the majority. [It] wasn’t for lack of effort.”
Poland was unable to attend the Oxford 250 this year, but Timmons did not have to look far to find a team to help. Timmons’ Supermodifieds are prepared next door to a race shop where Poland shares space with two other friends, Beech Ridge weekly veteran Charlie Sanborn III and NASCAR spotter Derek Kneeland.
Kneeland commutes from Maine to fulfill his spotting duties for Tyler Reddick and a handful of other NASCAR national-level stars. A graduate of Beech Ridge himself, Kneeland still has unfulfilled driving ambitions. On his big league off-weeks, he sneaks in the occasional Super Late Model start, while providing support to a number of Maine drivers including Poland, John Peters, and Kate Re.
Last year, Kneeland acquired a new mount, a Distance Racing Products car he bought from fellow Beech Ridge alum Reid Lanpher. While Kneeland was unable to get any race laps on the car in 2020, he brought “Miss Cheyenne” to Hickory Motor Speedway this April, scoring a tenth and 13th-place finish in PASS’ back-to-back Easter Bunny 150s.
But Kneeland suffered a setback in late July, while taking advantage of a two-week break from NASCAR action to dial “Cheyenne” in. In a special Oxford 250 qualifier, Kneeland was caught up in an epic pileup that left several cars in a disheveled state. “Cheyenne” was hauled back to the shop in a crumpled mess, forcing Kneeland, Poland and friends into a frenzy to rebuild and reskin the car in time for the 250.
Kneeland gathered an all-star lineup from his Maine racing circle to crew the car. Nick Brown, a former Wiscasset racer (and, like Alexander, a former UNC-Charlotte student) was the crew chief of record. Darrin Flewelling, a friend of Brown’s, provided additional pit support, as did Alexander’s grandfather Bob and father Brett. Kneeland’s father and family were also on hand. “It was awesome to see another strong racing family in action,” said Alexander.
Timmons and Beech Ridge Pro Series regular Nick Cusack were assigned as tire changers. The role is mission-critical in one of the few PASS races where tire changes and pit stops come into play. And for Timmons, the role was automatic. “Kevin Nobley is a well established tire guy,” he explained. “He did tires for the top two finishers in the 250 this year. He’s also one of my best friends. So between that and the help he’s given me over the years, I’ve absorbed so much secondhand tire knowledge that I’ve kinda just been put into the role of tire guy everywhere we go. I even pick out the tires for my own car.”
Alexander and Nick Campbell backed up Timmons and Cusack as tire carriers. Alexander, though, had another essential role. Kneeland was spotting in Daytona Beach for the NASCAR races Friday and Saturday night, and would not fly in until Sunday morning. Alexander would shake “Cheyenne” down in Saturday’s morning practice session before leaving for Beech Ridge for the evening Pro Series feature.
The distant possibility was, of course, that Kneeland could be trapped in Daytona were Saturday’s race to be rain-delayed. Alexander was a convenient alternate.
Alexander admitted the prospect was enticing. “Anyone would be itching for the option to drive, especially in an event like that,” he said. “But that was very much overcome by hoping Derek would get the opportunity he and his family have been preparing for. I think it also says a lot about Derek, he didn’t have to arrange that situation. He was prepared to give me or another a chance to race and support the event wholeheartedly, whether he had the chance to drive or not.
“He could have just as easily told us to pack it up Sunday morning if he couldn’t make it.”
Kneeland made it, arriving in Maine at 2:00am with spotter Doug Campbell in tow.
Arriving in Oxford County, however, was basically a fresh start. Kneeland had to get on his own terms with “Cheyenne” in Sunday’s practice sessions, having not raced the car in a few weeks. Shortly after noon came the draw. The starting grid for the first round of heat races is set by a blind draw, the order determined by the track’s receipt of entry blanks. A good draw is hardly a guarantee, but a bad draw can start a team in a hole.
Kneeland’s draw placed him fourth on the grid for the fourth heat. Behind him in the heat were Bubba Pollard, Curtis Gerry and Johnny Clark, all former 250 winners. Derek Griffith and Oxford veteran Tim Brackett were in the fourth heat as well.
But as Timmons insisted, the 250 is just another race at Oxford. And while Griffith and Pollard were caught up in calamity, while Gerry worked the outside line to climb from 11th to the lead, Kneeland held his ground. Five cars advance from each heat to the feature. Kneeland finished fourth.
Kneeland was solidly in the show, starting 19th in the 43-car field.
“After seeing his emotion following [the heat], any chance of being behind the wheel was the furthest thing from my mind,” Alexander said. “It was awesome.”
Compared to Timmons’ attempt with Poland the year before, the results justified the effort. “It really didn’t feel any different,” he mused. “Same circle of friends, same race, same type of car. Things just seem to have gone smoother for us this year. Derek and Rusty brought a car that was top-ten in speed. We got a good draw and raced in through the heat.”
Most importantly, locking in early gave the team time to get organized for the feature. “Way easier,” he said, “to prepare for the race with that big gap of time in between.”
“As a driver, I have been on both ends of that spectrum,” Alexander added. “The time I heat-raced in, it made for such an enjoyable day. [You] get to enjoy a couple of hours worth of accomplishment and little stress.”
It also left ample time to consider the fortunes of friends making the same effort. Dan Winter, part of Alexander’s close circle of karting friends and rivals, had finished one position ahead of Kneeland to secure his place on the grid. Evan Beaulieu, a local Super Late Model driver and another of their karting circle, was helping Winter’s family team. On off-weekends, Winter takes a pit role as well, working with fellow New Hampshire racer Joey Polewarczyk. “Seeing the performance of a friend like Dan,” Alexander said, “was a high point.”
On the other side of the spectrum, John Peters was battling to qualify for his second Oxford 250 from a few pit stalls away. Peters finished 18th in his Oxford 250 debut last year. This year, he had to race without the help of his father Greg, who lost his battle with cancer in July. “Grand National Greg” was an influential figure for many young Maine racers, and his name and car number were memorialized on several cars, including Kneeland’s.
Peters was in a qualified position in his heat when he was turned in the final corner. Peters started deep in his consi and finished sixth. And after being collected in an early crash, Peters finished tenth in the last-chance qualifier, well short of advancing to the 250.
Alexander admitted that, as a crew member, it was hard to watch a friend fall short.
“It would be easier to compartmentalize if I was behind the wheel Sunday,” he said. “It still would have been on my mind, but not quite to the same capacity. When you aren’t involved yourself, your passion immediately gets redistributed to the others you really care about seeing succeed.”
Much of that stress had to do with who was involved. “As a fan cheering for one of your favorite drivers, that emotion consumes you,” he added. “I think in those situations Greg has a lot to do with it, because that is how he was. If he was in your corner, there was no one more invested in the highs and lows with you than Greg. I wanted it terribly for [John]. Many of us did.”
Peters was in elite company, joining last year’s runner-up and Oxford all-star Jeff Taylor, 2015 winner Glen Luce, and national sensation Stephen Nasse in loading up early.
Only a fifty-lap PASS Modified feature remained before the 250, giving teams one last gasp to escort their cars to staging and prepare their pit equipment for the trip to Oxford’s infield. Kneeland parked his car on the frontstretch and joined his fellow competitors for driver introductions, a tradition bypassed last year due to mostly-vacant grandstands. Timmons, Alexander and friends walked their equipment to the end of the infield pit road. Eighteen cars would pit along the frontstretch wall; the rest were consigned to a narrow, unlit mustache-shaped pit lane stretching from one end of the track to the other. Kneeland’s pit stall was at the turn-one exit.
For Timmons, Alexander and friends, a successful race would mean being called into service as little as possible.
The Oxford 250 is a marathon. The fastest cars early often fade in the end, supplanted by veterans who play conservation and strategy to perfection. Kneeland lost a lap in the early green-flag stretches. Kneeland’s crew received a scare mid-race, as a wayward car spinning off turn one cut across the turn-two lawn and nearly through their stall en route to the track.
But the pit crew performed on their pit stop, and Kneeland got a lap back, and the team was looking at a solid finish in a grueling race.
With 13 laps left on the scoreboard, Jake Johnson slowed up exiting turn two with Kneeland on his bumper. Kneeland, with nowhere to go, set off a multi-car incident that brought out the evening’s final yellow flag. Johnson was done for the night. Kneeland soldiered on with heavy front-end damage, finishing two laps down in 25th. Cassius Clark, a local veteran racing for King Racing from Nova Scotia, took the win over Gerry and rising star Derek Griffith.
Sure, the results had fallen short of expectations. But for so many racers in the Oxford 250, the journey is the reward. Such it was for Alexander and Timmons as they reflected upon a different experience in the race.
“This was by far the most fun I’ve ever had at a 250 weekend,” Timmons said. “Driving in the race is awesome, don’t get me wrong, but the financial burden and stress of making the race certainly sucks the air out of it at times. This year I got to roll in on Friday, drink a few beers, do my job, and roll out on Sunday. Obviously I had an emotional investment in Derek, but nowhere near as high of a stress level than when it was myself.”
Alexander had a similar feeling. “Helping Derek was a really great experience,” he said. “Seeing his excitement was contagious and we were all really proud of the effort. As drivers, I think we could each live vicariously through him a bit, but also simply just be happy for our friend.”
Like Timmons, Alexander felt obligated to justify the difference. “In your own effort you can enjoy 100 percent of the excitement and also endure 100 percent of the stress,” he explained. “But as a crew member, you may enjoy 99 percent of the excitement and only ten percent of the stress. Not to downplay our concern and effort for Derek, that just expresses how high the tension is when it’s yourself.”
Not that Alexander would avoid shouldering that burden again, though: “I would not trade my own feeling of success with my family in that event for the world,” he added.
Before the race, Alexander joked with Peters that a better investment would be to take the nearly $8000 spent on an Oxford 250 attempt to the nearby Oxford Casino.
“I mentioned it to a couple of teams over the weekend out of humor and a sense of relief from the angst, and it was worth that laugh,” he said. “But laughing at such an idea is what makes the 250 the 250. We could each take our several thousand dollars and spend it at the casino. But we won’t.
“If it was about money or probability we would do something else with the last weekend in August. We all choose to dedicate the time and effort to that race because we feel that draw. We are drawn back to the masses of campers in the parking lot, we are drawn to reminisce on the decades worth of 250 stories, we are drawn to that feeling you get when you walk through the gate on Sunday morning, and we are drawn to that slice of hope that we can add our name to the win list.”
And for racers like Timmons and Alexander and their circle, that draw remains the same whether turning a wheel or turning a wrench.
“I promise,” Alexander said, “if you are a fan or competitor, you will never find a better return on your investment than a strong 250 weekend.”