July 19, 2012

TD BANK 250: Win would be big for small teams

By Bill Stewart bstewart@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND -- The Goodyear racing tires needed for the 39th annual TD Bank 250 this weekend at Oxford Plains Speedway will cost Ben Ashline about $1,500.

Throw in the racing fuel, registration costs and other expenses that undoubtedly will prop up, and the Pittston driver says it could cost as much as $2,500 to compete in the state's most prestigious race.

"It's not cheap," said Ashline, who was one of six drivers to attend a media day Wednesday morning at the Congress Street TD Bank. "We're already scrounging up money to come up with the tires for this weekend. It's difficult. Every race you have to think about the money it takes to travel, the hotel costs. It's not easy."

Such is the life for Ashline and other low-budget racing teams that will flock to Oxford Plains Speedway this weekend with hopes of winning what could be a career-altering race.

The TD Bank 250, with all its history and prestige, will pay at least $25,000 to the winner. Win a qualifying heat and lead some laps in the feature, and that purse could swell beyond $30,000.

It's for that reason why penny-pinching drivers will shell out thousands of dollars for a chance at racing glory.

The green flag is scheduled to drop at about 6:30 p.m. Sunday.

"It's a lot of money for a lot of these guys," Oxford Plains Speedway president Bill Ryan said. "It's a relatively expensive weekend for a lot of these teams but there's that chance at the big payout."

And that, say Ashline and Fort Kent native Austin Theriault, is well worth the expense of running the race.

"It could be a huge deal," said Ashline, a full-time American-Canadian Tour driver who won the pole for the TD Bank 250 last summer. "It's a big motivation. It would be a huge boost. It would help us financially and with our morale."

Added Theriault, 18, who finished third last year behind Nick Sweet and winner Kyle Busch: "It can buy a lot of fuel and a lot of tires. If we won that money, we'd put it back into the team. You are guaranteed $25,000, and that is a lot of money."

Despite sitting on the pole last year, Ashline finished 30th after tire problems derailed his night. He said the disappointing finish still weighs on his mind.

"It's 250 laps but 249 don't really count," he said. "We learned a lot from that race. You have to get the car balanced and you have to be in the right position. Those tire problems, they are always on my mind. We'll need to be consistent and we'll need a little luck."

Ashline comes to OPS with as much success on the track than anyone else this year. He won a 150-lap ACT feature on May 20 that paid him $2,500 -- the biggest purse of his young career. He followed that up with a 40-lap victory in a Late Model feature on July 7.

"We have a good car," he said. "But, at the same time, if we show up with the exact same car, we'll finish 10th, 15th. You always have to work on it, to get it better. Everyone else is making the adjustments. Everyone else will be faster."

Theriault, like Ashline, is a full-time ACT driver.

He's been one of the tour's most consistent drivers, with four top-five finishes in five races. He's fourth in points and is hoping for another podium finish Sunday.

"We've had some good runs and bad runs at the 250," he said. "Two years ago, we didn't even make the show. We just want to make it and see what we can do."

Busch earned $31,800 for winning the TD Bank 250 last year. It was his third career start in the race.

He also won a Pro All Stars Series North 150-lap feature at OPS the night before.

This year, 2011 Daytona 500 champ Trevor Bayne will be in the field. He will try to become the third NASCAR driver in five years to take the checkered flag.

Kevin Harvick won the race in 2008.

"Trevor Bayne will come with some good equipment," Ashline said. "We know he'll be good, but there will be a lot of good drivers in it. A lot of them will have a good shot. We hope to be there in the end."

Bill Stewart -- 621-5640

bstewart@centralmaine.com

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