No Rowes in the Show for TD Banknorth 250 by Mike Twist
Perfect Storm Keeps Family with Five Wins From Racing
Leading up to this year’s TD Banknorth 250, there was much talk of who wouldn’t be there. Guys like Johnny Clark, Cassius Clark, Dave Dion, Jeff Taylor, Sam Sessions and Travis Benjamin were shut out of the race when their Pro Stock/Super Late Model cars were phased out in favor of ACT-style Late Models.
Fans at Oxford were kept abreast of these developments by the track announcer, who
just after 3pm ET announced that the Rowes were already on a plane back to the track to try and race. It might have even been a premature announcement too – Speed51.com immediately checked with the Richard Moody Racing crew, who said that the race in Antigonish was not quite over at that point due to a large number of caution flag laps.
The announcements kept coming all afternoon, but in the meantime neither the #4 of Jeff Taylor/Ben Rowe or the #24 of Patrick Laperle/Mike Rowe qualified.
And the provisionals were going to pan out for the Rowes either. Rules call for a driver to have to make every reasonable attempt to qualify for the 250 in the eyes of the race officials to earn a provisional. That became a judgment call. Did it mean that chartering a plane from Canada after running a different race was a “reasonable” attempt, or would being at the track all weekend to practice and take part in all of the heat races count as more “reasonable”?
That question was answered when the 1987 and 1989 250 winner Jamie Aube was given the previous winner’s provisional (Whorff and 2002 winner Scott Robbins both raced their way into the field as the only other previous 250 winners entered). The promoter’s options weren’t an option either – those went to NASCAR drivers Terry Labonte and Kevin Lepage. In the pre-race drivers’ meeting, track officials announced that the starting field would be “up to 44” and number and that is the number it was stuck at after the provisionals were doled out.
Mike Rowe enlisted the help of Late Model car owner Mike Lux for the double. The plan was that Rowe would race for Watts at Antigonish and then drive one of the two Lux entries at Oxford on the following day.
With 600 miles between the two tracks, driving between the two races wouldn’t be an option. So Mike Rowe chartered a small plane to make the trip possible.
A pair of well credentialed substitutes were enlisted. Nine-time Oxford track champion Jeff Taylor would practice and (if needed) qualify Ben Rowe’s car. Former Oxford regular and Busch East Series veteran Tracy Gordon was tabbed to do the same for Mike Rowe.
The weekend of racing wasn’t going to be ideal, or easy, but it appeared to be do-able.
Then it rained, which was the start of a perfect storm that would eventually see both Rowes at the track and watching the 250 from the sidelines.
Saturday’s race at Antigonish was rained out and delayed until Sunday. But the difference in starting times at each event made a double still possible.
Tracy Gordon had not practiced Mike Rowe’s #24 at all on Saturday at Oxford, so Patrick Laperle hopped into it and turned some impressive laps. He was named as Rowe’s replacement driver for the race as well, but if another car could be found for Rowe the provisional for being a former Oxford 250 winner could possibly be used to still get him into the field.
Ben Rowe’s team kept Taylor in their car, with plans to turn it over to Ben when he arrived.
The heat races brought some good news. Last year’s 250 winner Jeremie Whorff qualified, which put Mike Rowe next in line for a provisional being the 2005 winner of the race. With Ben the 2004 winner, he would be next in line. Plus, of course, there were two promoter options still available. With the Rowes being so well-loved by Maine racing fans, and considering the fact that they both appeared at a track press conference earlier in the week, that appeared to be an option as well.
Neither Ben Rowe (#4) or Mike Rowe (#24) were in the field for the TD Banknorth 250. (51 Photo)
The change also led to much discussion on guys who would be there. The Late Model switch opened the door to the 250 for competitors like Jean Paul Cyr, Brian Hoar and eventual winner Roger Brown. Busch East driver Eddie MacDonald could now bring his Late Model to the show, as could two-time 250 winner Jamie Aube. Even the legendary Robbie Crouch came out of the retirement to enter the race.
But when the dust settled on raceday, the talk that was the loudest among fans might have been about the two guys who almost were there.
Mike Rowe might be the one racer most identified with the race. One of three three-time winners, Rowe had only missed three 250s in its 33-year history. He won the race in 2005 and was a contender last year before running into engine problems. He is also the winningest driver in Oxford history, with 150 victories to his name.
His son Ben Rowe has made his mark on the race as well. In just over a decade of
competing in the 250, the younger Rowe has won the race twice. He’s contended for the victory in just about all of his other starts in the race.
When the announcement was made that the 250 would switch from Pro Stocks to Late Models, it first appeared that the Rowes would be left out. Their primary jobs in racing are to wheel cars in the PASS North Super Late Model series where Mike drives for Paul Watts and Ben drives for Richard Moody Racing.
But the 250 is a race that means a lot to the Rowes. So when the 2007 racing schedules came out and the weekend of the 250 in July showed a PASS North race at Antigonish, Nova Scotia on Saturday and the TD Banknorth 250 at Oxford on Sunday, father and son put their heads together with their teams and came up with a plan.
The Richard Moody Racing team assembled a pair of Late Models for the 250 – one for Ben Rowe and one for visiting NASCAR star Terry Labonte. They split up their team into three different haulers to put forth a competitive effort at both tracks. They were geared up for a run at two victories.
Patrick Laperle (R) was tabbed to drive the #24 at Oxford in place of Mike Rowe (L), but he had some tough heat races and didn't make the field. (51 Photo)
As Brown takes his victory lap in the #99, Avery shows his displeasure with him for a late-race incident.
But the heat races also brought plenty of bad news. Leperle and his Lux teammate Bobby Gahan both didn’t make the show after drawing poorly and getting bounced around in their heats, consi races and last chance semi-feature. Taylor didn’t make it through his first heat race, but started on the pole of his consi. However, having the slower car of Laine Chase on his outside led to one false start and then another. Officials sent Taylor to the rear of the field. He advanced back through, but was penalized again for spinning a car to try and gain a transfer spot. It was a consistent ruling by officials. They did the same thing after Corey Williams spun OPS regular Dave MacDonald in an earlier heat race, but it left Taylor having to run the last chance race. He didn’t qualify through that event either.
The Rowes were still in Canada for all of this mayhem. They are ranked first and second in PASS North points and could not miss that race without losing any hope of winning a championship. Parking their cars early for a phantom electrical and handling problem was a possibility, but these guys are racers and wanted to wheel their cars instead of getting a head start on the trip back to Oxford. It paid off on the Canadian end, as Mike Rowe won the IWK 250 at Antigonish and Ben placed second. Now, it was off to the skies to get back to Oxford.
Adding to the drama was the fact that the Rowe plane was held up for an extra 20 minutes to clear US Customs in Bangor, Maine. The Rowes flew into the area in time to see the cars lining up for pace laps. They touched down at the airstrip right off the backstretch and hurried to the track to find that they would not be racing in this year’s 250.
It was a bitter pill to swallow for the Rowes and their fans. A number of emotions, ranging from disappointment to anger, surfaced next.
“We tried to get back and we would have just made it,” said Mike Rowe. “We saw the pace laps and would have been able to take the green, but we weren’t going to be in the show. That’s the way that it went and I’m disappointed. We chose to stay in Antigonish and we’re happy we won the won there. I just would have really liked to run at Oxford as well.”
Ben Rowe was not quite so diplomatic.
“We had everything lined up and [track owner] Bill Ryan just wouldn’t put us in," said Ben
Rowe. “I don’t think that you’ll see me or my old man come back up here. It was ridiculous. We supplied [the track] a car for Terry Labonte and they couldn’t go out of their way for us at all. We landed here before the green flag and he just wouldn’t put us in.”
The fact that neither man got the previous winner’s provisional and it went to someone who won the race over a decade previously was something that didn’t sit well with Ben Rowe.
“We figured on that. But I don’t know. I was hoping that Jeff [Taylor] would get [but thought that was an option].”
And did Ben think that a promoter’s option would be available if all else failed?
“Yeah,” said Ben Rowe. “We went out of our way [to do this] and they announced in
the grandstands since this morning that we were coming. They made a big deal about
it [to the fans]. But little did they know, we were on the phone with Bill Ryan and he
said that he wasn’t going to put us in anyways. So why keep announcing it in the
grandstands? It’s just crazy. If they weren’t going to put us in, why did they keeping
using our names in the media and to the fans to get us here? It’s frustrating. But it’s
his place, so I don’t know.”
Ben Rowe did stay around for the feature to help his Richard Moody Racing team with
the car that Labonte ran. After getting caught in a wreck, Labonte was credited with a
There was actually some consideration given to putting Ben Rowe into the qualified #10 car of David Avery for the race. Rowe drove in place for Avery, who has some back problems, in the ACT Late Model Series last season, winning several events. However, Avery stayed in the car and gave it a great run. Avery spun after contact in a battle for the lead and rebounded to finish sixth.
“I was darn close to letting him drive it,” said Avery. “Then I said no, I have to do it myself. It’s always been a dream of mine to race in the 250.”
While the heat races were going on at Oxford, Mike Rowe (C) and Ben Rowe (L) finished first and second in the IWK 250 in Antigonish. (Norm Marx Photo)
Mike Rowe had a tough time in last year's 250 - exiting the race earluy with engine problems. (Jamie Williams Photo)
Jeff Taylor tried to get Ben Rowe's #4 in the field at Oxford on Sunday, but came up short. (51 Photo)