Different drivers react to big victories in different ways. Many New England short track fans can remember the photo of Ralph Nason, after winning an Oxford 250, with his eyes opened as wide as saucers in excitement or one of Patrick Laperle's emotional Milk Bowl victories.
Eddie MacDonald's second straight victory in the TD Bank Oxford 250 on Sunday night at Oxford Plains Speedway (ME) was nothing like either of those displays. MacDonald stayed calm throughout the race, which paid big benefits when he was able to capitalize on Brad Leighton's misfortune of a flat tire in the closing laps. After the race, he remained just as calm. Part stunned and part respectful of the history behind the event, MacDonald didn't hoot and holler. He just went about his job of posing for victory lane photos, making a tour of the press box and then heading to the technical inspection area to help pull the shocks off his car for further inspection.
Standing in that tech area, MacDonald still just didn't seem to grasp what he had just accomplished in becoming only the fourth back-to-back winner (joining Nason, Ben Rowe and Geoffrey Bodine) in the 37 year history of he event.
“No, not really,” said MacDonald quietly when he asked if it had sunk it yet. “This is definitely unbelievable but that real part of it hasn't set it yet. It's just so awesome to be able to come here and do this again.”
Winning the Oxford 250 in 2009, and then backing that up by sweeping the two ACT Late Model races held at the facility so far this season, made MacDonald the clear favorite for this years race. But being the favorite wasn't something that the modest young man was very comfortable with.
“I really hate being the favorite,” said MacDonald. “For some reason, it seems to jinx you. After you win two races [to start off the year], you look at it and wonder how you can win three in a row. You wonder how you can win back-to-back 250s. So I try not to think about that. There are guys on the list who had done it before, so you know it can be done. We had the list last year and read all of the guys who had won this race and that was cool to join them. Now, we're on a different list.”
Notice, MacDonald used “we're on a different list” in his comment. Even though it will be his name that graces the history books at Oxford forever, it is rare for him to use the word “I” in describing the success that he has on track. He's got a small, tight-knit group of hard workers who field his Late Models. It isn't their full-time job and not even their primary job in racing. Most of the crew also works on MacDonald's NASCAR K&N Pro Series East team.
This isn't a big buck operation either. MacDonald and his crew chief Rollie LaChance invest far more hours than dollars into the team. Actually, they probably wouldn't know how to blow a big budget anyways. Last year, the team wanted to use some of their money from winning the 250 to buy a new race trailer for the Late Model - and they did that. But this year, the old beat-up trailer was back, because the team just hadn't made outfitting the new one a priority. Adding to their unbeatable underdog legend, the team borrowed a Ford F150 belonging to LaChance's father to tow the trailer up to the track.
But while the trailer was small, the amount of work that the team put forth over the weekend was anything but. They might have won last year's race, but they didn't rest on their laurels.
“These guys just worked so hard,” said MacDonald. “We changed just about everything on the car all weekend long. It was a hot weekend for them to be running around so much. The guys just did an awesome job and Rollie pulls his heart and soul into this car. He really has a lot of fun with it. We all do.”
MacDonald spent most of the race being patient. Brad Leighton ran away and hid in the lead early on - putting all but four other cars off the lead lap for much of the race. While Leighton led 189 laps on the day, MacDonald was content to ride around in the second or third position for most of the race. When Leighton had a flat tire inside of 50 laps to go, MacDonald was fresh and ready to lead until the end of the event.
“I knew that we weren't going to be fast enough to lead laps at the pace that Brad was leading,” said MacDonald. “So my strategy was that if he was going to put down that pace, then those lapped guys were going to put lot of pressure on him. The good thing was that by putting pressure on him, he was using up his tires. I was back there saving them and I just wanted to stay within a few cars of him so I could challenge him at the end. It seemed like that was working. I'm sure that his tire was going down and that was helping us catch him. We were getting a little closer. We had our plan, we stuck to it and it worked out in the end.“
In keeping with his quiet nature, a big victory party wasn't in the cards for MacDonald and his crew after this latest victory. But that doesn't mean they weren't going to celebrate in their own way.
“Last year, we got out of here pretty late after tech,” said MacDonald. “This year, things got done much earlier, so when we are done we are going to leave and just find someplace to go and eat together. Then we'll get back and start getting ready for [the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East race at] Lee.”
And with that, it was time to stop talking about the victory and start helping get the car through technical inspection and the team closer to a nice dinner. After all, LaChance had already assigned a shock to MacDonald to start removing from the car. Without letting the smile disappear from his face, MacDonald just thanked me for taking the time to talk to him, grabbed a wrench and went to work. His checkered flag might have already come, but the day's work wasn't over yet.
Stay tuned to Speed51.com later this week for more photos and our 51 Leftovers from the 37th running of the TD Bank Oxford 250.