PALMYRA — There was no better Late Model driver at Oxford Plains Speedway in the summer of 2012 than Ben Ashline.

Ashline, a Pittston native, thoroughly dominated the most recent American-Canadian Tour race at the track in May, leading more than 100 laps to cement his status as the favorite heading into that July’s Oxford 250. Ashline never got the chance to cement his legacy in Maine racing, however. Going five-wide to the outside during his qualifying heat race, Ashline found the dirt edging the track at the exit of the second turn, lost control of his car and ended his season in a heap along the track’s backstretch wall.

Not a month has gone by in the seven years since that someone hasn’t mentioned the mishap to Ashline, who spends his working life in Fairfield at Distance Racing owned by nine-time Oxford Plains champion Jeff Taylor.

“Let’s just say that if I had a handful of dollars for every time somebody has mentioned that since it happened, I wouldn’t have to worry about running the next dozen Oxford 250s,” Ashline, now 28, said Monday evening. “It would be easy to say that’s the only reason I want to run (the 250) again, but thinking back I wouldn’t change a thing. At the end of the day, the best lessons in life — and in racing — are taught through the hardest experiences. I absolutely believe that.”

Ashline won a Late Model race at Oxford in 2014, and he won his first career Super Late Model race there in weekly competition in 2016. He’ll finally get another crack at the race he really wants when he gets behind the wheel of longtime friend Ajay Picard’s car for Sunday’s 46th annual Oxford 250. It will be Ashline’s first Oxford 250 attempt since 2012.

“I’ve known these guys for a while, dubbed around with them as far as going to the races and helping out a little bit,” Ashline said. “I look at Ajay as the brother I never had. He’s really into the racing thing, and we get along really well. They have the passion for racing, and the support, and I just needed the car to finish the puzzle pieces.”

Picard, 40, is himself a longtime racer, having competed regularly at Wiscasset Speedway and Unity Raceway. But as racing, and life, both took tolls on Picard, he has been sidelined for all but one season-opening race in 2019. With discs bulging, he said, doctors have warned him that he could do serious permanent damage if he were to be involved in an accident in a race car.

He’s not ready to be done with racing, but he is happy with his decision to sit out if it means a better quality of life down the road.

“Over the years, it’s all added up,” Picard said. “I got out of bed one morning, my neck popped, and I was in some serious pain. The doctor said it was never going to heal if I didn’t stop working, but I can’t afford to not work. But when they said that if I was in a bad wreck that maybe I’d never be able to walk again, well, it made the decision pretty easy for me.”

Picard turned to Ashline, a two-time Coastal 200 winner.

The pair brought members of their respective pit crews to Oxford in July for a Pro All Stars Series race with limited expectations. Ashline qualified sixth, drove to the front and led nearly half the race before fading back for a sixth-place finish. It was a test run that couldn’t have gone any better.

“We had maybe six hours of total setup time for it,” Ashline said. “It surprised me in the feature that, as good as the rest of those drivers and teams can be and usually are, that we were able to do what we did. It was pretty neat.”

Just qualifying for the race Sunday won’t be enough, Ashline said. Admitting it’s a lofty goal, he said he’d like to finish on the podium. As a kid who grew up watching the likes of six-time PASS champion Johnny Clark and Oxford Plains’ winningest driver Mike Rowe — who has 150 career wins at the track — race at Oxford and Wiscasset, it would be a crowing achievement to even be in contention Sunday evening, Ashline said.

A good run would erase the sting of both Picard’s forced absence from the seat and Ashline’s own not-so-glamorous history in Maine’s biggest stock car race.

“I know how many guys have tried for a long time to put something together like this to win the Oxford 250,” Ashline said. “To be able to climb in beside those guys and see where we stack up in this pile, I’m pretty excited about that. It’s foolish to think it’s just another race. It’s the Daytona 500 for us.

“I don’t think the place owes me anything. I know what other people have sacrificed, too, and how hard they’ve tried to win this race. But I’m willing to do whatever I have to do to get an opportunity like this.”

Even if it means repeating history and taking a bold chance during qualifying races?

“I’ve told people before that if they’re all lined up two-by-two on the bottom in front of me not going anywhere in the heat race, I’d go to the outside again,” Ashline said. “I’d do it all over again. I would.

“This time, I’d just keep it out of the dirt.”


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