TD Bank 250: One calm, cool champion
OXFORD — the rural myth was that a TD Bank 250 win at Oxford Plains Speedway would change your life. Lead to bigger, better days and even fatter paychecks.
Then a ringer won the thing.
Kevin Harvick was, by all accounts, a gentleman and a beacon of light on an otherwise rain-drenched, extended weekend in July 2008. but the hefty winner’s share and supposed immortality he didn’t need; the four decades of pride and history, he couldn’t be expected to understand.
Last year’s victory lane celebration was supposed to wield redemptive power on behalf of all little guys.
Then Eddie MacDonald won the thing.
MacDonald, who turned 30 a week ago, is one of new England’s most diverse and talented racers of his generation. Other teams roll up to racetracks armed with bigger transporters, bank accounts and payrolls, only to watch the restrained redhead race off into the sunset ahead of them.
But is he ever an underdog? no way.
Was July 19, 2009 the biggest day of his career? Hardly.
“I wouldn’t say it was life-changing. It was just pretty cool,” MacDonald said. “To win at Loudon in both the ACT Invitational and the K&N (Pro Series) car was big for us. the Oxford 250 just has a lot of history behind it.”
Like every other yankee short track racer worth the patches on his firesuit, MacDonald grew up in Rowley, Mass., dreaming of jumping up-and-down on the roof of his car in victory lane at the 250.
His parents, Red and Judy MacDonald, are the long-time operators of Lee USA Speedway in southern new Hampshire.
When Eddie was beginning the process of carving out his own name in the sport, every summer included a father-son pilgrimage north on Interstate 95 and Route 26 to the Oxford showcase.
“I remember sitting there with my father and watching Ralph Nason win it three years in a row,” MacDonald said. “Mike Rowe. Junior Hanley. It was just an experience to go watch them win that race.”
Outlaw, by default
MacDonald’s success in so many different racing endeavors hearkens back to another TD Bank 250 fixture of yesteryear, three-time champion Dave Dion.
The two men’s personalities could not be more different. Dion, the straight-shooting Vietnam veteran, was as quick with a story, a joke or an opinion as he was at finding the fastest groove on an asphalt bullring. MacDonald smiles often and converses easily, too, but he’s cool as the cup of Gatorade a crew member might pass through his window during a pit stop.
He hardly fits into the mold of “outlaw” from central casting. In an era when fans reminisce about and thirst for such personalities, however, MacDonald’s willingness to drive anything, anywhere, has earned him that moniker.
MacDonald swept the two K&N Pro Series (formerly Busch North and Camping World East) races at new Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2008 before winning the inaugural American-Canadian Tour Invitational last September.
Other drivers and fans fight over the relative merits and entertainment value of ACT late models versus Pro all Stars Series “super” late models. MacDonald has supported both series without chasing points in either.
He has dabbled in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, also, making single starts in 2007 and ‘09.
“I wish I could race a different car every night of the week,” he said. “The biggest thing is being able to find time to prepare them all. It takes a lot of time and effort to prepare each car and be competitive. but I wish I had the time and money to race a different car every night, all over the country.”
His only concession to fitting in the modern-day box has been running a full schedule on the K&N circuit. In a division teeming with development drivers supported by NASCAR Sprint Cup budgets, MacDonald and Grimm Racing were the series runner-up in 2009.
This year, with the schedule streamlined to 10 races, MacDonald is sixth in points.
Nothing wrong with that level of performance. but whenever MacDonald wants to win this season, the process has been simple as making the two-hour jaunt to OPS.
MacDonald and the team led by chief mechanic Rollie LaChance of new Gloucester have swept the two 150-lap ACT races leading up to the 250, holding off Oxford weekly racers Tommy Ricker (May) and Ricky Rolfe (June).
Those wins scarcely scratch the surface of MacDonald’s OPS domination.
It doesn’t take much what-if thinking to imagine him chasing an unprecedented fourth straight victory this weekend. MacDonald led the race in 2007 before he was penalized for a pit lane violation.
He then owned the first half of the rain-delayed 2008 edition. When the handling on MacDonald’s car went awry after the team changed tires during a mandatory mid-race pit stop, it handed the top spot and the victory to NASCAR’s Harvick.
“We’ve had a fast enough car to win every year,” MacDonald said. “I felt like it was kind of a three-year building program for us to be able to finally win it.
“About five years ago that car was sitting in my shop, destroyed, with a bent front clip and everything. Rollie is the one who got us in a position so we could even run the 250, much less win it. You’re only as good as the people you have working on your car.”
It remains to be seen if that low-key celebration in the fading twilight will have the requisite impact on MacDonald’s career.
Time is short by today’s standards. MacDonald is nearly twice the age of fellow K&N Pro Series competitors Ryan Truex and Darrell Wallace Jr., both of whom already are on a Cup team’s payroll.
Win tonight, and MacDonald would become only the fourth driver to win back-to-back 250s. one, Geoff Bodine (1980-81) used the win to supplement his legendary Modified career and help punch his ticket to NASCAR Cup glory.
The others, Ralph Nason (1998, 1999, 2000) and Ben Rowe (2003-04), won the 250 after it became a more regional event. They’re future hall of famers in their own neck of the woods.
There are worse fates in this fickle business.
“Hopefully we can be like them and win it again,” MacDonald said.
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