Sunday evening, the green flag falls on the Clark’s Scrap Metals Oxford 250, the 45th annual running of New England’s richest short track race and the biggest one-day short track show in the nation. Whether you plan to watch from the stands, follow from afar on Twitter or tune in for the evening’s Pay-Per-View stream, Short Track Scene has your guide to the event and the stars who will battle for New England’s greatest short track prize.
The Oxford 250 began as a 200-lap open-competition race at Bob Bahre’s Oxford Plains Speedway in 1974. In short order, the event became a regional crown jewel. For local drivers, it was an opportunity for bragging rights. For drivers from the Southeast, it was an opportunity to beat the regional stars at their own specialty.
While its roots are in the era of “run-what-you-brung” open-competition shows, the 250 has been run under various rule sets over the years. NASCAR sanctioned the 250 as a Busch Series race from 1990 through 1992. The American-Canadian Tour sanctioned the 250 under Pro Stock rules from 1993 to 1995, and again under Late Model rules in the late 2000s. Since 2013, the Oxford 250 has been a part of the Pro All Stars Series, earning points for PASS’ North and National Championships.
The Oxford 250 is, as promoted, 250 green-flag laps, with caution laps not counting toward scoring. Teams will have to strategize their pit stops as to when the cautions fall, so as not to lose significant time pitting under green. The two pit roads, one along the frontstretch wall and one snaking through the infield, can get tight in a hurry.
The starting field will be set through a series of qualifying heats, with the initial seeding done through a random draw. Those who do not qualify through the initial wave of heats will have a second opportunity through a round of consis. Following the consis, provisionals will be awarded to those eligible. The provisional pool includes PASS points regulars, as well as drivers who have won a guaranteed berth in the feature via the “Roads to Oxford and Richmond” program.
The remaining non-qualified drivers will be eligible to compete in a 50-lap B-feature, with the winner (and any promoter’s options) advancing to the field. At least 42 cars will take the green flag, so a number of big names could end up on the outside looking in.
The 250 is billed as a single-day event, with practice, qualifying and the race all taking place on Sunday. Preliminary practice sessions on Friday and Saturday are optional for any drivers on hand. A full complement of support divisions is on tap throughout the weekend, with the ACT Late Model Tour racing Saturday, the PASS Modifieds competing Saturday and Sunday, and local features racing on both days.
As of Friday, sixty-four teams had filed entries for the 250. Additional entries from among the local Super Late Model teams were anticipated to bring the total entries close to seventy. For some in the field, the Oxford 250 will be their first experience in a long-distance race. For others, the 250 is an opportunity to win the prize that has slipped away before. And while some are nationally known in the short track ranks, others may be entering the public conversation for the first time.
THE BIG THREE
The narrative in NASCAR’s premier series this year has centered on the “Big Three,” three drivers outperforming the rest of the field by leaps and bounds. Similarly, three drivers have stood out in PASS’ Oxford appearances this year.
Cassius Clark (#13) is only a part-time factor on the PASS circuit, but his Oxford appearances have been notable, with Clark leading the lion’s share of both races en route to runner-up finishes. Clark, driving for Nova Scotia’s King Racing, is a long-distance ace, with a win earlier this summer in the Toromont CAT 250 at Scotia Speedworld. The Farmington, Maine native finished third in last year’s 250. Seeing him in the top three in the closing laps Sunday will be more likely than not.
Reid Lanpher (#59) has had the greatest presence on the PASS circuit of the three, briefly leading the series points before focusing on the summer’s big-ticket shows. In those big events, Lanpher has excelled, with wins in the GSPSS Short Track Showdown at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and the U.S. Pro Stock/Super Late Model Nationals at Seekonk (MA) Speedway. Lanpher has a PASS win this year at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in Scarborough, where he was the 2015 and 2017 track champion. Lanpher ran well at Oxford earlier this year but without the finishes to shot for it. Last year’s Oxford 250 runner-up will look to add to his big-show trophy case Sunday night.
Then there’s Curtis Gerry (#7G). The Beech Ridge weekly regular (and 2016 track champion) scored a huge upset in last year’s 250, coming on strong late for his first career PASS trophy. Since then, Gerry has not lost a PASS-sanctioned race at Oxford, winning last year’s season finale and three starts this year, plus a sixth race at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in April. Last year’s surprise is this year’s runaway favorite for the 250. On the way to Oxford, though, Gerry had to make a detour through nearby Scarborough, racing for points at his home track before heading north for the big prize.
THE FORMER WINNERS
Gerry is one of nine former Oxford 250 winners on the entry list, representing 14 of the 44 previous Oxford 250s contested.
Leading the charge is three-time Oxford 250 winner Mike Rowe (#24). Rowe, a Maine racing hall-of-famer, won the 250 in 1984, 1997 and 2005, adding to a star-studded career that includes a 2015 PASS North championship ring. Lest you think the veteran driver might need to shake the rust off, Rowe did exactly that last Saturday, winning a weekly feature at Oxford a night before his 68th birthday. Rowe followed his Oxford triumph with a Beech Ridge feature win on the eve of the 250.
Rowe’s son Ben (#4) has two 250 trophies of his own from 2003 and 2004. The four-time PASS North champion, racing for longtime car owner Richard Moody, will seek his third Oxford 250 win from behind the wheel of a Terry Senneker-built chassis, as his team looks beyond the New England racing scene for its next challenges.
Two drivers share three winner’s trophies from the ACT Late Model sanctioning era of the 250. Eddie MacDonald (#17MA), from Rowley, Massachusetts, won back-to-back 250s in 2009 and 2010. “The Outlaw” won earlier this year in ACT competition at Oxford. He will perform double duty this weekend, turning his attention to the 250 after a win in Saturday’s ACT feature. Joey Polewarczyk, Jr. (#97) won the last Oxford 250 under ACT rules, with his dominant performance netting the largest winner’s check (over $45,000) in the history of the event.
Three drivers on the entry list own a single 250 trophy. Maine veteran and Oxford weekly racer Scott Robbins (#72) won the big prize in 2002. PASS journeyman Glen Luce (#7L) broke through for his first Super Late Model win ever in 2015, setting off a run of touring success. And in 2016, Wayne Helliwell, Jr. (#27NH) set aside his team’s ACT program mid-season to focus on a successful Oxford 250 bid. Helliwell and team owner Bruce Bernhardt run an orange Ford livery in honor of Bruce’s former boss, three-time Oxford 250 winner “Dynamite” Dave Dion.
Defending PASS North champion Travis Benjamin (#7) has two Oxford 250 wins of his own, winning the first two PASS-sanctioned 250s in 2013 and 2014 for his family-owned team. Benjamin, in his third year racing for car owner Peter Petit, has been under-the-radar consistent in his Oxford appearances this year, and will be a factor at the finish.
THE PASS REGULARS
Benjamin is one of five drivers who will have more than winning on their minds Sunday. As a full-time competitor in PASS North, Benjamin needs to salvage a good points day if the checkered flag remains out of reach.
Two-time PASS North champion DJ Shaw (#60) leads the touring standings entering the 250. Two wins and season-long consistency have propelled Shaw to the top of the points ahead of Benjamin, and surely Shaw will have that in mind Sunday night. But Shaw has never won the 250, and a shot at a win in the big race might eclipse the prospects of a third series title.
Derek Griffith (#12G) has two wins of his own and sits third in the PASS standings. Griffith, a Kulwicki Driver Development Program participant, is in the middle of his best season yet, but his performances at Oxford and Beech Ridge have not been promising for a shot at the win. Griffith was taken out of last year’s race in a crash; he will look to improve on that significantly to improve his title hopes.
Garrett Hall (#94) has shown speed and promise all season in his first full-time run at the PASS points title. Unfortunately, the results have not come together to put Hall in position for the win. Hall, eighth in last year’s 250, will be going for his fourth career PASS win, but easily the biggest of his career.
Ben Rowe, the only other driver to make every race this season, sits fifth in points, a healthy margin ahead of Reid Lanpher. Behind Lanpher, though, the field is wide open, with drivers like Mike Hopkins (#15), Derek Ramstrom (#35) and former ACT Tour champion Nick Sweet (#40VT) picking and choosing their starts based on the best opportunities to win.
THE OXFORD REGULARS
Oxford Plains Speedway’s weekly Budweiser Championship Series is anchored by a competitive Super Late Model division that has seen a number of new faces in Victory Lane this year. The last month and a half in particular have seen fields of nearly thirty cars each week, as teams use the fifty-lap features to tune their cars for the 250.
Oxford’s weekly points leader is rookie Gabe Brown (#47X), still a few weeks away from turning sixteen years old. The teen competitor burst onto the SLM scene in 2017, driving cars prepared by Dale Shaw Race Cars. Brown has yet to win in 2018, but his podium consistency has kept him atop the standings while making spot PASS Tour starts to get long-distance experience. Brown missed the starting lineup for last year’s 250, but will look to make the field running his weekly DSRC entry.
Brown’s top competition is TJ Brackett (#61), an Oxford weekly champion who often joins the PASS entrants in races at Oxford and Beech Ridge. Brackett turned in a decent result in May’s PASS feature, admitting that it had taken him a while to find the right long-distance setup for his car. Brackett and his father Tim (#60B), a multi-time Oxford champion himself, will both take a shot at 250 glory once again.
Last year’s weekly champion, Alan Tardiff (#9T), will also make a bid for the 250, as will feature winners Ryan Robbins (#36), Calvin Rose, Jr. (#8) and teen rookie Austin Teras (#29), racing for car owner Jay Cushman.
THE WEEKLY CONTINGENT
Curtis Gerry’s win last year surely demonstrated to weekly racers that, with preparation and fortune, a “local” driver can knock off the big guns in the 250. Gerry will lead a number of weekly regulars from his home track of Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in Scarborough, the only NASCAR-sanctioned track in the state.
Besides Gerry and former 250 winners Mike Rowe and Helliwell, Trevor Sanborn (#29X) will carry the Beech Ridge flag Sunday. Sanborn, a PASS North feature winner, is racing full-time at Beech Ridge this season. Brandon Barker (#88) will also take a shot at the 250, a few weeks after winning a weekly feature on an off-week from Beech Ridge’s action.
Dave Farrington, Jr. (#23) will also return to the PASS ranks for the first time since April. Farrington, the 2014 Beech Ridge champion, ran the full PASS schedule in 2017 before cutting back to a part-time program this year. Farrington’s fortunes at Beech Ridge have been unkind, but the Jay, ME driver has scored two Pro Stock feature wins at nearby Wiscasset Speedway.
VETERANS STILL SEARCHING
For a few drivers on the entry list, it seems inconceivable to not list them among the former winners of the Oxford 250. Some have won everything else under the sun, but for whatever reason, the big prize has eluded them year after year. Once again, they will make their bid for what could be the biggest win of their careers.
Tracy Gordon (#41) was a hot prospect to win the 250 in the mid-1990s. Instead, the Strong, ME native moved to NASCAR’s Busch North Series, even being tabbed for a ride in the Midwest-based ASA before the money ran out. Gordon stepped away from racing to focus on business and fatherhood in the 2000s, but returned a few years ago to see if he still had the intensity. After joking that his daughter had begun to doubt her father’s racing legacy, Gordon delivered a win in July’s PASS Open at Oxford, following it up with a feature win a few weeks later.
Johnny Clark (#54) is another driver surprisingly absent from the former-winners list. The six-time PASS champion has eleven starts in the race, but only two top-five results. Clark, running a limited PASS North campaign this year, is a former winner of the PASS 300 long-distance race at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway, and will surely tap into that prowess as he tries to win his first 250.
And no list of non-winners is complete without Jeff Taylor (#88). The Oxford veteran is a nine-time track champion and has won everything there is to win but the 250 itself. Taylor, the owner of chassis shop Distance Racing Products, spends far more time building race cars than racing them, but has his trademark green #88 at the ready for an Oxford 250 attempt year after year. Taylor missed the field for last year’s 250, and will want to right that wrong with a successful attempt this season.
NEW ENGLAND AT LARGE
As a PASS-sanctioned points race held at PASS’ de facto home track, most of the entrants of the 250 have solid ties to one or the other. But this is a race that has meaning throughout all of New England, drawing drivers from other corners of the racing ecosystem.
Representing the Granite State Pro Stock Series on the entry list is Berwick, Maine’s Joey Doiron (#73). Doiron, a multi-time PASS feature winner, opted to chase a championship in the more budget-friendly GSPSS this season. Doiron has five starts in the 250, with a runner-up finish in 2013. Fellow GSPSS contender Ray Christian III (#93CT) will also make the trip from Connecticut. Christian made the transition from weekly to touring racing in 2017, attempting to qualify for last year’s 250 after moving from the ACT Late Model ranks to a Super Late Model.
Chassis builder Jeremy Davis (#09) will also try to add an Oxford 250 win to his trophy case. Davis stepped away from driving full-time to focus on his growing chassis shop, but still runs selected GSPSS and PASS events as time allows. Last year, Davis won a thrilling three-wide finish to the last-chance B-feature, finishing 26th in the 250.
Joe Squeglia, Jr. (#03) typically focuses on the races closer to his home haunts in southern New Hampshire, but last year’s top feature winner in GSPSS competition will try his hand at the Oxford 250 again. “Joe the Show” is a former PASS winner as well, going to victory lane at the abrasive Lee (NH) USA Speedway in 2016.
A HOMECOMING PARTY
For some, the Oxford 250 represents a sort of homecoming. The off-weekend for NASCAR’s premier division allows some current crew members to return to their roots as drivers for the region’s largest race.
Maine’s Wyatt Alexander (#96) has spent much of the summer racing locally while on break from college in North Carolina. Alexander has already started classes, but will come back to Maine for a shot at 250 glory.
Ben Lynch (#7NC), a former ACT Tour competitor, will dust off his Super Late Model for the 250. Derek Kneeland (#90), who spots for driver Kyle Larson, has been working on his 250 mount for months, with a few PASS appearances in 2018 to shake down the car. Kneeland’s car is prepared by Dale Shaw Race Cars as a teammate to DJ Shaw and Gabe Brown.
And Austin Theriault (#57) will lead the homecoming party with a sharp black-and-white entry with sponsorship from Bangor Savings Bank. Theriault, last year’s ARCA Racing Series champion, will attempt only his third race of the year. In five prior Oxford 250 starts, Theriault has top-five finishes in four, crashing out of his last appearance in 2016.
VISITORS FROM CANADA
Despite racing for a team based in Nova Scotia, Cassius Clark hails from the state of Maine. For Canadian fans of the 250, there is no need for disappointment, as a few drivers have made the trip from the Maritimes for a shot at Oxford 250 glory.
Leading the charge is Cole Butcher (#53), a star in the Parts for Trucks Pro Stock Tour and a PASS North winner in this year’s visit to Petty International Raceway in New Brunswick. Butcher has four wins on the Pro Stock Tour this year, and leads the point standings with two races remaining despite skipping this weekend’s race to focus on the Oxford 250.
Butcher will be joined by Lonnie Sommerville (#23S) and Kyle Reid (#42) as they seek to bring the Oxford 250 trophy home to Canada for the first time since Dave Whitlock’s win in 1995. Canadian drivers won all three Oxford 250s sanctioned under ACT Pro Stock rules (Junior Hanley in 1993, Derek Lynch in 1994), and Don Biederman won the first Oxford 250 for a Canadian driver in 1977.
THE SOUTHERN INVASION
A year before Biederman won the Oxford 250, Butch Lindley was the first driver to take the trophy out of New England, winning the third running of the 250 in 1976. Lindley was not the first driver from the Southeast to make a bid for New England’s biggest race, with Bob Pressley and Tommy Ellis winning in later years.
While the ACT Late Model years made Southern competition a rarity, the change to PASS rules has made it possible for some PASS South entrants to throw their hats into the ring. Tate Fogleman (#8F) and Kodie Conner (#45) have qualified for the 250 in past years, and both will take another shot at racing in the Northeast.
But no Southern invader can top the headlines that were made when Andrew “Bubba” Pollard (#26) filed his long-awaited Oxford 250 entry.
Short track fans need no introduction to Bubba Pollard. The Senoia, GA racer is one of the Southeast’s top talents. Rather than chase a career in the NASCAR big leagues, Pollard chose to establish himself as a force in the short track world, winning throughout the Southeast and well beyond.
Early in the season, Pollard hinted at his intentions to attempt the 250, with fans welcoming the challenge of a truly competitive outsider. Pollard tailored his 2018 schedule to flat tracks requiring more grip than horsepower. He cited his forays into dirt racing as helpful in preparing for heat racing. Pollard won a PASS South race at South Boston a few weeks ago, earning him a guaranteed berth in the 250.
Pollard’s presence at the 250 should draw eyes from outside the usual circles. He is easily the most competitive entry from the South in years. And yet, as all drivers know, nothing is guaranteed.
The only certainty about the Oxford 250 is uncertainty. For some, the initial draw for qualifying spells their doom; for others, weeks and months of preparation may come unglued in the closing laps. Will the overwhelming favorite clinch a second victory and a sixth straight Oxford Plains Speedway win? Will one of the series’ rising stars outlast the veterans? Will the best visitor in years come out on top, or will New England’s toughest race pose too great of a challenge?
In this race, on this night, a mirror will prove far more useful than a crystal ball.