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Your Pre-Race Guide to the 2019 Oxford 250

Oxford 250 Grid, 2018
Cars sit gridded on the frontstretch for last year's Oxford 250. Will a familiar face win this year's 46th running, or will someone new sneak into Victory Lane? (Jeff Brown photo)

Sunday evening, the green flag falls on the Oxford 250, the 46th 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 victory in this legendary race.

THE RACE:

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 game.

The Oxford 250 has been run under various rule sets and sanctioning bodies over the years. Since 2013, the 250 has been a part of the Pro All Stars Series, earning points for PASS’ North and National Championships. Prior to that, the race was the marquée event of the American-Canadian Tour’s touring Late Model schedule.

With 250 green-flag laps promised and no competition cautions, teams will need to be prepared for pit stops. In practice, teams take advantage of caution flags to take tires and fuel. Oxford’s infield has two pit lanes, one along the frontstretch and one making a “3” through the infield to accommodate a full field.

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, Oxford’s weekly drivers, and drivers who have won qualifiers throughout the season.

The remaining non-qualified drivers will 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.

Unlike many big-ticket Super Late Model races, the Oxford 250 is something of an equalizer in terms of team spending. Strategy and race craft will pay off more often than fresh tires or big horsepower. While the best teams will usually rise to the top, nothing prevents a smaller or locally-based operation from having a dog in the fight.

THE FIELD:

As of Friday, 57 teams had filed entries for the 250. Making this more remarkable is the fact that most hail from northern New England, with only a few traveling for the race. With fewer short tracks hosting Super Late Models as a weekly class, the strong turnout is impressive.

While a dossier of every driver in the field would be exhaustive, the following drivers are all likely to factor in some way into this evening’s results.

The Easy Favorite

In 2017, Curtis Gerry (#7G, Waterboro, ME) delivered a stunner to the Oxford 250 field. Gerry, a weekly racer at nearby Beech Ridge Motor Speedway who only raced occasionally in PASS events, took the lead late and pulled away from the field to win his first 250.

Gerry also won the PASS season finale at Oxford, then went on to win the first three PASS events at Oxford in 2018. Along with a win at his home track of Beech Ridge, Gerry had six wins in eight PASS starts leading into last year’s 250. Misfortune finally found Gerry as he worked into the top ten late in the race, relegating him to a 37th-place result.

After winning a second track championship at Beech Ridge last year, Gerry and team switched focus to Oxford for 2019, winning four features and locking up the track championship with a couple races to go. And after a brief dry spell, Gerry won two PASS-sanctioned events at Oxford this July, narrowly missing a victory in the last event before the 250.

Gerry and his family team will again play the role of David to the Goliaths of the PASS North circuit and the visiting outsiders. However, this time all eyes will be on Gerry’s black #7G entry.

The Defending Champion

Short Track Scene readers need no introduction to Bubba Pollard (#26, Senoia, GA). The SLM ace made his first appearance in last year’s Oxford 250, finding his way to the front in the closing laps and taking the winner’s spoils in his first try. Pollard’s win was the first for a legitimate outsider in the PASS-sanctioned era of the event (and since NASCAR star Kyle Busch won the 2011 running under American-Canadian Tour rules).

Pollard is back for another try at the trophy this year. Interestingly, Pollard is the only driver from the South to make the trip to Oxford. With PASS’ limited presence in the Southeast this year, a few drivers who would normally make the trip have not filed entries for the race.

The Former Winners

With Gerry and Pollard back for another shot at Oxford 250 glory, the winners of the last seven Oxford 250s—and nine of the last ten—will be looking to add to their respective legacies on Sunday night.

Wayne Helliwell, Jr. (#27NH, Dover, NH) and car owner Bruce Bernhardt, a former crew member for three-time 250 winner “Dynamite” Dave Dion, took their own home-built Super Late Model to victory in 2016. A battle with multiple sclerosis has forced Helliwell to reduce his schedule since then, but he will be prepared for Sunday’s battle on the track.

Glen Luce (#7L, Turner, ME) earned his first career SLM victory in the 2015 running. Luce emerged as a threat on the PASS North circuit, finishing second in points in 2017. Luce reduced his schedule in 2018 and 2019 to focus on his own health, but will be rested and ready for Sunday.

Luce’s title rival was two-time PASS champion and two-time 250 winner Travis Benjamin (#7, Belfast, ME). Benjamin won the 2013 and 2014 events, the first two under PASS sanctioning, driving his own car. Benjamin bowed out of the PASS title race to focus on this year’s 250, winning a weekly Oxford feature to build momentum as he chases his third 250 trophy.

The last Oxford 250 winner under ACT’s sanctioning was Joey Polewarczyk, Jr. (#97, Hudson, NH). The longtime ACT star turned in a dominating performance in 2012, claiming one of the biggest winner’s checks in the event’s history. Now a part-time fixture on the ACT and PASS rosters, “Joey Pole” hunts for an Oxford 250 win in PASS trim.

Eddie MacDonald (#17MA, Rowley, MA) was the only back-to-back winner of the ACT era, taking wins in 2009 and 2010. “The Outlaw” is known locally for big-track prowess, but has shown plenty of speed at Oxford both in ACT and PASS events. MacDonald has focused on SLM competition this year, with an eye to winning his third 250.

One family shares another five wins in the 250. Father Mike Rowe (#24, Turner, ME), a Maine hall-of-famer and the 2015 PASS North champion, has wins in 1984, 1997 and 2005. Rowe, who turned 69 a week ago, won last night’s weekly feature at Beech Ridge and will look for his fourth 250 tonight. Son Ben Rowe (#4, Turner, ME) won the big race in 2003 and 2004. He rides a streak of consistently good performances into the 250 as he looks for his first win of the year.

Jeremie Whorff (#00, Bath, ME) became an Oxford 250 winner in 2006. He will try to qualify in his own entry after winning earlier this year at nearby Wiscasset Speedway. Oxford Plains Speedway weekly racer Scott Robbins (#72, Dixfield, ME) won the big prize in 2002. A second win would be a bit of an upset, but the veteran has shown speed in weekly competition leading into the 250.

The PASS Regulars

Ben Rowe sits fifth in the PASS North points standings entering the 250. With points on the line in addition to Oxford 250 glory, Rowe and the other title contenders will have to factor the risks of a bad points day into their race strategy.

Three-time and reigning champion DJ Shaw (#60, Center Conway, NH) has had plenty of success in PASS competition, but an Oxford 250 win has eluded him just as it eluded his father. Shaw will draw from his win at Oxford earlier this year to dial his entry in.

Garrett Hall (#94, Scarborough, ME) won at Oxford earlier this year, and was outright dominant in the first two thirds of last year’s 250. Hall has put together the consistency he lacked last year, and will be up front most of the day as he looks to win his first PASS title.

The last PASS race at Oxford was won by Nick Sweet (#40VT, Milton, VT), who has been consistently fast all year in his first full season. Sweet, the 2016 ACT Tour champion, broke through with his first PASS win last fall, and has been a threat to win everywhere on the tour since.

Fourth in points is Derek Griffith (#12G, Hudson, NH). Griffith has three wins this year, but bad luck has kept the Kulwicki Driver Development Program participant from outright challenging for the title. Oxford has not been Griffith’s best track, by performance or fortune, so surviving may be the Louie Mechalides-led team’s first goal.

Sixth in points is young Gabe Brown (#47, Center Conway, NH), who seeks his first SLM victory in his first full year in PASS. Brown is quite familiar with Oxford; he launched his stock car career at the oval in 2017, and was the youngest driver to win the track’s SLM championship last year at the age of 15.

Last year, Reid Lanpher (#59, Manchester, ME) would have likely challenged DJ Shaw for the title if he and his team had run the full schedule. This year, Lanpher has shown the speed, but fortune has kept the team from earning the results. Lanpher has not won on the road this year, but his Oxford 250 record suggests he should not be overlooked.

Bobby Therrien (#5X, Hinesburg, VT) started the year considering an ACT Tour title chase, but instead joined the PASS circuit after the first two races of the year. Therrien and Fast One Motorsports have been part-time PASS competitors for years, but are still hunting for sustained success on the road.

Rounding out the top ten in PASS points is six-time champion Johnny Clark (#54, Hallowell, ME). For all his success in the series, Clark has yet to win the 250, and has openly admitted that he would trade his championships for a win in the big race.

While he has only run part-time in PASS North this year, Mike Hopkins (#15, Hermon, ME) is leading the PASS National Championship standings. Hopkins won the Commonwealth Classic at Richmond (Va.) Raceway in March and nearly stole a win in this summer’s Short Track Showdown at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Rookie Jake Johnson (#15MA, Rehoboth, MA), a former Seekonk (Mass.) Speedway regular, is also in the running for the National Championship and will continue his pursuit with a trip to Oxford.

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.

Curtis Gerry has already virtually clinched this year’s championship, but Calvin Rose, Jr. (#8, Turner, ME) leads the battle for second in the standings in his second year racing a Super Late Model.

Multi-time Oxford track champions Tim Brackett (#60, Buckfield, ME) and son TJ Brackett (#61, Buckfield, ME) are still searching for a 250 victory to round out their careers. Shawn Martin (#94ME, Turner, ME) has been running part-time this year, but won a qualifying race this summer to guarantee his starting position.

Brandon Barker (#88, Windham, ME) has run part-time at Oxford this year, with spot starts in PASS and the Granite State Pro Stock Series and a GSPSS win to show for it. Barker will be in his own car this weekend as he looks for an upset victory.

Oxford’s 2017 champion, Alan Tardiff (#9T, Lyman, ME), has run a limited slate of PASS events this year and will attempt to represent Oxford in this year’s 250 as well.

The Weekly Competitors

Before moving to weekly racing at Oxford, Curtis Gerry was a two-time champion at nearby Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in Scarborough. Maine’s only NASCAR-sanctioned track bears a close resemblance to Oxford in many ways, and drivers like Gerry, Garrett Hall and Reid Lanpher have translated their Beech Ridge success into Oxford victories along the way.

Trevor Sanborn (#29X, East Parsonsfield, ME) currently sits atop the Beech Ridge championship standings. Sanborn, a familiar name in PASS circles, is entered in a team car to Petit Motorsports and driver Travis Benjamin as he seeks his first PASS victory since 2010.

Joining Sanborn will be championship contender Dave Farrington, Jr. (#23, Jay, ME). Farrington ran the full PASS schedule in 2017 but has reverted to weekly racing since then. Gary Smith (#75, Bangor, ME) is a likely entrant as well.

Beech Ridge ran its regular weekly program Saturday night, so drivers like Sanborn, Farrington and Mike Rowe had to make a trip back to Scarborough after yesterday’s practice sessions at Oxford.

The Car Builders

While cars from nationally-known chassis shops like Senneker Performance, Fury and Port City Race Cars are the choice of many competitors, plenty of drivers prefer to shop local.

In Maine, that often means turning to Distance Racing Products and owner Jeff Taylor (#88T, Farmington, ME). Taylor, a multi-time Oxford track champion, has cut back his racing to prioritize customer cars, making the 250 one of his only starts each year. Taylor did steal a weekly feature win at Oxford earlier this year, racing more this season than he has recently.

Taylor’s key employees are his wife and Ben Ashline (#99, Pittston, ME), the latter of whom will seek redemption in this year’s 250. Ashline, whose ACT career was derailed by a heat-race crash before the 2012 250 that left him without a car to finish the season, is entered in a car owned by friend and fellow racer Ajay Picard. Ashline finished sixth in the Picard car in his only PASS start this year.

Jeremy Davis (#09, Tamworth, NH), like Taylor, will promote his own product from the cockpit. Davis, the owner of Davis Chassis Works, put on a show in the last-chance race two years ago, but will look to lock himself in the field earlier as he seeks another PASS victory.

Crazy Horse Racing owners Mitch and Judy Green will be represented in the 250 by Ray Christian III (#93CT, Norwich, CT). The GSPSS full-timer has been preparing for Oxford all season, with a weekly feature win in one of his appearances at the track.

Dale Shaw Race Cars, of course, will have a presence as well, with DJ Shaw and Gabe Brown racing out of the Shaw stable. While DJ has not won the 250, cars built by the Shaws have seen plenty of Oxford success.

Double-Duty Drivers

With the American-Canadian Tour Late Models racing Saturday night as the undercard to the 250, a few ACT drivers will try their hand at the big race on Sunday.

Bryan Kruczek (#19NH, Newmarket, NH) is no stranger to PASS competition, earning his only career PASS win at Oxford in 2015. Racing for Star Speedway owner Bobby Webber, Jr., Kruczek has run a mixed slate of ACT and PASS events in 2019. With his win in Saturday evening’s ACT feature, he swept the Tour’s events at Oxford this year.

Tour rookie Ryan Kuhn (#72X, East Bridgewater, MA) moved up from Seekonk Speedway’s weekly program to the ACT Tour this year. Kuhn has run a few PASS races and will try to get into the 250 field.

Bobby Therrien will seek to complete a double-duty weekend, but in reverse; he picked up a ride for the ACT Tour event Saturday night, finishing deep in the field after a late-race crash.

Visitors From Canada

With the Parts for Trucks Pro Stock Tour racing Saturday evening, the usual list of entrants from the Canadian Maritimes is a bit shorter than usual. A few drivers opted to take a shot at being the first Canadian to win the race since 1995.

Two-time Pro Stock Tour champion Cole Butcher (#53, Porters Lake, NS) left brother Jarrett behind to race in Canada while hauling his car across the border. Butcher has shown speed at Oxford in the past. Ashton Tucker (#2, Lyttleton, NB) is entered in a Brad Silliker-owned entry as he looks to make his first Oxford 250 start. Tucker has two starts in PASS competition this year.

Flying both flags is former PASS North champion Cassius Clark (#13, Farmington, ME). Clark drives for Nova Scotia racing legend Rollie MacDonald and his King Racing operation. With wins in two 250-lap events in the Maritimes this year, Clark may represent Canada’s best shot at sharing the podium on Sunday evening.

Veterans Still Searching

Jeff Taylor is one of a few drivers that have won everything at Oxford, or in the region, without counting the 250 among his triumphs. Sunday night, he will not be alone.

Kelly Moore (#47M, Scarborough, ME) ranks high among the veterans still looking for an Oxford 250 trophy. The 1995 NASCAR Busch North Series champion traces his roots back to Oxford, and he would love to add a 250 trophy to his list of achievements.

Tracy Gordon (#41, Strong, ME) looked to be the region’s next breakout winner in the late ‘90s before moving to NASCAR’s Busch North Series himself. After a long break from racing, Gordon came back to PASS in recent seasons, still looking for a points-paying win and the Oxford 250 victory that eluded him back then.

WHAT TO EXPECT:

The greatest 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. This is the kind of race that rewards preparation, yet loves to throw certainty to the wind.

Last year, Bubba Pollard topped the locals in a win for the outsiders. The year before, Curt Gerry beat the touring racers with a local operation. In 2016, Wayne Helliwell took a home-built car to victory. Favorites are easy to pick, but with 250 laps, pit stops and the decisions of over forty drivers on deck, surprises often abound.

The one sure thing about the Oxford 250 is that this is a race you do not want to miss.

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Jeff Brown is a contributor to Short Track Scene. A native of New Hampshire and a long-time fan of New England racing, Brown provides a fan's perspective as he follows New England's regional Late Model touring series.

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