Auto racing: Ricker’s hot streak survives endless winter

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Tommy Ricker has made his name as Oxford Plains Speedway’s unofficial clown prince, or at least one of its greatest ambassadors.

From the dubious nickname “Two Lap” that celebrates years of rotten racing luck to his propensity for celebrating third-place finishes with a victory lane dance, Ricker is one of the local short track’s most beloved characters.

Just don’t let Ricker’s personality-plus conceal the fact that he has been a relentless, relatively successful racer since the early 1980s. Or that now, at 54 years of age, he’s the hottest thing on four wheels at OPS.

“I don’t know if I’d go that far,” Ricker said. “I think maybe I’ve finally grown up and calmed down and got a little more patient.”

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Ricker was a frequent feature winner in Oxford’s retired Limited Sportsman division. It took the Poland man nearly three full seasons in a Late Model, however, before his team celebrated its first triumph in the top class.

Now it’s becoming a habit. Ricker picked up a second win late last season. He then backed up his impressive second-place finish to Eddie MacDonald in the season-opening ACT Big Jab 150 by out-dueling Ricky Rolfe to win the initial 40-lap Late Model points race of the season last Saturday night.

“It’s only a guess, but I bet if you looked at the transponders you would see our fastest laps were around Lap 30 to 35,” said Ricker. “We’re just steady. I wouldn’t say we’re that much faster at the start, but when everybody else drops off we’re still motoring.”

That was the pattern in the ACT opener, as well. Ricker was well out of the top 10 throughout the caution-free opening segment of the race. By the halfway point, he was passing cars in the lead pack on both sides and closing on leader MacDonald.

Ricker eventually drove around six-time ACT champion Brian Hoar and closed to reigning TD Bank 250 winner MacDonald’s back bumper before traffic intervened and time ran out.

“We’ve struggled so much in the 100s, 150s and 200. We’ve qualified well in the 250 and haven’t been able to close the deal three years in a row. I was just happy to finish,” Ricker said.

Oxford’s Late Models will have this weekend off while a Motor Mayhem takes center stage at the oval Saturday night. When they return, Ricker will start at the rear of the field by virtue of his victory.

Having to chase the likes of Shawn Martin, Tim Brackett, Don Wentworth and Rolfe will pose a tougher challenge than last week.

“Everybody’s so close this year,” Ricker said. “Forty laps on a Saturday night move quick. It’s going to be a whole lot different June 5 coming from dead-last.”

Party like it’s 1992

The last time Kevin Bishop won a feature at Oxford, George Bush was president. The older one.

Alan Kulwicki was on his way to a surprising NASCAR Winston Cup championship. Sprint wasn’t in the picture because, well, most of us couldn’t afford a cell phone yet.

“I have a lot more gray hairs,” Bishop said.

The South Paris driver became a dad and spent many years away from racing. Bishop even spent a few summers working with Oxford’s technical inspection crew. So to call it a winless streak is a tad deceiving.

Still, it’s remarkable that Bishop’s victory in the OPS Mini Stock feature last Saturday night was his first since he carried the checkered flag at the end of a Strictly Stock race on June 20, 1992.

“There was probably more than half that period when I wasn’t really racing,” Bishop said.

Not that there haven’t been successes since Bishop returned to the track in 2001. He won the Mini Stock triple crown series two years ago, finishing third in points for the full season.

While other drivers may attribute their early season success to slaving away in the shop all winter, Bishop focused mostly on his new job at Goodwin’s Chevrolet.

“We didn’t take the car off the trailer until about a month before the season started,” Bishop said. “We had to put everything back to Saturday night legal from (September’s) Little Guy 100.”

One thing Bishop didn’t change was the Dale Earnhardt tribute paint scheme. He went from a light blue No. 08 to a black No. 3 before the 2009 season-ending event.

On the weekend when the late Earnhardt became a charter member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, perhaps there was something to it.

“We talked about that,” Bishop said. “I help out with a kid in the go karts (Avery Spear) whose number is 3. Charlie Hall is my crew chief, and his number is 3. We call ourselves ‘The Power of 3.’ “

Worth the wait

Mike St. Germain ended an even longer dry spell by winning Sunday’s Strictly Street feature at Wiscasset Raceway.

In his 29th year of competition, that was St. Germain’s first win of any kind in a weekly racing series division.

“I won a couple of Wildcat races at Unity on Thursday nights. I won some Flagpole races at Wiscasset. I won a ramp jump championship at Unity,” St. Germain said. “But my best finish in a Strictly Stock car was second at Oxford on 250 weekend last year.”

Those results hint at St. Germain’s status at one of Maine’s most prolific low-budget, just-for-fun racers. The Auburn resident has won more than 120 trophies in his career, spanning everything from ramp jumps to enduros to tire-doughnut shows.

He’ll compete at Oxford every Saturday and Wiscasset each Sunday this summer.

“My goal is to wear a tuxedo to the Oxford banquet,” said St. Germain, alluding to his hopes for a track championship.

Hot laps

• Four-time Pro All Stars Series champion Johnny Clark had won at almost every short track in the northeast except for the 1/4-mile layout at picturesque White Mountain Motorsports Park in North Woodstock, N.H. Clark ended that 12-year drought with a 150-lap victory Saturday night. It was a good night for other locals: Ben and Mike Rowe of Turner were fourth and fifth, respectively, immediately followed by Farmington’s Cassius Clark.

• Jeff Taylor tested a Late Model car at Oxford on Thursday. The nine-time Pro Stock champion hasn’t competed full-time at OPS since winning the final race for super late models there in 2006.

• In addition to Oxford’s Motor Mayhem and fireworks event, Beech Ridge Motor Speedway opens its 62nd season Saturday night at 6:30 p.m. Elsewhere, Unity Raceway’s Memorial 300 (qualifying tonight, features Saturday) includes a 200-lap Late Model main event with $3,000 to the winner and a 100-lap companion Wildcat event.

koakes@sunjournal.com

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