OXFORD – Police say they’re ready as thousands of race fans pour into town to watch this weekend’s 34th annual TD Banknorth 250 at the Oxford Plains Speedway.
“It’s the sheer amount of people who come in, but just a few people who cause trouble,” said police Chief John Tibbetts of problems encountered during the race that last year drew about 14,000 people to this community in the Oxford Hills of less than 4,000 residents.
The classic midsummer race, which is set to begin at 2 p.m. Sunday, is expected to draw at least as many spectators as last year to see such luminaries as NASCAR Nextel Cup driving veterans Kevin Lepage and Terry Labonte. A total of 179 entries had been recorded by Friday, with a few more expected before race day.
Tibbetts, who has been keeping law and order at the race for the past 15 years, said crowds have been increasing during the past few years, but problems are usually limited to evenings when campers start drinking, and arrests may follow. That, and the 45 minutes after the race ends when traffic becomes a nightmare on Route 26.
In an average year, police estimate that 30 or more people are arrested. Last year’s race resulted in 24 arrests, largely on disorderly conduct charges.
“Usually, the problems are in evenings with disorderly conducts and assaults. They camp in the parking lot and start drinking,” said Tibbetts.
Twelve years ago, firefighters had to extinguish a large bonfire in the camping area on the day of the big race. In the process, they doused campers with their fire hoses. The action caused a near-riot among many who had been drinking and resulted in police and fire department policies being reviewed after the event to ensure a smoother weekend in the future.
Tibbetts said he will hire detail police from nearby towns for crowd control but would not specify how many additional officers will be on hand.
Campers started moving in on Saturday. “It’s a first-come, first-serve,” said Paula Adams, an employee of the Oxford Plains Speedway.
Adams said the campers will “roll in” over a few days until the lot is filled. They’ll camp out until the weekend’s races end.
Practice time start at 4 p.m. on Friday for the Oxford Acceleration Series, with the green flag going down at 6:30 that night.
On Saturday the Maine-Ly Action Sports Night 100 will feature the True Value Modified Racing Series.
Qualifying for the TD Banknorth 250 begins at 2 p.m. on Sunday with the green flag going down at 6:30 p.m.