Flag drops Saturday at OPS

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PORTLAND – For race fans in central and western Maine, the long wait is finally over.

Oxford Plains Speedway embarks on a new season Saturday night, when the Pro All Stars Series opens its 2006 season with the New England Dodge Dealers 150.

Qualifying begins at 5 p.m.

PASS will return for a second appearance Saturday, July 1.

Speedway officials held their annual preseason media day Monday, where speedway president Bill Ryan and three weekly racing series drivers talked about plans for the upcoming season.

Ryan addressed the current state of competition at Oxford, and spoke about the reduction of touring series events on this year’s schedule.

“We had roughly 100 cars turn out for our open practice session last Saturday, a good indication for what we feel will be another exciting season,” Ryan said.

“This year, the focus is on having a good number of points races for our core of weekly teams. Poor weather hurt us, and we had re-scheduling issues with various touring series. Some of those touring series are costly to bring in, and we didn’t get the fan support needed to sustain them. The two tours that are coming (PASS and the American Canadian Tour) run cars similar to those we run, which means our fans can watch their local heroes battle side-by-side with the touring invaders.”

ACT will visit OPS on July 29 and Aug. 19.

The centerpiece of the season is the 33rd annual TD Banknorth 250, with a first-pace purse of more than $25,000. The race, which will feature at least three Nextel Cup drivers, is scheduled for Sunday, July 30.

Drivers on hand to discus the upcoming season were Pro Stock veteran Bill Whorff Jr. of Topsham, third generation racer and Pro Stock rookie Eric Drew and T.J. Watson of Cundy’s Harbor.

Whorff is preparing a car for NASCAR Nextel Cup Series driver J.J. Yeley, one of three NASCAR regulars competing in the 33rd annual TD Banknorth 250. He is also busy preparing his own car for Saturday’s PASS race, but admits the odds are stacked when it comes to battling the PASS regulars.

“It’s tough for a Saturday night racer to compete against those teams since they can experiment with setups more than we do,” Whorff said. “Technology is always changing in these cars. You really have to stay on top of it to stay competitive.”

Drew, 21, is the grandson of Oxford legend Homer Drew, and the son of former TD Banknorth 250 winner Gary Drew. He is making the jump from a Wednesday night Outlaw machine to the ultra-fast Oxford Networks Pro Stock division.

“I know it is a big step, but I also know if you want to make a career in racing, you need to start when you’re young,” Drew said.

Drew and his father will compete in identically-prepared cars owned by Rick Lockwood, owner of Denwood Builders. As a rookie in a division full of seasoned veterans, he will rely heavily on his father’s advise.

“Dad’s years of experience will help me tremendously, and I plan to learn as much as I can from him,” he said.

Drew missed last weekend’s practice session because his engine wasn’t finished, but plans to do some testing Thursday.

Watson made his big jump last year when he stepped up to the Late Model Stock division from a Sport Truck in Wednesday night action.

“It was quite an experience,” he explained. “We had kind of an up-and-down season, but we made good progress. I’d like to contend for the LMS crown this year, and that’s what we’re shooting for.”

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