OXFORD – The searing sound of heavy metal music made the 25-foot flames seem taller.
The snaps and pops from wood as it crackled and crumbled under the intense heat blended with the man-made amplifications.
And, people – hundreds of inspired and uninhibited human beings – soaked it all in Saturday night, less than 24 hours before the biggest short-track race in New England.
“Why not?” Tim Miller, of Naples, asked rhetorically.
There weren’t many people who could have answered him with a straight face.
From sky-high flames, to rock concerts, naked women and all-night food and drink, the camping area at Oxford Plains Speedway was a measure of controlled chaos for much of the week leading up to Sunday’s TD Banknorth 250, and the week came to a head Saturday in nothing less than Woodstock-like fashion.
All that was missing was the mud.
They came in droves, and they came early, some as early as May.
“If you don’t get up here by Sunday (a week before the race), you’re not going to get a good spot with your camper,” Charman Vaughn, of Naples, said.
Vaughn’s son races regularly at OPS.
“Someone took our corner this year,” said a frustrated Scott Libby, of Auburn, as he pointed to a location 50 feet away. “Usually we set up in the corner over there.”
Libby has been coming to the 250 since 1978, when he was 15 years old. Later, he and his wife were married the week prior to the race, and the couple honeymooned here.
“This is our anniversary,” Libby said. “We came here after we got married.”
Libby has seen everything that happened Saturday already, and much, much more.
“I’ve seen them drag cars into the pit, I’ve seen people ride their mini-bikes over the fire pit,” Libby said. “It’s crazy.”
There were no cars or bikes flying into the fire this year, but off in a corner, a larger private bonfire turned out to be entertaining, as Josh Morris of New Gloucester leaped through the flames a few times after feeding the fire with saplings that had been cleared to make his campsite.
You never know who you’ll find
The fans aren’t the only folks doing the camping, either.
“My track ran last night,” said Red MacDonald. “This is a great track and a great race, and my son, Eddie, is racing (Sunday).”
If MacDonald’s name sounds familiar to racing enthusiasts, it’s because they’ve been to his track. MacDonald is the owner of the Lee USA Speedway in Lee, N.H.
He was in the campground Saturday with members of his son’s crew, and with another driver, Lane Chase.
“We’re just sitting by the fire, relaxing,” Bill Eaton, of Seabrook, N.H., said. “Getting ready for the race.”
Eaton spots for the the younger MacDonald’s No. 17 car, and said that he liked his chances after encountering what he called a “certain omen.”
“The only car on there that you can see a number on is the 17,” Eaton beamed as he pointed to the pit bracelets, which give people access to the garage and pit areas. “Something like that, to me, is good luck.”
Later in the evening, Westbrook native and current Modified racer Tony Ricci chowed down next to the Fat Guy’s sausage stand.
“This is the first time I’m here on a Saturday night and don’t have to race in the 250,” Ricci said. Ricci raced in each of the last four years, but this year didn’t return because of the shift from Pro Stock cars to Late Models.
‘Something you don’t get to see every day’
The fire pit in the middle of an expansive field is just one of the highlights from the final night before the big race. This year, Dead Season, a heavy metal rock band, performed just a short distance away.
A non-traditional wet t-shirt contest – which drew almost as big a crowd as the opening act at the concert – gave the party more of that “Spirit of ’69” flair, and the Windham-based Fat Guy’s kept the masses fed all night.
For some first-timers, the experience was immeasurable.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Ron Pratt, of Gray, said. “This is good.”
“I wanted to have the whole weekend experience this time,” Brian Osier, of Casco, said. “Last year we only came up Saturday night.”
And then, of course, there were the races, which, for some, delayed the start of the fiesta. Saturday night marked the return of the modifieds to OPS for the first time since 1991.
“The different types of racing, that’s great,” Tim Miller, of Naples, said. “Watching the modifieds, that was great. It’s something you don’t get to see every day.”
Miller nodded knowingly in the pale fire light as the sounds of Dead Season echoed off the camper behind him. The racing wasn’t an every-day occurrence, for sure.
Neither was Saturday night.