Lepage returns to racing roots

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OXFORD – Kevin Lepage didn’t need a souped-up time machine. He had a race car Thursday, and it took just a few laps for the Vermont native to travel back in time, at least momentarily.

“It’s the same old Oxford,” Lepage said. “It really is. You’ve got a late arc in and you’ve got to get it turned and get it hard off. I forgot about that front straightaway, where its tipped off just a little bit there, but after the first lap it was, ‘Oh, yeah, I remember this part.'”

Lepage made the trip to Oxford Plains Speedway for a practice session in preparation for Sunday’s 34th Annual TD Banknorth 250. As much as his work focused on the future, Lepage couldn’t help but think about his past.

“The ride up here was amazing because bits and pieces came back to me,” Lepage said. “Just to come up here and see the familiar sights and drive into Oxford Plans – the concrete pads are still there, the tower where we draw pits is still here, there’s so many things that bring back memories.”

A veteran of 200 Nextel Cup starts, Lepage is no stranger to OPS or the 250. He lived in Maine during the 1980s. He traveled to watch the race as a kid and competed in the state’s most storied race four times, finishing 11th in 1985.

He did need directions to remind him how to get to the track. He noticed some changes in the roadways on the way up from Old Orchard Beach, but he still found many things to be the same.

“When I started my career back in the 1980s, the Oxford 250, it was the biggest race,” said Lepage. “It was a lot of cars and a lot of money. Now to come back here and revisit my roots, it’s going to be interesting.”

Lepage’s bright orange No. 88 is owned by Archie St. Hilaire, the CEO of B.B.I Waste Industries in Old Orchard Beach. Todd Graffam, a long-time friend, is the crew chief. St. Hilaire and Graffam bought the car and enticed Lepage to drive it.

“They’ve been working night and day to get the car ready,” said Lepage. “They’ve put a huge effort into the program. I want to make sure there aren’t any bugs in the car. These guys worked real hard last night. We found some issues and worked on them a little bit.”

The night ran so late that a morning practice became an afternoon session. Lepage arrived at the track at 11:30 a.m. His car arrived an hour later. It didn’t take long for Lepage to get its motor running.

“The car is just a little free for me right now,” Lepage said. “I really like the way it drives.”

Lepage’s last stint at OPS was in 1993.

Though it has been awhile since he raced Late Models, he isn’t concerned.

“I’m a race-car driver, and they’re race cars,” Lepage said.

Having the chance to test-drive his ride Thursday helped reacquaint himself with the track and the car, and it didn’t take him long to get comfortable with both.

He watched old rival Mike Rowe practice, while he awaited the arrival of his car.

Lepage said his strategy for Thursday’s session was to work out the kinks and get the car running the way he’d like it to Sunday.

“What we’re going to do today is work really hard to try to get the outside lane working for us because I think that’s where you’re going to pass anybody,” he said.

“If the car is working good up there, you might be able to get it working good on the bottom.”

Lepage also had other goals in mind. He had a lobster dinner waiting for him later in the evening. It was the perfect ending to a trip down memory lane.

“Just the little bit that I’ve been back and around the media and around the racetrack and around the people I used to race with, I’m looking forward to Saturday and Sunday,” he said.

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