OXFORD — The list of Pro All Stars Series North competitors with the best chance to hoist the big trophy in Sunday’s 42nd AIM Recycling Oxford 250 rolls off the tongue.
Travis Benjamin. Mike Rowe. Ben Rowe. Johnny Clark. Cassius Clark. Joey Doiron. D.J. Shaw. Bryan Kruczek.
What’s that, you say? To quote the old song from “Sesame Street,” one of these things just doesn’t belong here?
Fine, but just don’t tell Kruczek. The 32-year-old racer from Newmarket, N.H., doesn’t have the dozens of race victories or perhaps the cache with the crowd that belong to the laundry list ahead of him. And he’s hard to categorize: Not really an overnight sensation; not exactly the new kid in town; neither rookie nor fixture.
He is, without question, one of the favorites to cash the check for more than $25,000 that will go home with the winner of Sunday’s showcase. Kruczek earned that distinction by winning not one, but two, PASS North races this season. The second came only three weeks ago right here at Oxford Plains Speedway, and it was an encore to a May victory at similarly configured Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in Scarborough.
“I feel more confident this year winning at two flat tracks,” Kruczek said Wednesday at the speedway’s annual pre-race press conference. “I feel a lot better knowing what I know through running those races. I feel like I have a lot better game plan coming in here. I know what to expect.”
Kruczek is attempting his third Oxford 250. He won a heat race, started outside the front row but stumbled to a finish of 31st in 2013. A year ago, he settled for a provisional starting spot and raced to 16th, one lap down.
He has started 11 of 12 PASS events this season and is a career-best eighth in points, with four top-5 runs and six top-10 results. That eclipsed his previous career top-10 total of five, achieved while touring at least part-time every year since 2011.
In the age-old debate of man versus machine, Kruczek’s charge to the front is a result of the equipment finally catching up to the ability of the driver. He bought a new car, built by Dale Shaw, and made the decision that cost, somehow, would be no object when it came to maintenance.
“I went through the winter and said, you know what? We’ve been doing this too long. I’ve put enough money into stuff that’s second-hand, not brand-new. I said I’m just going to dig into my wallet this year and foot the bill for myself and make it happen,” Kruczek said. “The way it all lined up, we ended up with a couple of good sponsors that helped us out. It’s made the difference in the way we go week to week. Financially if you can be on the better end of it, it helps when you get to the race track.”
PASS North point leader Mike Rowe, with three wins, and Joey Doiron, with two, are the only other drivers on the circuit with more than one victory this season.
It’s a continuing sign of the growing talent pool and parity for the super late model tour, which Ben Rowe and Johnny Clark dominated in its first decade. Jeremy Davis of Tamworth, N.H., and David Oliver of Scarborough join Kruczek as drivers to post their first tour triumphs this summer.
“It used to be you went to a track and it was, ‘Where am I going to finish today? Second.’ Now you’ve got a shot at it,” Kruczek said. “You can look at me and David Oliver. If you had asked me two years ago if I’m going to win a PASS race, I would have said maybe someday I will, but I’m not going to win two in a year. That would have probably been my one-and-done.”
Kruczek’s first two 250 experiences taught him valuable lessons about Oxford’s finicky track conditions.
Everything from the sun to the accumulating rubber from the tires of the numerous racing divisions represented over the weekend can affect the aging asphalt, and by extension, the handling of a super late model.
“You can unload in the morning, practice all day at the top of the charts, don’t change a thing and the end of the day be the last car on the lead lap,” Kruczek said. “You’ve got to keep up with the race track. I’ve learned what I’ve got to have during the day for at night, and vice versa.”
One thing that his team didn’t have to do during his 150-lap victories: Pit for fuel or tires.
While Kruczek said his crew doesn’t have a wealth of experience in that regard, he noted that they have “worked down south” and are efficient enough to keep him up front.
There is also the crapshoot of the draw for position in the heat races. Kruczek has seen each end of the spectrum. A middle-of-the-pack pill in the lottery vaulted him to victory in the second heat race two years ago. In his sophomore bid, he started last in his qualifier, fell one spot shy of a transfer spot in the consolatio race and was forced to lean on the good graces of a promoter’s option.
“You could draw eighth in a heat with all the guys here (at the press conference) and be in trouble, or you could be in one with guys you’ve never heard of who have never seen the track and aren’t going that hot,” Kruczek said.
Rather than sweat those details, better to control what ye may. Kruczek took care of those details in the offseason.
“I’ve struggled in the past with mechanical stuff. It’s always been something. Lose the transmission or maybe a seal falls out. I’ve been plagued with that a lot,” he said. “Now there’s nothing in the shop that’s missing. If it needs it, we just do it. It’s not, ‘Oh, we can get another week out of that.’ I think we’ve got that out of our program.”
Time will tell if that program includes an Oxford 250 laurel wreath. For the first time ever, though, Kruczek at least has raced his way into the conversation.