Bubba Pollard after one of his many victories. Pollard will be racing in his first Oxford 250 on Sunday at Oxford Plains Speedway. (Submitted photo)
When Ben Rowe needed a ride to keep his championship hopes alive, Bubba Pollard was there to help.
The two racers have been friends ever since, but rarely have they been able to compete door-to-door.
They might just get that chance Sunday in the 45th running of the Oxford 250, when they become foes on one of the biggest stages in short-track racing.
“We haven’t raced really together yet,” Rowe, a two-time winner of the 250, said. “We’ve been in the same race a few times, but, I don’t know, different ends of the spectrum. It hasn’t come down to me versus him quite yet.”
Sunday will be the first time Rowe and Pollard will get the chance to duel at Oxford Plains Speedway. It’s Pollard’s debut in the race, he’s making the trip up North from his hometown of Senoia, Georgia.
It was in Senoia that the two drivers first met.
“I was racing PASS South. Didn’t have a ride, basically, for one race down in Georgia, and through a mutual friend kind of hooked up with Bubba because his race shop was right across the street (from Senoia Speedway),” Rowe said.
“He couldn’t get his car down here to race, and he was going to lose the points,” Pollard said. “We gave him a car to race. He was going to start-and-park it.”
That’s where Pollard’s father, Sonny, stepped in.
“He’s like, ‘Man, why don’t you just race this one?'” said Rowe, who finished seventh in the 150-lap race in 2009, two spots behind Pollard. “… ended up winning the championship (that year), in largely part through them guys helping me out.”
“And ever since then we’ve always had a friendship,” Pollard said.
The two drivers’ paths haven’t always crossed since, but they’ve been doing just fine in their own respects. Rowe has gone on to win more Pro All Stars Series titles, while Pollard’s career in Super Late Model cars has blossomed.
“We’re friends, so I always kind of keep track of him, you know, see if there’s races that he’s in, see how he made out. And basically he’s won everything all over across the country in the last two or three years, so he’s pretty easy to follow,” Rowe said.
Name most any big Super Late Model race in the country (save for the Oxford 250) and Pollard has likely won it. And that’s part of the reason why he’s finally making his way to Oxford.
“I love racing, and I won’t ever get a chance to go any higher and move up and go to a different level of racing,” the 31-year-old Pollard said. “You always hear, growing up, about the Oxford 250. It’s a crown jewel event for short track racing, and I want to try to win as many of them as I can.”
It’s his success in other big races that Pollard will try to fall back on while trying to survive 250 weekend.
“We have a lot of experience with the longer races, I feel like. We’ve won the All-American 400, Alabama 200, the Rattler 250, the Slinger Nationals,” Pollard said. “Some of the bigger races we’ve won, I feel like we can take as much information as we can from all those races and apply it to the Oxford 250.”
The decision to make his much-anticipated debut in the 250 wasn’t just as easy as finally stepping to the challenge, however. Pollard has been planning for this weekend since this spring.
“In the years past I felt like we weren’t prepared as much as we needed to be, and I set out a goal earlier this year to make our flat-track program better to get ready for Oxford,” said Pollard, who is more familiar with the high-banked tracks in the South. “And, you know, everyone took time off, and I feel like we’re prepared, I feel like we got our cars running well.”
Pollard said talk from fans on social media helped push him to take on the challenge as well.
He knew the race (and all it entails) wouldn’t be easy, but it was made a little easier two weeks ago when he won a PASS South race at South Boston (Virginia) Speedway, which guaranteed Pollard a spot in the 250.
“That was the biggest concern that I had, was making the race, and I feel like we can take a different approach to it now, be more aggressive with setup stuff and things like that, and see how it goes. We’re excited about it.”
Pollard said he has a small team, with all volunteers. But his race team will be bringing up two cars to Oxford, with two different motors to choose from once they start to figure out the track during practice.
Whichever car he eventually chooses to go with will have a twin of sorts in Rowe’s ride. Just as Pollard had given Rowe a car to race back in 2009, he helped introduce him to a new car for this year as well. Rowe will be wheeling a Senneker chassis, which Pollard swears by and has backed up with podium finishes.
“I really feel our Senneker cars down here are some of the best chassis going right now,” Pollard said. “We got Ben talked into it, and I hope he runs well.”
“We’ve only tested it so far. We just got one,” Rowe said. “But watching him, he’s had real good luck.”
The two wheelmen will be leaning on each other this weekend — Rowe for advice on the unfamiliar car, Pollard for advice on the unfamiliar track.
“Just watching him, and just trying to learn as much as I can so we’re prepared when we get up there,” Pollard said. “Hopefully this engine we got going, and the car we’ve got, is the right one.”
Rowe said he doesn’t expect much break-in time for Pollard to get acquainted with the track.
“He’s got to be one of the ones to beat, right off the bat. I just believe he’s that good, even though he hasn’t been up here, he hasn’t raced on a flat track,” Rowe said. “I believe you give him Friday’s practice and he’ll be one of the ones to beat going into Saturday. They got good equipment, he’s just definitely that good, that good of a team. So I expect he’ll have no problem, and he’ll be right up front.”
If Pollard is mixing it up at the front — with or without Rowe — he’ll be doing it cleanly, according to Rowe. And Pollard said he’s got “a lot of respect” for the local racers and long-time 250 competitors, and he’s looking forward to running against them.
Pollard said winning the race would “definitely be up there.” He also hopes it’s not his only time tackling the 250. It’s a challenge he wants to take on “many” times.
“Hopefully this isn’t the only one. Hopefully we can race it for quite a few years,” Pollard said. “It’d mean a lot. Not only special for me, but all my guys.”
Georgia native Bubba Pollard drives off Turn 4 at Oxford Plains Speedway on Friday afternoon during first-round practice for Sunday’s 45th annual Oxford 250. Pollard has won nearly every major short track race in the country except the Maine classic.
Georgia racer Bubba Pollard will be racing in his first Oxford 250 on Sunday at Oxford Plains Speedway. (Submitted photo)
Oxford 250 coverage
Two-time Oxford 250 winner Ben Rowe powers off Turn 4 on Friday during practice for Sunday’s 45th annual Oxford 250. Rowe is friends with Georgia native Bubba Pollard and is serving as his coach in this weekend’s short track classic.