Waterboro native Curtis Gerry powers off Turn 4 at Oxford Plains Speedway during qualifying for the PASS North Honey Badger 150 in May. Gerry is the reigning Oxford 250 champion. (Phil Whipple/Sun Journal)
OXFORD — There was a time when Curtis Gerry was simply happy to be part of the Oxford 250. Now, everyone else is just happy to in the same class as his No. 7 at Oxford Plains Speedway.
The 47-year-old Gerry enters Sunday’s 45th annual Clark’s Scrap Metals Oxford 250 as one of the clear-cut favorites — if not THE favorite — to win the race. The Waterboro driver is the defending champion of the Oxford 250, a win last August that kicked off a stretch of five consecutive Pro All Stars Series wins at Oxford heading into weekend.
No driver in PASS history has ever won five consecutive races on the same track. It’s obviously caught the competition’s attention.
“It’s funny, because down at the shop the other day, this guy comes up to me and tells me that in practice I have to run the low line, the high line — and then whatever Curtis does,” said Travis Benjamin, a two-time PASS champion. “I like to do that anyway, on any track, is try to follow somebody who gets around quickly. But if he’s leading the (Oxford 250), and he’s really, really good, then yeah, we’ve got to change up our game plan a little bit.”
Manchester native Reid Lanpher finished second to Gerry in the 2017 Oxford 250 and on July 29 in the PASS 150 at Oxford.
“It’s just part of a PASS race now,” Lanpher said in July. “Where’s the 7 car?”
Gerry, of Waterboro, did not practice Saturday at Oxford Plains as he was off to Beech Ridge Motor Speedway, where he entered the day second in the Pro Series point standings. But on Friday, he opened eyes again when he laid down the fastest lap in a three-hour Oxford 250 practice session.
His 15.592-second lap is the fastest that’s been recorded all weekend, the only driver to dip below a 15.6-second lap time.
“Curtis certainly hopes he’s in everybody’s heads,” said Johnny Clark of Hallowell, a six-time PASS champion. “That’s where we were six or seven years ago when we were running so well. You hope you’re in their heads, and then you let everyone else self-destruct.”
But the odd part about Gerry is that he doesn’t seem all that at ease with the extra attention, particularly heading into the biggest race weekend of the year.
“I love the success,” said Gerry, the 2016 Beech Ridge champion. “Every driver’s dream is to win these races. But I really don’t like the attention, I really don’t. I’d rather climb in a hole.”
It would be hard enough to do that as the defending Oxford 250 champion, but it’s a task that’s nearly impossible after winning four of the five PASS races he’s entered this season. He also won at Beech Ridge in April and finished second at his home track in July.
A new Distance Racing car in 2016 turned Gerry’s career in the right direction, from also-ran to dominator. He’s won six of 11 PASS races he’s entered since the beginning of the 2017 season with 10 top-fives during that time.
Prior to that, he’d managed just two top-10 finishes in 60 career PASS races dating back to 2004.
Now he has rolled into Oxford Plains this weekend on everybody’s short list of Oxford 250 favorites.
“There’s times when you go and think you’ll be happy just to qualify and be in the show,” Gerry said. “I’ve been there. I’d run probably six of these (Oxford 250s) before and been that way. There were plenty of times I just wanted to make it in. Last year we were pretty confident we’d make it. We knew if everything worked out well, we could end up winning. But to pull it off is another story.
“Fifteen years ago, I had older cars and we struggled. I might pull out a win here or there (in a weekly division), but in the last two years I’ve won more races than I had in the last 10 prior to that. It’s a cool feeling to have everybody look up to us and our team and the car, to have them on the radio wondering where I am on the track and what I’m doing. It’s humbling.”
Humbling, perhaps, but it comes with the attention the soft-spoken Gerry loathes. Another Oxford 250 win on Sunday will only intensify the attention on his performances, putting him in select company with only five other drivers to ever win two straight.
“I’d see (the attention) when it was happening to everybody else who won, and it doesn’t bother you as much then,” Gerry said with a laugh. “It is amazing how much attention you get, people want to see you and talk to you and do video with you. It’s not my favorite thing to do, but it comes with the territory.”
Winner Curtis Gerry stands in the winner’s circle after claiming last year’s Oxford 250 at Oxford Plains Speedway. (Brewster Burns photo)
Former Beech Ridge Motor Speedway champion and 2017 Oxford 250 winner Curtis Gerry drives off Turn 4 at Oxford Plains Speedway during qualifying for last year’s PASS North season finale. Gerry backed up his August victory by winning the 150, and takes a Oxford hot streak into Sunday’s 250. (Sun Journal file photo)
Curtis Gerry of Waterboro won the PASS Super Late Models Oxford 250 Qualifier race in July at Oxford Plains Speedway. (Jennifer Bechard photos)