OXFORD — Driver Shawn Martin knows a fat wallet and a long line of wealthy sponsors buys a lot of race car, and might make him a regular in the winner’s circle.
Martin and a handful of local drivers were facing stiff competition from abroad at the AIM Recycling Oxford 250 presented by Kenny U-Pull on Sunday — and it didn’t bother them a bit.
This contingent of homegrown talent welcomed the opportunity to go head-to-head with out-of-staters with their deep pockets, expensive cars and highfalutin technology.
Martin, of Turner, wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Unfortunately, money is huge in auto racing,” Martin said. “Money can buy you some speed. We are a small, Saturday-night team. It is pretty awesome when you come out and run against these guys. It feels good when you can beat them.”
Glen Luce, also from Turner, achieved the ultimate rush Sunday, posting his first victory in the Oxford 250 after many attempts.
Martin also led the race briefly. But first, he had to get in. In Heat 5 of the first round of qualifying, Martin finished second to get into the main event.
“We had a good starting spot, but we had a really stacked team with a lot of talent,” Martin said. “I knew going out there I had drive the wheels off it.”
Buckfield’s T.J. Brackett qualified for the 250 in the consolation round despite the stiff competition.
“This is awesome. This is what Oxford needed here now for a couple of years,” Brackett said. “Having 82 cars here when everybody says super late models are dying — this should shut them all up now. This is a stout field. There’s the best cars in the country up here right now.”
Brackett said top-notch drivers from all over the nation are good for business — and OPS fans.
“Of course it is,” he said. “Winning 25-grand would be awesome, but as a racer, you want to beat the best there is,” Brackett said. “It’s great. We started up front and still didn’t qualify.”
“They are turning people away in the parking lot. They have to park across the street. If this grows a little more, those people watching Speed 51 will actually come here to watch it.”
Farmington’s Jeff Taylor, who made it to the big dance in the consolation round, said this type of competitive field puts pressure on the local drivers.
“With all this competition from abroad, it makes it difficult to get into the race,” Taylor said. “Usually, the home guys have an advantage. We have only raced here twice this summer. Through the years, we have had a good-size advantage. We don’t have one right at the moment.”
Oxford’s Shawn Knight was neck-and-neck with veteran Mike Rowe in in the third heat and ended up finishing second before qualifying for the 250.
“It was a good race. A lot of good guys in that heat,” Martin said. “We were able to get to the outside and try to get clear of everybody. We tried to give Mike (Rowe) a good run, but he has been around that track a lot of times. He knows how to block; he did his job. Finished second. I was definitely quicker, but he knows his way around the racetrack.”
Knight pointed out that many of the local drivers run their teams on tight budgets and were up against racers who have deep pockets.
“It is a little bit harder, but these guys don’t have a lot of money and they do this on a weekly basis,” Knight said. “But I think if you have a good car and you prepare ahead of time and work at it, you can keep up and compete with them.”
Buckfield’s Kyle Treadwell drove the No. 44 car from 13th to fourth place in the first round to qualify.
“We drew last in our heat, which was very upsetting,” Treadwell said. “I went from 13th to fourth. It was a good run. It’s been quick all weekend; it’s been quick all summer.”
Treadwell quickly discovered that competition from abroad could be aggressive and unyielding
“The southern guys do not hesitate to use the bumper,” Treadwell said. “You watched the heat. They move you. That’s how it is down south. Up here, we give and take. And you get these PASS guys where they run different tracks all the time, so they are used to changes and we are not.
“I run here weekly so I know what I need my car to do and know exactly how it feels to run well,” he said. “We didn’t buy practice tires. I ran with what I had and it feels exactly as it did before.”
And then, of course, there’s Luce, who came oh-so-close in 2008 with a second-place finish behind an ultimate barnstormer — NASCAR regular Kevin Harvick.
“This my home track, we know how to get around here,” said Luce, who qualified in the first round Sunday. “It is difficult to see a lot of these big teams come up. They intimidate, but the guys that are local around here, they know how to get around. You just have to keep that in mind.
“I like the competition, especially if you come out on top, it makes you feel good. Back in 2008, I started at No. 42. It’s like the last chance, and I finished second behind Kevin Harvick. It was surreal. I was driving home and I still didn’t believe it. And then the next morning, I was upset because I got second.”
Luce’s post-Oxford 250 Monday morning will feel much better in 2015.
- The Hot Corner: No more degrees of separation for Glen Luce
- Oxford 250 Video: This is what it’s like in a race car
- #Oxford250 Live Blog: Follow the action at the Oxford 250
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