Scott Robbins (72) races in traffic during the Pro All Stars Series 150 in July at Oxford Plains Speedway in Oxford. Robbins is one of only four weekly competitors at Oxford to have ever won the Oxford 250, which he did in 2002. (Jennifer Bechard photo)
OXFORD — Oxford Plains Speedway isn’t so much an oval as it is a circle, a flat, worn-out, rotary which has hosted Saturday night short track racing for more than half a century. It is unlike any race track not only in New England, but across the entire United States.
Its finicky, weather-influenced asphalt has baffled race teams from far and wide, teams with aspirations of adding their names to the Oxford 250 record books. Local racers have taken great pride in turning out quick laps around the 0.375-mile circuit while watching newcomers struggle to simply keep their cars pointed in the right direction.
“I think it’s still the same here, and your familiarity with the track does help to some extent,” said Scott Robbins of Dixfield, the 2004 track champion. “This track can be very tricky. It seems to be very finicky. I think any laps you can turn here, it probably benefits you.”
Yet, even for all of its nuances, there might not be much of a home-track advantage to be had at Oxford Plains. In 44 previous runnings of the Oxford 250, only four drivers competing in weekly competition at Oxford at the time saw their name printed on the check in victory lane.
When Gary Drew and Robbins won the Oxford 250 in back-to-back years in 2001 and 2002, they snapped a 17-year drought for the local contingent dating back to Mike Rowe’s 1984 victory. Bath’s Jeremie Whorff piloted a weekly car to the win four years after Robbins did.
Since then? Nothing. Eleven years and counting heading into this Sunday’s 45th annual Clarks Scrap Metals Oxford 250. It seems touring drivers have the upper hand, having won 10 of the last 11 Oxford 250s.
Last year’s win by Curtis Gerry of Waterboro was an outlier; Gerry was a weekly competitor at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in 2017.
“Running here on Saturday nights does not help you a bit to get ready for the Oxford 250,” said Tim Brackett of Buckfield, a three-time track champion. “I should go run every (Pro All Stars Series) race to get the long-distance races to get ready for this race. And then you’ve got to come back here and forget everything you ever thought you knew about Saturday nights.”
Brackett had a new car built this season, one he debuted in July. Though he’s fourth in the current Oxford point standings, he made the switch midseason with an eye on the 250 this weekend.
Even with a car he believes is a much better race car, there’s plenty teams can’t control on Oxford 250 day — including conditions weekly drivers never see during their regular season.
“The 250 day is totally different than any other time you’ve been around this track,” Brackett, 56, said. “There’s so much rubber put down. Usually the track’s hot and it’s boiling and there’s not a whole lot of passing and you’re hanging on for dear life just to turn a lap.
“You take a lot of these guys that run the big races all the time, it’s not as big a variable to them as it is to us who run here all the time on Saturday night.”
Yet, for all the teams that have traveled to Maine for the state’s largest single-day sporting event each summer, Maine drivers with at least a cursory knowledge of Oxford Plains have won nearly half the Oxford 250s to date (17), and 16 of the last 27.
Remember, Oxford Plains is finicky.
“You take some of these guys coming up from down south, and they haven’t fared that well, either,” Brackett noted. “As hot at it is down there, and with all the rubber and the slickness and that stuff, you’d think they’d have a real advantage. But the place being so round and worn out kind of throws them a little, too.”
When Robbins won the Oxford 250, his only preparation had been racing weekly at Oxford. Remarkably, feature distances at the track in those years were even shorter than they are now, 35 laps instead of 50 laps each week.
Robbins believes it’s become increasingly difficult for local drivers to win the Oxford 250 because of the current PASS schedule, which features multiple races each season at both Oxford and Beech Ridge for the Maine-based touring series.
“I totally agree with (Brackett) and would say the same thing,” Robbins said. “There’s more chances to run big races (locally), I think. There’s more opportunity for that, and I think you can learn more from a longer distance race than the Saturday night stuff. I guess it just depends on who you are and how you approach it.”
While the hopes of local Oxford Plains drivers entering the biggest race at their home track remains a tidy storyline each summer, the numbers suggest the odds are stacked against them.
It certainly was in 2002, when Robbins had to hold off Rowe and Ryan Moore at the checkered flag, but that hasn’t deterred him from chasing a second Oxford 250 win.
“If I hadn’t won it, I think there’d be that sense of ‘here we go again’ each year,” Robbins said. “It’s nice to have won it before, and at the end of the day that trophy still sits on my mantle, but you’re in the moment for this race. It’s a new race and a new day, and I want to qualify and win it just like I did that day.”
Three-time track champion Tim Brackett (60) races on the outside of Austin Teras (29) during a Pro All Stars Series race at Oxford Plains Speedway in July. Despite all of his success at Oxford, Brackett has yet to win the Oxford 250. (Jennifer Bechard photo)