Reid Lanpher pulls his car into his pit stall following a practice run Saturday at Oxford Plains Speedway. Lanpher, of Manchester, has finished second twice in the Oxford 250. (Travis Barrett/Kennebec Journal)
OXFORD — It appears Jason Ricker is a bit of a numerologist.
The superstitious crew chief for Reid Lanpher has made a change to the number of the Manchester driver’s car for this weekend’s 45th annual Clark’s Scrap Metals Oxford 250. The car will still be visible as the familiar No. 59, but it’s got an added digit riding along this weekend.
“I can’t take any credit for this,” Lanpher said. “Jason definitely has a good sense of humor here.”
A small No. 7 carved out of reflective black tape is contained within the No. 59 on each side of the car. The reason for Ricker’s madness goes beyond seven being simply a lucky number.
Each of the last six Oxford 250 winners have had the digit on their car, and eight of the last nine winners — Curtis Gerry (7G), Wayne Helliwell (27), Glen Luce (7L), Travis Benjamin (17), Joey Polewarczyk (97) and Eddie MacDonald (17MA). Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Busch, in a car No. 51 in 2011, is the only driver to have broken the run dating to 2009.
In sunlight, the No. 7 is only visible at close range and not at all from the Oxford Plains Speedway grandstands. But with a camera flash, the numeral pops brightly.
“We can say we have a seven on the car now,” Lanpher said. “We can’t blame anything on not having a seven. I got a kick out of it. I didn’t even know about it until (Saturday).”
Lanpher was quick in practice Saturday, ending up second out of 55 cars. The two-time Beech Ridge Motor Speedway track champion is not going to need a lucky number to be competitive Sunday.
Lanpher has twice finished second in the Oxford 250 in only three career starts.
“Four or five years ago, we showed up and didn’t even qualify. We went home,” Lanpher said. “I watched the Oxford 250 that year, so that makes it that much more special for me to have a good car with some speed and be able to compete with these guys.”
Travis Benjamin, the 2013 and 2014 Oxford 250 winner, is looking to keep another Oxford 250 trend going Sunday.
Benjamin finished Saturday’s 2 1/2-hour practice as the fastest car of the 55 to hit the track during the session, one of only two drivers (Lanpher was the other) to drop below the 15.7-second plateau. Dating to his first Oxford 250 victory, four of the last five drivers to finish as Saturday’s fastest in practice have gone on to win Sunday.
“That’s a good stat, I like it,” Benjamin said. “You don’t want to go out and chase it, chase it in terms of speed, but it’s always nice to win practice, I’m not going to lie.”
Benjamin’s car seems to have overcome whatever midseason malaise ailed it. He said his No. 7 this weekend is the happiest he’s been with the car at Oxford Plains in a long time.
“It’s probably the best it’s been all year here, in my mind,” Benjamin said. “I’m excited.”
Georgia racer Bubba Pollard, who has won nearly every major Super Late Model race in the country, is on a number of pre-race lists as a driver who could win the Oxford 250 in his first try. And when he rolled onto Oxford Plains Speedway sight unseen and clicked off the fifth-fastest practice lap Friday, it looked like he might have adapted to the quirky, flat 0.375-mile oval quicker than most.
Saturday was not as kind to Pollard. He didn’t crack the top 30 speeds posted in practice.
“We’ve had to change a few things,” Pollard said. “We’ve had to work around the rules, really, and we just haven’t found a good balance with it yet.”
The issue centers around the chassis’ ride height, Pollard confirmed. PASS cars must be three inches off the ground, something that is not part of the rules packages in the southern part of the country where Pollard typically races. His No. 26 machine did not get the opportunity to go through pre-race technical inspection prior to Friday’s practice, as PASS officials did not have tech open on opening day of the weekend.
“We don’t have a purpose-built race car for up here.” Pollard said. “A lot of guys here do, but we’ve had to work around our chassis being built for home, so it’s kind of thrown a kink in things.”
Beyond the car needing significant work to meet ride-height requirements, Pollard is still adjusting to Oxford Plains itself.
“It’s definitely different, for sure,” Pollard said. “It’s something we’re not used to. It’s just another race track, and we’ve got to figure it out. I’m not really a flat-track kind of guy… but it’s something we’ve got to adapt to.”
Every year, it seems, D.J. Shaw of Center Conway, New Hampshire, is in the middle of a very good PASS season. And every year, it seems, he’s not pegged as an Oxford 250 favorite — despite proving as patient and consistent a driver as there is in the series, something that serves well in a 250-lap race.
The current PASS point leader is in search of a third championship and would like a good Oxford 250 finish to bolster that.
“We’re consistent here, but we don’t win a lot,” said Shaw, who has two career PASS wins at Oxford. “I’m definitely more of a long-race driver, but two of the last four years here I’ve done something stupid on a restart and cost myself a better race.”
Shaw wasn’t feeling much confidence Saturday.
“We’ve got a little bit more work to do,” Shaw said. “I’m not totally unhappy with where we’re sitting. … I’m not really built for speed myself, but I feel better about it than when I was 38th (on the practice sheet) on new tires.”
Travis Benjamin, center, makes adjustments on his car during Oxford 250 practice Saturday at Oxford Plains Speedway. Benjamin, a two-time winner of the race, turned the fastest lap out of 55 cars who participated in the two-hour session. (Travis Barrett/Kennebec Journal)