Two-time Oxford Plains Speedway Pro Late Model champion (2013-14) TJ Brackett drives off Turn 4 at Oxford earlier this season. Brackett and his weekly rivals will tackle the enormous challenge of 250 laps Sunday against stiff competition. (Phil Whipple/Sun Journal)
BUCKFIELD — While teenage sensation Gabe Brown has been getting most of the headlines this summer leading the weekly Super Late Model point standings at Oxford Plains Speedway in his first full-time effort, two-time track champion TJ Brackett has been quietly going about his business.
With the Oxford 250 now just days away, the Buckfield native knows the odds are stacked for a Saturday night regular to take home the big trophy. His feelings towards the big three-day event are mixed.
“There really isn’t that much practice time when you consider we’ll have between 60 and 65 cars out there running at once,” Brackett said. “I think we’ll have three hours on Friday and another two hours on Saturday. It sounds like a lot, but it really isn’t that much.
“In all honesty, it’s not even close to the kind of conditions we’ll be racing in on Sunday. Most of these practice sessions are mid-to-late morning, and we’ll be racing at night. So there isn’t really much value in Friday and Saturday practice, but most of us will still be out there.”
Brackett is a dealer for Clattenburg Racing Fabrication (CRF), founded by Canada native and former racer Dean Clattenburg. Based in North Carolina, CRF builds complete turnkey cars for racers all over the country. TJ and his father Tim both drive new CRF-built cars.
“I feel very strongly that Dean has one of the best race chassis on the market,” Brackett said. “We’re up against tall odds with these cars. I think there are about 50 cars built by Jeff Taylor in the northeast and only four of our Clattenburg cars. Yet we feel it’s a better choice.”
It’s no secret that Super Late Model chassis built by Distance Racing Products (Jeff Taylor) have been the cars to beat here in Maine the past couple of seasons. One look at the success of Waterboro’s Curtis Gerry and Manchester’s Reid Lanpher confirms that.
As men like Clattenburg, Mitch Green at Crazy Horse Racing, Tony Eury Jr. and Jeff Fultz at Fury Race Cars, the guys at Port City Racing, Terry Senneker, Dale Shaw and all the other skilled chassis manufacturers work on building a better mousetrap for the flat tracks, the level of frustration grows.
“Every time I think we’re caught up, we mess something up and those Taylor cars pull back away from us again,” Brackett said. “We’ll get off on our tire sequence or something, and off they go. It seems like we take a few steps forward, then two steps back. We’ll get it figured out, eventually.”
Auto racing is a sport that goes in cycles. You’ll have one team or chassis builder that hits on something fabulous, and they’ll be on top for a while — for example, Curtis Gerry. Yet nobody stays on top forever; somebody else will hit on something even faster and things will change.
“Next year, it could be a Dale Shaw car or somebody else’s product, who knows,” Brackett added. “I have to give Jeff a lot of credit. He’s got it going on right now. He’s taken some guys that were really struggling and turned them into contenders with his cars. He’s still on top, for now.”
Throughout this 2018 season of weekly and PASS racing at Oxford, TJ has been strong. In 17 starts, he’s earned one win (May 6), seven top-five and 13 top-10 finishes. His speed and consistency have put him second in the current championship standings, just 27 points behind Brown.
“We’ve made some pretty good gains this year,” Brackett said. “We still have a ways to go. With the level of competition we have every week, it takes a big effort to win races. The car has to be perfect.”
With a strong third-place effort in the PASS 150 at Oxford on May 20, Brackett has good reason for optimism in the 45th annual Clark’s Scrap Metals Oxford 250.
“I think we have as good of a shot as anybody right now,” he said. “We’ll just prepare ourselves as best we can, try to save the car for a late run and give it our best shot Sunday night. That’s all we can do.”