Oxford 250: Southern SLM cars a different breed

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To the casual and even to some hard-core race fans, the differences between one Super Late Model and another are difficult, if not impossible, to see from the grandstands.

Yet rest assured, there are differences, especially under the hood.

You see, down South on the often high-banked ovals of Virginia, the Carolinas and points beyond, SLM teams utilize high-horsepower, specially-built engines. 

With national Super Late Model star Bubba Pollard entered in the 45th annual Oxford 250, it seems wise to examine the differences between what New England teams call an SLM and what they actually run in other parts of the country. 

“We run bigger engines in the South, since we have enough tracks where we can use that power,” Pollard said. “We’re accustomed to fast race tracks with a lot of banking. Down here, we don’t have a lot of flat race tracks. 

“The Northern teams are used to using that Crate engine, which works well for that type of track. I feel like that’s an advantage they’ll have over me at Oxford.”

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Pollard says the differences don’t end under the hood.

“We also run on a different tire,” he added. “The tire we’ll run on at the 250 is different than what I’m accustomed to, and that’s going to be a challenge, as well. As far as grip level, I think it’s about the same as what we have down here.”

Here in the made-to-save-expenses world of New England, teams in the Pro All Stars Series (PASS) tour utilize the GM 604 Crate engine, built to specific rules and sealed by General Motors for high-performance applications. 

It’s estimated the difference in power is approximately 130 horsepower, with the big-buck Southern engines producing north of 550 ponies compared to the more mellow 420-hp powerplants used here in the north country.

Southern SLM drivers have often referred to Northern Super Lates as being more typical of a Pro Late Model in the South. Now you’re starting to see why so few Southern SLM racers have made the haul north to tackle the mighty Oxford 250. 

They can’t use their bigger engines, the tires are different, and they just don’t have much experience on a relatively flat, 3/8-mile oval like Oxford Plains Speedway.

TJ Brackett has in-depth knowledge of both worlds. As a regular in the weekly Super Late Model division at Oxford and a professional builder/fabricator, Brackett knows Northern cars inside-out.

His experience down South with Kyle Busch Motorsports, and more recently at Bond Suss Racing, has taught him more than most New England racers will ever know about Southern race teams and how they do business. 

Our cars are basically the same,” Brackett said. “It’s all about what’s under the hood down South. They all use high-end engines from companies like Hamner, McGunegill or Progressive.

“Up here, we have all these little flat tracks with no grip, so we run the GM Crate motor. It’s all the power we need and costs us a whole lot less money. The only place PASS teams ever need that kind of power is down in Thompson, (Connecticut).”

Built by John Hoenig right after the Great New England Hurricane of 1938, Thompson opened in 1940 as the first paved oval in the East. At 5/8ths of a mile in length with high-banked turns, it is by far New England’s fastest short track.  

Brackett says the big power those Southern guys prefer wouldn’t cut it up here in Maine.

It’s rare that a guy with close to 600 horsepower can come up here and not burn the tires off it in 10 laps. I don’t know specifically what Bubba (Pollard) is bringing for an engine, but I know he has both since he also runs some Pro Late Model races down South.

I’m guessing he’ll run a Crate engine in the 250, and once he adapts to the track layout, and he will, he’ll be in contention to win. He won’t be at any disadvantage, other than not knowing his way around the place yet.

Once he figures it out, he’ll be plenty fast. He’s that good.”

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Georgia native Bubba Pollard drives through the corner last fall during Octoberfest in Wisconsin. The nationally known Super Late Model racer uses a bigger engine and different tire down south than he will in Sunday’s 45th annual Oxford 250.  (Submitted Photo)

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