Race fans arrive at Oxford Plains Speedway

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OXFORD — Campers from near and far arrvied at Oxford Plains Speedway beginning Tuesday for a week of relaxing and visiting with friends leading up to summer’s big event, the 42nd Annual AIM Recycling Oxford 250 scheduled for Sunday.

Richard Millette of Auburn was already setting up camp in the rain with his friend, Paul Holt of Mechanic Falls. Millette has been coming to the races since he can remember, always camping in the same far back corner of the field to the left of the racetrack. Millette’s plan was to finish setting up his camper and to wait for his friends to arrive so they could sit by a campfire, have a few drinks and swap stories the way old friends do.

“We try to get the same spot. It’s quiet and away from pretty much everybody. We hang out, go to the races starting on Wednesday, drink a lot of Budweiser,” Millette said. “There’s at least six of us camping here and we meet people from Vermont who camp just around the trees over there.”

Spending the week with friends was on the agenda for Ken and Kathy Croswaithe and Les and Elsie Sherwood, too. The Croswaithes of Moncton, New Brunswick, and the Sherwoods of Penobquis, New Brunswick, met about 10 years ago through friends of friends at another racing venue. Now, the couples park their campers next to each other so their awnings touch, creating a protected area under which they are able to set up an outdoor kitchen and dining area between their deluxe camper coaches.

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“They call this awning-to-awning,” Les Sherwood said. “You can sit around and drink and you don’t have to drive anywhere.”

The Croswaithes and Sherwoods each displayed their Canadian pride on their campers. A sign on the Sherwood’s camper said, “I am Canadian,” and Canadian flags flew above their campsite. Apparently, racing is a big sport in the Maritime Provinces, and the couples are excited to see some familiar racers from their home country on Sunday.

“At one time, back in the ’70s, this was one of the richest short-track races in the area. There’s people coming here from Nova Scotia that we know, and two racers from Nova Scotia. I would say every race fan in New England will be at this race,” Les Sherwood said.

The couples come to Oxford as much for the camping community as for the race.

“We used to come here every year without fail,” Elsie Sherwood said. “Then we stopped coming.”

Elsie said maybe 36 years have gone by since they last attended the Oxford Race, but the prospect of good times with good friends brought them back.

“We’re not newbies, we’re re-newbies,” she said.

Ken Croswaithe said he’s been coming to the race for many years, but his camping choices have changed. Where once he chose quieter campsites away from the racetrack, now he prefers to be where the camaraderie and revelry is unique to the track.

“Once you start camping at a racetrack, you don’t want to go back. You want to be where the action is. You’re close to all of the activities around the track and everyone’s here for the same reason,” said Croswaithe, who added that he and his wife know many of the nearby campers. “We know the guy next door, and the next one over after that, and three more over there.”

While there were only a few dozen campers at the Speedway by Tuesday afternoon, Les Sherwood said by Saturday it would be so packed, it would be hard to drive around the campsites with a car, despite the fact that this year the track owners have painted lanes on the grass to help cars maneuver around.

Upcoming coverage in sports:

Thursday: A closer look at some of the top PASS North drivers who will attempt to tame Oxford Plains Speedway

Friday: Local underdogs give it their best shot

Saturday: Two-time defending champion Travis Benjamin tries to become the second driver to win three in a row

Sunday: The 250 at 42 — a look at how the race has aged, transformed and adapted as it hits middle age

Also Sunday: Local racing writer Kalle Oakes makes his case for one driver to win it all

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