By now you’re probably familiar with my borderline courageous but ill-advised and futile tradition of trying to forecast the Oxford 250 winner each summer.
As I prepare to attack this year’s assignment, however, there’s less sense of urgency to concoct a scenario in which Driver A or Driver B can win than to visualize some alternate universe in which Curtis Gerry won’t.
There’s an element of disbelief even as I see those words roll off my fingers and pop up on my screen. Nothing against Gerry, who is a terrific guy and a whale of a racer, but up until this weekend a year ago only the most ardent Maine short track fans could have identified him in a lineup.
Gerry was the reigning Beech Ridge Motor Speedway champion at the time. He had competed with distinction in Pro All Stars Series competition at both his home track and Oxford Plains Speedway.
History tells us that those accomplishments are a different animal than putting your name on a trophy next to those of Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Geoff Bodine, Butch Lindley, Ralph Nason and Dave Dion.
Here’s the kicker, though: Gerry not only won that race convincingly, but he has backed it up with four more unanswered victories in full-field PASS races at OPS. Dig through the archives that the late, great Bobby Walker and yours truly compiled during our years at Oxford and you’ll find that five consecutive tour-type wins put Gerry on a plane by himself.
That’s right. Dating back to the 1960s, under any banner the track has flown over its marquee events (Getty Open, NASCAR North, ACT, Busch North, NEPSA, IPSC, PASS, Your Acronym Here), no driver had ever flown the checkered flag out his driver’s side window after five, or even four, consecutive tour stops.
Best as I can tell, in fact, only four drivers had ever pulled off a three-race tour win streak at Oxford: Mike Rowe (twice, 1980 and 1982), Homer Drew (1973), Dave Whitlock (1995) and Eddie MacDonald (2010).
In other words, more amazing is the list of drivers who never did it. Let’s start with Ralph Nason (he of three consecutive 250 wins and a complete hammerlock on Super Late Model competition in New England at the end of the 1990s), Dick McCabe, Jeff Taylor, Tracy Gordon, Robbie Crouch, George Summers and Dion.
So many factors make a winning streak at Oxford next-to-impossible. The level of competition at any tour race is good as it gets. Fields for such races attract double the number at any other track, in part because drivers and crews think it will help them get ready for the 250.
Of course, most of the time that is merely a racer’s wishful thinking. Oxford by all accounts is one of the most finicky, weather-sensitive asphalt tracks in America.
Whether the crown jewel event is held in June, July or August, the conditions are sure to be different than at any other time. And the race traditionally begins in the hot sun and ends under the bulbs in the relative cool of night. What works for a set-up or a pit strategy at the start may be proven foolhardy by the finish.
That’s what makes Gerry’s ongoing domination such a head-scratcher. He’s proven himself a man for all seasons. He’s also shown that even though 50-lap weekend sprints are his usual sandbox, 150s, 200s and 250s don’t throw him off his game. In fact, he seems to pace himself and pounce at the finish better than anyone these days.
So I’m torn. Whatever I do looks like the easy way out. If somebody picks Gerry to win at this point, and he does, they weren’t exactly stepping out on a flimsy branch in a hurricane. Likewise, if they cite the law of averages and go against Gerry, they’re really just siding with history.
I’ll do the latter here, only because it presumably takes more skill and invites greater risk to anoint that alternate winner.
While the promoters of this race traditionally play up the theme of “it’s anybody’s ballgame,” I find it’s less true in this day and age. Based on their recent level of performance, I’ll submit the following list and call it Ten Who Can: Reid Lanpher, Joey Polewarczyk, Travis Benjamin, D.J. Shaw, Cassius Clark, Tracy Gordon, Mike Rowe, Eddie MacDonald, Bubba Pollard and Garrett Hall.
Based on his years of experience at Oxford and a trailer full of trophies from recent 250-lap races, most notably a score in Canada earlier this month, I’ll go with Clark to break Gerry’s unprecedented spell over OPS on its biggest stage.
In an event that takes more than a little luck to win, the irony of picking a No. 13 to defeat the hottest No. 7 of all time should be duly noted.
Enjoy the race!
Kalle Oakes attended every Oxford 250 from 1984 through 2015. He spent most of those years as crew chief of the Sun Journal’s coverage and was also OPS track announcer for five years. He is now sports editor of the Georgetown (Kentucky) News-Graphic. Feel free to taunt him about his pick at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @oaksie72.
Oxford 250 coverage