OXFORD-Snow problem.

While many of New England’s other auto racing facilities either postponed their season opener due to winter’s lingering grip or were wise enough to schedule Opening Day for late April or early May, Oxford Plains Speedway is ready for its drivers to make their first tire tracks of the spring this weekend.

Not that spectators will be able to see those tracks. The gray, cracked, crumbling asphalt surface that was in place around the 3/8-mile oval has been replaced by a smooth, dark compound.

The pavement looks wider and sleeker. Drivers and track officials expect that it will produce lap times that are several tenths of a second faster when the premier Pro Stock drivers in the region take over the track for the New England Dodge Dealers 100 on Sunday.

Speedway activities officially begin Saturday morning with an open practice session at 10 a.m. Qualifying begins at 1 p.m. Sunday, with accompanying feature action scheduled in Oxford’s weekly Late Model Stock, Limited Sportsman, Strictly Stock and Mini Stock divisions.

“We’ve been battling the weather,” track owner Bill Ryan said Wednesday at the annual OPS media luncheon at the adjacent Oxford Plains Fun Park, “but we think we’re going to win. There’s still a lot of snow in Connecticut and southern New Hampshire, but we’re looking OK.”

Ryan enlisted Pike Industries to complete the paving last November prior to the onset of ice and snow. He believes that will enhance the longevity of the project.

Eleven years ago, when the speedway was last resurfaced, work was done in early spring.

“I wasn’t around then, but from what the people who were here at that time tell me, the resurfacing was done just before the season started. They slapped it down and off (the racing) went,” said Ryan. “That might be part of the reason why we didn’t get as much time out of it as all of us and certainly I would have liked.”

Pro Stock drivers Scott Robbins of Dixfield and Mike Rowe of Turner both agreed that tire wear may be a greater factor in Sunday’s race, when all teams will be equally strapped for clues in setting up their cars for the new conditions.

“My first year racing was in ’92, so it didn’t make a difference to me at the time,” said Robbins, the defending True Value 250 champion. “Our plan is to go with the same basic set-up we used last year. If anything, we may have to free up the car a bit. The winner may not be the fastest car but the guy who manages his tires best.

“It’s still Oxford. They didn’t change the banking or anything. It’s the same track. We’re just going faster.”

Speed took a nosedive in recent years, as the aging track surface lost its grip in a hurry. The last official clock-scored fastest lap around OPS was 15.323 seconds by Scott Fraser in 1999, a pass that translated to roughly 88 miles per hour.

Unofficially, even the fastest cars at last July’s True Value 250 toured the speedway a half-second more slowly.

“We don’t know how fast the racing will be. I hear some people say several tenths (of a second),” said Ryan. “I’m not sure, but we’ll be faster, and that’s what racing is all about at the end of the day.”

Ryan used the annual press day forum to review a schedule that is the busiest in OPS history. Once summer arrives, the speedway will be buzzing no less than three nights each week, with the Big Apple Summer Series on Wednesdays, the weekly series on Saturdays, and a new go-kart program beginning Friday nights in May.

Go-kart divisions will be available to children as young as five years.

“With the re-paving of the infield, we now have a smaller oval that’s almost one-fifth of a mile and perfect for go-karts,” said Ryan. “The interest has been huge. We know there will be some growing pains, but that’s something we’re excited about. It’s adding to our feeder system.”

The 30th annual True Value 250 is scheduled for July 13. Other major events include two dates for the ACT Dodge Tour, an open-wheel night with the International Supermodified Association and Northeast Midget Association in August, and the third-annual Extreme Freestyle Motocross.

Sunday’s event marks the return of the Oxford Open Series, a tradition started by Bob Bahre in the 1970s. The New England Dodge 100 winner also earns a provisional qualifying spot in the 250.

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