WESTBROOK – Maine’s auto racing spectacle just might be chemically enhanced this weekend, and that will be a good thing.

With the addition of a traction compound, it has encouraged the use of more than just one groove at Oxford Plains Speedway.

“It definitely makes it more exciting for us,” said Otisfield’s Gary Drew, who won the TD Banknorth 250 in 2001. “We’re able to pull out and pass instead of having to bump your way by someone.”

The reviews of the traction on the outside groove has been positive says track owner Bill Ryan. The proof has been in the results. There have already been races that benefited from the ability to use the outside of the oval. Ryan points to a PASS race on July 1 when Quebec’s Patrick Laperle thrived on the outside.

“He set up there all day,” said Ryan. “He never ran the curb. That wasn’t what you’d see typically last year.”

Racing at OPS has been plagued by what drivers call “the train effect,” where cars can’t get by each other on the outside and wind up just following the car in front, hoping to literally nose by one another. It would typically only be cars with the proper setup that could utilize the outside groove.

“They had to do something to get it back to the racing that Oxford always used to be with two or three grooves,” said Drew. “They’ve hit it right on the button to get a second and third groove working.”

Ryan has been encouraged to hear from drivers who have discovered a track that now has more room to maneuver.

“It’s fun racing up there,” said Jeremie Whorff of Bath. “You can run the second groove. You can pass fairly easy. Even if your car’s not perfect, you can have a little push or a little looseness and still get by.”

Since the repaving of the track helped develop the single groove problem, Ryan has hoped for a solution. In longer races, drivers might have an easier time finding success on the outside but that wasn’t the case in the shorter events.

“On a weekly basis, it was a lot of work for guys to get around on the outside,” said Ryan. “So we did a lot of research last year and during the offseason this year. We talked to enough people at other racetracks that have used this traction compound.”

Ryan had the chemical applied early in the season but didn’t tell anyone. He didn’t want to give anyone preconceived notions. When drivers noticed a difference, he heard about it and revealed the truth. The compound is similar to what dragsters use for traction to start races, but this substance is designed for use on oval tracks.

“For a week or two, I didn’t say a thing,” he said, telling people it was just a sealant. “Then finally, I said it was a traction compound, and I think it has shown itself throughout the season.”

The compound is applied every few weeks. Another layer will be put down today in preparation for Sunday’s 250. The cost is only about $1,500 for the season, but the expense wasn’t Ryan’s concern. He wanted to be sure it was something that would enhance the racing, not detract from it.

“I finally got comfortable that it does what it is supposed to do,” said Ryan. “It gives guys more traction outside. It’s not slick. It’s not going to make it worse outside. That’s the worst case scenario.”

The end result should be better racing and daring passes on the outside.

“I think you’ll see a lot of side-by-side battles through the pack,” said Ryan. “You saw it in that July 1 PASS race. They were side-by-side for 20 laps.”

Ryan says the outside groove should especially help the qualifying races. Drivers often faced a double whammy, with a bad draw and no room to pass in the qualifying heats. Now, the new groove should allow for drivers in the back of the pack a better chance to make something happen earlier in the race.

“I think you’ll see a lot of good racing, a lot of nose-to-nose racing” said Whorff, who races weekly at OPS and has had practice sessions where he’s raced his father, Bill, side-by-side. “There’s some guys that are just a little bit quicker, and they’ll try to go on the outside, and you’ll see a lot of back and forth. I don’t think it’s going to be a train effect like it has been in the past.”

Of course, some may stick with the tried-and-true method of winning on the inside.

“When I ran it the first race, it was a little improved,” said three-time champion Mike Rowe, who came from 37th last year to win. “but I thought the bottom groove was the quickest.”

That’s what he told Kyle Busch during test runs last week. Rowe said he’ll see how the track is during practice runs before changing his mind.

“Until I see that, and it works for me,” said Rowe. “I won’t see (Busch) until Sunday. We’ll be testing Friday and Saturday. Any information I get, I’ll give to him.

“It is better with that stuff, definitely, but the quickest way around is on the bottom still.”


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