OXFORD – Oxford Plains Speedway announced a major realignment of its Weekly Racing Series program for 2007, resulting in a significant change for the 34th annual TD Banknorth 250.

OPS will combine the Oxford Networks Pro Stock division into its Agren Appliance Late Model class while eliminating the intermediate Limited Sportsman division. The Agren Appliance Late Models will take center stage as Oxford’s featured division and will welcome competitors from all over New England and Canada to the richest short track race in the region next summer.

“As our fans know, the TD Banknorth 250 is the crown jewel of our racing at Oxford. The cars have changed throughout the years, but the essence of the race remains the same,” said OPS President Bill Ryan. “This decision was absolutely necessary for the good of Oxford Plains Speedway and its competitors and the TD Banknorth 250. Late Model competitors will now be able to run for the big money as the purse will remain the same in 2007.”

Oxford is the latest addition to a list of numerous New England race facilities that have elevated Late Model cars to their top division.

“While we are excited about this new direction for Oxford, just as important to us is the fact that the decision is also good for short track racing throughout New England,” said Ryan. “All track owners need to work together to ensure that there is a vibrant class of Late Model cars that drivers can utilize to compete throughout New England. We need one formula.”

Ryan credited Tom Curley, president of the Vermont-based American-Canadian Tour, for transforming Late Model racing into the fastest growing headline division in the region.

Oxford’s centerpiece event, the TD Banknorth 250, will remain an independent, open competition race, but Ryan said that OPS will work closely with ACT to lead the way in developing a sustainable class of Late Model cars that may run at virtually every major track and event in the northeast.

The TD Banknorth 250 has undergone numerous format changes since then-OPS owner Bob Bahre founded the mid-summer classic in 1974. While “Pro Stock” cars have competed in the event since 1993, that term was relatively foreign to race fans in Maine until the late 1980s. Many speedways in the region, including OPS, changed the name of their top division from Late Model Sportsman to Pro Stock during that era to reflect the evolution of that class of cars.

Curley’s ACT was the primary Pro Stock touring series in the region until the end of the 1995 season, when he disbanded the tour due to flagging driver and sponsor interest and re-introduced it as a lower-cost Late Model division. While weekly and Pro Stock car counts have remained stagnant or dropped precipitously in the ensuing decade, the Late Model concept has enjoyed continual growth.

Oxford has been one of the few tracks to buck the trend, primarily because the TD Banknorth 250 and its top prize approaching $50,000 provided Pro Stock teams with the proverbial carrot at the end of the stick.

But driver registration at the 250 dipped from approximately 100 cars in Ryan’s first season to 70 in 2005. While the number rebounded slightly to the low 80s at last month’s race, that total was inflated by numerous Late Model and “outlaw” Pro Stock teams who attempted to qualify for the race.

During the same eight-year span, the average number of weekly pro stock competitors dipped from 28 to 20. Again, that number rose incrementally this season due to the elimination of the class at other tracks in Maine.

Ryan projected that the new format will open up Oxford’s top weekly division and its lucrative race to a much larger talent pool.

“We want Oxford Plains Speedway and the TD Banknorth 250 to be viable for the next 50 years, and by making this change, we feel we will ensure this,” he said.

While he understands the misgivings of current Pro Stock teams who have much invested in their race program, Ryan is confident that the move will both save them money and increase their competitive opportunities in the long run.

“The most positive thing about this change is that our current competitors in the Oxford Networks Pro Stock division and the other cars that ran in the TD Banknorth 250 in 2006 can change their cars into Late Models,” said Ryan, who consulted with some of the most respected car builders in the region while considering the transition. “By making a few small chassis changes and purchasing a crate motor, they will be ready to compete across New England. For the price of yearly Pro Stock maintenance, they will be ready to go Late Model racing next spring.”

Ryan noted that an ACT crate motor costs approximately $7,000, compared to the $20,000 to $25,000 many Pro Stock racers currently spend on their motor.

Monday’s announcement also ends the 30-year history of the Limited Sportsman division. Launched as a Street Stock class in 1977, Limited Sportsman started the careers of several notable Pro Stock and Late Model stars, including Jeff Taylor, Dale Shaw, Tim Brackett, Alan Wilson and Dennis Spencer Jr.

As it strayed from those entry-level roots and evolved into something much closer to a Late Model, however, the Limited Sportsman division has struggled with a light car count over the past few years. That number hit a low ebb of 10 cars on several occasions this season.

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