FAIRFIELD – You’ve heard all the buzz. After 33 years, the TD Banknorth 250 at Oxford Plains Speedway will be contested in Late Model stock cars in 2007.

When the curtain closed on Oxford’s 2006 season, it marked the end of an era. Gone are the familiar Pro Stock machines, replaced by the Late Models as the track’s premier division.

But what exactly is a Late Model? And what are the actual differences between them and a Pro Stock? To most fans, they look like sister cars – with lap times less than a second apart. They both feature sleek after-market bodies designed to resemble the cars we drive on the street. Yet, beneath the hood, within the suspension and where the rubber meets the road are where the primary differences lie.

To get the lowdown on both types of cars, we went to the man who builds both for a living – nine-time Oxford Plains Speedway track champion Jeff Taylor, owner of Distance Racing Products (DRP) in Fairfield. Taylor has shifted his focus from driving to serving his customers in 2007, some of which had new Late Models built for 2007, while others went the Pro Stock route.

“From a money standpoint, they really aren’t that much apart,” Taylor said. “When you look at the basic components – like the roll cage, center section/frame, rear clip and snout – the two are pretty much identical. Where the big differences that increase costs are things like shock absorbers and brakes. Pro Stocks utilize sophisticated racing shocks, in fact many teams have a crew member dedicated to just them.”

Taylor says the effort to construct one specific car versus another is about the same, taking roughly 50 to 55 man-hours from raw stock to finished rolling chassis. Some of his customers, which are spread out from Buffalo, N.Y., to Prince Edward Island, choose to install their own shocks or brakes while others purchase them from DRP and have them installed there.

“While I don’t provide them here, of course the engines are a big difference when it comes to horsepower generated and costs to build and maintain,” Taylor said. “Engine budgets are what can kill a race team, and Late Models have a “spec” engine option in place that saves them a ton of money. While they may only have 335 horsepower, versus the 550 of a Pro Stock, that’s still plenty of power for most short tracks. The fact is with a Late Model, they’re all pretty equal. It comes down to driver skill and chassis setup. The guys that understand the chassis and can adjust their setup to suit conditions are the ones who are winning most of the races.”

Taylor says weekly maintenance costs are similar with both cars, with tires being the main exception. Pro Stocks run a 10-inch slick while the Late Model tires are 8 inches. Weight differences are minimal (both are close to 2,800 lbs.) while the wheelbase (distance between the front and rear axles) is shorter on the Pro Stock (102-104 inches vs. a 104 inch mandatory minimum on a Late Model). As for tread width (measured from the center of the tires) the Late Model is slightly more narrow (64 inches vs. 66 inches) than the Pro Stock.

How will all of this affect the 250? It should not. This change has opened the gates to racers all over the Northeast, who never had a chance to compete because of costs. Now, Late Model teams can make the haul to Oxford with the same dream and hope of taking top honors in the nation’s richest, single-day, non-NASCAR short track race.

All this brings back the great geographic rivalries which made this race special from the beginning. Like the days when the Dragon brothers came over from Vermont to take on Maine stars like Dick McCabe and Mike Rowe, fans from several states and provinces will have drivers to support.

While several local teams still attached to their Pro Stocks feel slighted and will miss participating in this prestigious event, with a record 175 entries at last count – this year’s race might just provide the most intense, dramatic qualifying races in 250 history.

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