He was quiet, by all accounts. He was polite, always acknowledging a friendly glance with a “hello” and some light conversation. But for the most part, he kept to himself.

Charles Webster, a 38-year-old father of three from Auburn, stayed out of the limelight when he raced in Oxford Plains Speedway’s weekly Acceleration Series Runnin’ Rebels division.

That was, until Wednesday.

Webster was coasting along in the middle of the pack in the ‘A’ race during the first Wednesday night program the track has been able to run since June 17 due to the weather. Another car to his inside — Webster was running the famed outside groove at the 3/8-mile oval in a Toyota Celica — swerved hard to the right just as the cars hit the second turn, forcing Webster’s No. 75 car over the embankment.

“I don’t think he even touched the brakes before he hit the wall,” fellow racer Brian Nason of Lewiston said.

Nason ran the previous race, and was watching along the fence on the back stretch.

“He got a little bit of air when he went off the top of the turn, and by the time he even had time to hit brakes, he was on grass, and that doesn’t even make a difference. it’s like on oil, basically.”

Another Lewiston driver, who wished to remain anonymous, was on the track, just a few car lengths away.

“Where he got hit, you launch,” the driver said. “He jumped down, basically into that wall. You can’t apply the brakes or anything if your car is in the air.”

Webster died Wednesday night as a result of injuries sustained in the single-car wreck.

According to Oxford Police Chief Jon Tibbetts, a safety check of the car Thursday revealed everything in good working order and in place, from the brakes to the car’s frame to the mandatory roll bars designed to be a protective shell.

“Everything checked out, and basically it was just a racing incident,” Tibbetts said. “There’s not much more we’re going to do. We’re waiting for a few more statements to come in, then we’ll wrap it up.”

Many of the drivers who raced with Webster on Wednesday were shocked by what happened.

“I missed the whole thing, thank God,” driver Jamie Heath of Waterford said. “I pulled into the pits and the red lights came on and we knew something had happened. That just sucks. You go from one week, talking to him, racing in the Enduro then this happens. It kind of blew my mind.”

Heath said he and Webster knew each other in passing, and would talk to each other in the lineup before races.

The same went for Gerard Cote of Oxford, who was on the track but in front of the wreck, missing most of what happened behind him.

“We’d talk in the lineup, shoot the (crap) about the cars and stuff,” Cote said. “He was a nice guy all the time.”

Cote, who is the same age as Webster, echoed many of the drivers’ sentiments: things like this make you think a little bit more about racing cars.

“I’m going to keep going, but it’s made me think about other ways to stay safe,” Cote said. “I just ordered a harness device (Thursday), for the head and neck restraint. It’s made me think a lot more about doing safety things to my car more than doing things to make the car go faster.”

“It’s not going to stop me from going,” Nason said, “but it makes you think getting back into the car that, ‘Wow, that could happen to me if it happened to him.'”

Some drivers said this incident proves the track needs safety improvements along the concrete walls that are, for the most part, set back from the track.

“They need to put some kind of safer barrier there,” the anonymous Lewiston driver said. “Even if you watch road course racing, when there’s a long straight followed by a sharp turn, they put tire walls or water buckets out there. They need to do something there. It might not be a perfect fit, or a permanent answer but it would be something better than nothing.”

“I’ve had a couple close run-ins with it,” Nason said. “I almost think the track should put up a soft wall or something like NASCAR did. They could do something with that wall, or at least put it into consideration.”

“I’ve been fortunate enough not to crash hard,” Heath said. “Would I
like to see foam all the way around the place? Damn right. When it
comes time for me to crash hard, I would love to have foam all around
the track, whether it’s Turn 3, 4, Turn 1, any place there’s a wall,
I’d love to see that stuff. Any place you go, Wiscasset, too, you’d
love to have that stuff.”

Track officials at OPS would not comment Thursday. Track owner Bill Ryan Jr. repeated his previous statement, released early Thursday morning, that Webster’s death “was obviously a terrible tragedy, and that our thoughts and prayers are with Charlie’s family.”

“We’re just concerned for his family and our thoughts and prayers are with them,” Ryan repeated after being asked about increased safety measures. “I wish that’s where the focus would remain.”

According to a notice on the OPS Web site, details of a memorial service for Webster have yet to be determined, and will be posted there when they become available.

Webster’s death is the second death at the Oxford oval in 22 years, the last coming in 2003 when Dennis Dee, also 38, slammed into the same wall during a late model heat race.

Previous to that, the last driver to perish in competition at OPS, Jim Kane of Oxford, died in July of 1987 during a demolition derby. The death later was attributed to medical reasons.

Steve Stiles of Jackson, N.H., was the last Oxford competitor to sustain fatal injuries directly as a result of a racing accident. He died May 25, 1985, after crashing during a late model sportsman feature race. In that instance, like the day following Dee’s death, OPS raced the following night.

Cars in the premier divisions at every Maine track are purpose-built. Roll cages, wrap-around safety seats and five-point harnesses are mandatory in each of the five weekly classes at OPS.

“Unless they can put soft walls, there’s really not much they
can do,” Cote said. “It’s a dangerous sport, plain and simple, and I
have no idea what they really should do. I’ve been trying to figure
that out myself, actually. That’s why I’m doing what I can for me.”

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