OXFORD — They are called weekend warriors — those race car drivers who, for the most part, carry so-called regular jobs Monday through Friday, and strap into a race car on Saturday in search of glory at a 40-lap feature race.

They toil away on their cars during their spare time, spending spare change on spare tires and spare parts. Often, buying a new rim, a set of new belts or a new paint job means working overtime at the shop, store or office.

To these folks, the TD Banknorth 250 is the crown jewel of their racing season. Even just running in the qualifying heats is an honor and a privilege.

“For guys like me, who are never going to win the Daytona 500, this is our big race,” OPS regular Shawn Martin, of Turner, said. “Being in this race and winning this race would be unbelievable.”

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They are the equivalent of middle management — those race car drivers who, for the most part, tour a small region of the country as part of a racing tour or series, hoping for that one big break that will land them a deal with a major motor sports company, or hoping to earn enough money to call racing a living for another year or two.

To these folks, the TD Banknorth 250 is the crown jewel of their racing season. A win or good showing here could mean a ticket to the proverbial “next step.”

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The legacy of the TD Banknorth 250, and one of its main draws, is its ability to bring drivers of many different backgrounds together in one place, with each given an equal opportunity to win more money at a non-NASCAR short-track race than at any one-day racing event in the country.

At least, that’s the theory.

The overwhelming reality, given 35 years worth of race results, is that drivers with a wealth of local knowledge, but who run longer races, tend to fare better.

“I’m kind of hoping that’s an advantage I have, to be honest,” perennial contender Ricky Rolfe said. “I’ve been racing on a tour this year, but still racing weekly at Oxford when I can, trying to keep up with the track and the condition it’s in.”

Knowing your track

Those drivers who have ties to Oxford Plains Speedway, but who run longer races, are those who have traditionally populated the top five slots.

Sure, there have been the odd long shots — Roger Brown in 2007 is a recent example — but for the most part, drivers who win at Oxford know Oxford like their own driveways.

“The combination of being able to run long-distance races and having some familiarity with Oxford seems to be the best fit and seems to describe most of the guys who do well here,” track owner Bill Ryan Jr. said.

Twenty-year-old rising star Joey Polewarczyk Jr. is one driver who’s learned his way around the track, despite not necessarily knowing it well.

“I just go where the car tells me to go,” Polewarczyk, known as ‘Joey Pole,’ said. “You look for a groove that fits best with your car, with your setup, and you go with what works.”

But Polewarczyk is a rare exception, as was NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Kevin Harvick, who won the event last summer.

Drivers like Jeremie Whorff, Mike and Ben Rowe, Scott Robbins and Gary Drew, who make up the winners’ list from 2001 to 2006, all shredded their first tires on the 3/8-mile oval at Oxford.

“It’s a really tough track to tame if you don’t know it,” Pittston’s Ben Ashline said. “As a low-budget team in Maine, we can’t go to some of these ACT races, but here, we know how things react a bit.”

Last year’s runner-up, Glen Luce, who sandwiched himself between Harvick and Polewarczyk on the podium, did so thanks to the local knowledge he gained running at the track.

“I still think locals have an advantage on that track,” Luce said. “OPS is close to my heart. I cut my teeth there. I’ve ventured off now, but whenever I go home, I feel we can shine.”

Money speaks

Like in any other endeavor, the almighty dollar comes into play at major short-track events, too. Many of the teams running weekly series features are doing so because they are close to home, and cost less in both travel and equipment expenditures.

Many of the touring drivers, regardless of the tour on which they race, have a bit more cash on hand, which means better equipment, more equipment, and more time to work on things that may not be going quite right. Still, tour rules have leveled the playing field.

“They haven’t allowed huge spending when it comes to your shocks, your chassis and other things,” Ashline said. “They’ve kind of evened that out.”

Even smaller touring outfits, like Ashline’s, feel the benefits of running a touring team.

“When we do get that chance to run with a little bit of a bigger budget, I think we’re going to show people what we can do. But I’ve grown up, and a lot of us have, with the mentality that you do your best with what you’ve got.”

For many teams, the biggest difference between the tour drivers and those who run smaller-budget, weekly rides is the tires.

“The weekly guys, once the season starts, basically we buy one tire a week,” Rolfe said. “We’re always on older tires. The guys who race longer races, they’re accustomed to running four new tires, and their setup is different because of that.”

“You’re not going to go out there like on a Saturday night with tires that have 300 laps on them,” veteran local driver Tim Brackett said.

Seat time matters

One of the biggest differences between those drivers who run limited, 40-lap-race schedules and those who run on the American-Canadian Tour, Pro All-Star Series or any other small circuit is the sheer amount of hours drivers spend in the seat.

“These guys come in, they’re used to running these longer races,” Ashline said.

Some veterans put less stock in seat time, though.

“When you’re driving, you don’t really notice it,” Brackett said. “If you’re going good, it doesn’t matter. If you’re just hanging on, about lap 170 you’re wondering, ‘Gee, is it ever going to be over?'”

It will all be over late Sunday night.

And if history is any indication, the person holding the trophy won’t be a stranger. He may not be a “weekend warrior,” but the teeming masses gathered to watch this year’s 36th edition of the largest single-day short-track event in the country will likely recognize the winner.


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