By Randy Whitehouse

Staff Writer

For over 40 years, Al Hammond built a legendary racing career at Oxford
Plains Speedway, even though he never took a checkered flag in the TD
Banknorth 250.

When the track changed course in 2007, he thought he’d seen the last chance to add to his legacy. 

“I didn’t know if I’d ever get back,” he said.

Like several other TD Banknorth 250 veterans, Hammond defected from OPS
with the switch from pro stock to late models in 2007. And
like most of those drivers, he cited cost as the reason.

But Hammond, who had taken 81 checkered flags in 40 years of racing at
OPS, could never get the track out of his rearview mirror. Living a few
miles away in South Paris didn’t help, and racing at Beech Ridge Motor
Speedway only helped a little.

“I had fun down there, but I had to get back,” he said.

“Al’s done everything there is to do at Oxford,” said OPS owner Bill Ryan, “and we’re really happy to have him back.”

On July 5, the 66-year-old Hammond made his return to OPS, where he
trails only Mike Rowe in career victories. In two late model features,
he has posted two top-10 finishes.

 
To Hammond, getting behind the wheel of a late model wasn’t as daunting to the three-time track champion as building one.

“You race a car, no matter what car it is, you feel what it will do,”
he said. “When the tires slip, you’ve just got to try to make them go a
little better.”

In
1974, Hammond raced in the first 250, or the “Oxford National 200-lap
Open Championship” as it was known then. Driving a 1965 Chevelle, he
finished 21st and won $200. 

“They’re probably isn’t anything in these cars that we would have
run in the first one,” he said. “Everything was pretty much right
off the street.”

“Tweaking these cars today makes it fun. You don’t have to go to a junkyard and pull parts,” Hammond said with a laugh.

Hammond said he has modified his old pro stock car and has been pleased with its performance so far, even though it is carrying about 100 pounds of extra weight. He was hoping to get it more dialed in with some practice time Saturday, but will settle for a little less bad luck like the blown tires and engines that have denied him a 250 championship in the past.  

 “Just hoping to be lucky and draw good,” he said. “When you get in
the race, be very conservative because you’ve got to be there for the
end. You can’t be too aggressive and use your tires up and end up a lap
down. Then you’re in trouble the rest of the day.”

Hammond wasn’t sure this day might ever come again, but here it is. He thinks the elusive title could be in reach, too.

“I still think I’ve got a good chance,” he said.


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