OXFORD — There were no crickets chirping audibly Sunday in the pit area at Oxford Plains Speedway, at least none that could be heard over the rumbling engines of the drivers making their last-minute preparations for the 36th TD Banknorth 250.

But there were fewer engines rumbling.

And where there were drivers and their crews strewn over the grounds at last year’s race, several barren stalls and open patches of asphalt and grass dotted the pit area.

The numbers tell the story. Last year, in the 35th edition of the race, 88 drivers and their cars spread out across the back lot at OPS, all hoping for a shot at $25,000 and the prestige of winning one of the most renowned short-track races in the country.

This year, that number is down to 70, and there was a marked difference in the atmosphere in the pit area Sunday.

“There were people out there who had to worry more about their businesses this year than their racing endeavors,” Canton’s Travis Adams said. “Seventy is still a good number to have.”

There was little doubt among the drivers the reason for the low numbers.

“The economy has a lot to do with it,” Turner’s Shawn Martin said. “People are having a hard time getting sponsors.”

“With the economy the way it is, I was expecting 65 or so, actually,” perennial contender Ricky Rolfe said.

Of course, Rolfe joked, “I was kind of hoping for 40.”

Despite the lower numbers, all of the drivers felt Sunday that the race was still one of the toughest tests of the season, given the qualifying format.

“There are still 70 cars here and, I think, 30 cars with a chance to win it,” Martin said. “It’s still a tough race to get into and a tough race to do well in.”

“There’s still 12 cars in a heat race, and they still take just four,” Rolfe said. “That part of it doesn’t change.”

And even though 18 fewer cars rolled out of the pits Sunday, the grandstands didn’t appear to take as much of a hit. People showed up later than normal, spent a little less money, perhaps, but they still came out to the race.

“This race is such a good thing for the local racing fans, and for the local teams,” Adams said. “Our weekly numbers are still pretty good.”

And the lure of the 250, Adams said, may help revive some teams that had been on the fence about running.

“This race here tends to bring cars out of the woodwork,” Adams said. “Some cars we thought were extinct, they’ve shown up here for this race.”

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