OXFORD — After a long, drawn-out winter that gave race fans a bad case of the blues, the gates are about to swing open on a promising new racing season. 

Oxford Plains Speedway will kick off its 2011 schedule Sunday, featuring a 150-lap contest for the American-Canadian Tour (ACT) Late Models. Along with qualifying races and the ACT feature itself, Oxford’s weekly support divisions will also be in action. 

Highlighting the schedule once again is the famed TD Bank 250, slated this year for Sunday, July 24.

Since it was announced that NASCAR star Kyle Busch would be returning for another crack at the top prize, interest is growing in New England’s biggest short track show. 

Among the news generated from Oxford’s track office during the off-season, nothing has created quite as much buzz as the return of the Pro All Stars Series (PASS) to Oxford for two shows.

The Maine-based Super Late Model circuit will run a 150-lap battle the night before the 250. Busch is bringing his own car for that race, as well. The PASS North series will conclude its 2011 season at Oxford on Saturday, Oct. 1. 

“I think we’ve got a pretty full schedule with something for everyone in 2011,” said Oxford owner Bill Ryan. “What’s nice is that TD Bank 250 weekend is already creating quite a buzz, not only from the return of Kyle Busch, but from all the other divisions that will be competing over three days. It also looks like our weekly racing will be pretty exciting, with a great mix of veterans and new faces ready to strap in and take the green flag. We should be set for another great season starting with Sunday’s ACT race.” 

Along with the prestigious TD Bank 250 and this Sunday’s ACT race, other highlights on Oxford’s 2011 schedule include a second ACT points race on Saturday, June 25.

The ongoing rivalry between the ACT regulars and Oxford’s weekly Late Model warriors provides plenty of side-by-side racing, plus it gives race teams a chance to prepare for the 250 in a long-distance event. 

Tim Brackett of Buckfield won the 2010 Late Model championship at Oxford and will return to defend his crown. Brackett also won the 2005 Pro Stock championship at the track where he has competed for more than 30 years. 

“I’d like to go out and win this ACT race, but it will serve as a good shakedown to get ready for our Saturday night battles,” said Brackett after climbing out of his machine during last Saturday’s open practice. “I have a new chassis this year with an updated front end similar to what is in TJ’s (his son’s) car. It was pretty fast and felt very stable in those first laps. We’re hoping it will stay under me well enough every week to win another championship.” 

Kurt Hewins claimed the 2010 Strictly Stock crown in dominating fashion. The cagey veteran from Leeds won 10 features last summer in a dream-like season, including one hot streak of five in a row.

From mid-May through late August, it looked as if Hewins could do no wrong once the green flag waved. 

“It might be crazy to expect another season like 2010, but we’ve put in a lot of hours over the winter hoping for another title,” Hewins said during a break in practice. “My son (18-year-old Ryan) has moved up from the Rebels to this class now, which really adds a lot of excitement for me this season. The car we built for him is fast, too, but he’s going to have to work to beat me.” 

Along with a full season of championship racing on Saturday nights, Oxford will also return with its entry-level Acceleration Series divisions on Wednesday nights. This program has been successful from its inception, offering would-be racers a chance to compete for low cost while giving fans a good show in a relatively short time frame. 

Qualifying races for the ACT Big Jab 150 will begin Sunday at 2 p.m. Eddie MacDonald, who won his second straight TD Bank 250 in 2010, is the defending race winner. 

Defending ACT champion Brian Hoar (April 17, Lee USA) and Nick Sweet (May 1, Thunder Road) won the first two ACT events of 2011, earning them a spot in the third annual ACT Invitational at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Saturday, Sept. 24.  

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