PORTLAND — The excitement of Oxford Plains Speedway’s TD Bank 250 returning to a super late model format almost made Johnny Clark jump into the deep end of the pool Wednesday.

“If I won it, well, I don’t want to say I would retire, because then my wife would hold me to it,” Clark, 33, of Hallowell, said at the annual pre-race press conference. “There’s always races to win and I want to win them all, but there’s nothing like the Oxford 250.”

While Clark’s words might have been indicative of his changing priorities in life — Niki Clark is expecting the couple’s second child in October — they probably were connected more closely to the evolution of New England’s premier stock car race.

Coinciding with Pro All Stars Series promoter Tom Mayberry’s purchase of OPS in October 2012, Sunday’s 40th annual TD Bank 250 is a super late model (once popularly known as pro stock) event for the first time in seven years.

The 250 flew under the late model banner from 2007 to 2012, with a majority of the competitors representing the American-Canadian Tour. While the switch helped keep the entry list at its traditionally high numbers, it also shaved some speed, star power, and some would argue prestige from the mid-summer showcase.

“Everybody I’ve talked to is so happy to see the pro stocks coming back there. Over the last two years I think you could see that,” said three-time 250 champion Mike Rowe of Turner. “We ran Saturday night with PASS in 2011 and 2012 and (it appeared) there were more people Saturday night than there were Sunday. That tells me that they wanted the pro stocks back there.”

The annual participation of NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers, including 2008 winner Kevin Harvick and 2011 champion Kyle Busch, helped the race maintain its stature during the super late models’ absence.

Some SLM drivers, including Ben Rowe, Mike’s son and the race winner in 2003 and 2004, crossed over and competed in the restructured 250. Many others — most notably Maine stars Mike Rowe, Johnny Clark, Cassius Clark of Farmington and Travis Benjamin of Morrill — stayed away.

There is no NASCAR personality in the field for the first time since 2003, but the list of 53 pre-paid entries as of Wednesday includes drivers from seven states and two Canadian provinces.

The roster ranges in age from 13-year-old Tate Fogleman of Durham, N.C., and 14-year-old Spencer Davis of Dawsonville, Ga., to the elder Rowe at 62.

“I think this is going to be the best format for this race,” said two-time OPS track champion Tim Brackett of Buckfield. “Take nothing away from ACT, but you ain’t got this old guy (Rowe) who’s going to kick your ass, and you ain’t got the real legends. When you beat them, you’ve earned your lunch and you’ve had a good day.”

Fans might notice the louder and faster cars, but they won’t detect any changes in the formula that made the race famous.

Drivers will draw at 1 p.m. Sunday for their starting position in the heat races that will begin an hour later.

“The draw, everybody still dreads it,” Ben Rowe said. “None of the drivers draw for themselves, I guarantee it, because they want to be able to blame somebody else.”

“It stinks, but if it works out for you, it’s awesome,” Cassius Clark added with a laugh.

Three rounds of qualifying, including a winner-take-all, 50-lap last chance race, will set the starting grid for the main event, scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m.

“It scares some (drivers) away from down south, because they don’t like the heat races and the draw,” Mayberry said. “But that’s what makes the event. That’s what the fans come to see and there needs to be more of that, not less of it.”

Each green flag lap pays $100 to the leader. The minimum winner’s share is $25,000, plus accrued bonus money.

Drivers said that pit strategy is back in play with the super late models. Contrary to the late model 250s, in which almost every driver pitted during the same mid-race caution for fuel and tires, it may be possible for somebody with a good car to duck down pit road at lap 200 and race his way back through the pack.

“The 250 to me growing up, watching it, watching (Mike), the 250 is the 250. Myself personally, I think it lost some of that the last few years,” Ben Rowe said. “I do drive both cars, but this is going to bring the racing back. It’s going to bring the strategy that the fans want to see. It’s all the strategy basically that makes the race.”

Difficult as it is to qualify for the race, it’s even tougher to negotiate all that strategy, catch the right breaks and win.

Ralph Nason (1998, 1999, 2000) and Dave Dion (1975, 1985, 1992) join Mike Rowe (1984, 1997, 2005) as the only drivers to carry the checkers three times. Ben Rowe is on the short list of those who have pulled it off twice with Geoff Bodine, Jamie Aube, Chuck Bown and Eddie MacDonald.

Johnny Clark has won 200, 250 and 300-lap races at other Maine tracks and in Canada. He owns six PASS North championships.

Best finish in the TD Bank 250: Second, to Mike Rowe in 2005.

“This is it. This is completely what’s missing off my resume, I feel like, is the Oxford 250,” Clark said. “We’ve been fortunate enough to win a lot of big-paying races. I just want that Oxford 250 trophy in the shop.”

“It’s the biggest race in the country, really,” added the unrelated Cassius Clark, who has wins at Oxford and Beech Ridge to his credit in 2013.

It’s that kind of unrestrained passion that Bob Bahre envisioned when he launched the race in 1974. It was what inspired Michael Liberty and Bill Ryan to shepherd the speedway and its showcase race through myriad format changes.

Now it’s Mayberry’s baby, one that seems to be maturing splendidly.

“I just think it’s great that when Bob Bahre started it, it was big-horsepower cars with big tires, and I think going back to that is exciting for a lot of people that have followed it over the years,” Mayberry said.

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