Turning 40 gets a bad rap.

I’ve been there, and now, as of Sunday evening, so has the TD Bank 250 at Oxford Plains Speedway.

When approaching that milestone, we often read about the dreaded midlife crisis. Hey, I changed the left digit of my age together with the right one eight months ago, and I’ve yet to buy a motorcycle, join a cult or get a spray tan.

Likewise, I don’t see the most prestigious short track race in Maine (New England? America? The Milky Way?) developing any identity confusion.

Well, OK, in fairness, it did receive a face lift this year. But I think most of us will agree that if the cosmetic procedure actually improves your looks, then, by all means, have at it. Let that knife do its work.

If you’re a regional racing enthusiast who owns an underground bunker and just emerged from a 10-month hibernation, here’s the deal.


Tom Mayberry bought OPS from Bill Ryan and immediately closed the book on the 250 as a six-year late model experiment. It’s a super late model race once again, sanctioned as a Pro All Stars Series national championship event.

Cue up the Hallelujah Chorus.

Full disclosure: I worked for Ryan as track announcer and publicist when he made the controversial move to roll back the 250 to late model specifications.

Although the decision scared me to death — I anticipated the despicable treatment Ryan received from a belligerent segment of the racing public — I sincerely believed it was the right call.

To this day, I know that Ryan made the change in sincerity of heart. Yes, it benefited him by getting the albatross of a weekly super late model purse off his neck. But he believed it also would help his loyal racers in a Maine economy that stunk out loud, then and now. Late model cars, on the surface at least, cost moderately less to build, maintain and race. He expected it to help maintain the large fields of 80 and 90 cars that 250 spectators had come to know, love and demand.

But Ryan underestimated a fistful of things.


1) Mayberry’s passion and loyalty for the super late models. Founder and promoter of PASS since 2000, the guy has stuck out his neck and his financial security time after time after time for the good of the sport he loves. And when racers do that, other racers respond with their full faith and support.

2) Racers almost never move in reverse. Only in a 1980s teen movie does the protagonist get a taste of what it’s like to date the prom queen and end up choosing the nice-but-awkward girl from the chess club. The idea that Mike Rowe, Johnny Clark or Cassius Clark would willingly race something with smaller tires, less horsepower from a sealed power plant and limited shocks was overly optimistic.

3) Maine fans want to see Maine drivers. Nothing against Brian Hoar and Wayne Helliwell. As drivers, all things being equal, they might be on par with, say, one of the unrelated Clarks or Travis Benjamin. ‘Round these parts, however, those fellows have the marquee appeal of a local bar band from East Montpelier or Derry. The drivers who filled out the roster of the past six 250s were mostly: a) American-Canadian Tour drivers from Vermont; or b) weekend warriors from Maine. Neither of those categories jazzed up the casual fan from Buxton who formerly bought his tickets in March and camped out at OPS for a July week in anticipation.

4) People who pay money to watch race cars like to watch the fastest, loudest race cars available. Quiet was the buzzword when discussing the late model 250s. Quiet before, quiet during and quiet after. How much the crowd dropped off in those years is in the eye of the beholder, but there’s no denying that something — OK, maybe everything — was missing from the atmosphere.

And so, with hindsight being 20/20 and with Ryan deserving far more thanks and credit than he gets for keeping this track and this race alive, order has been restored.

Is it a perfect situation? Hardly. The competing faction will hold its kneejerk response in Plattsburgh, N.Y., this afternoon and evening. Joey Polewarczyk Jr. and Eddie MacDonald, the only two non-NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers to win the race since 2007, are expected to align with ACT.


Also, if you don’t respect Joey Pole, Eddie Mac, Hoar, Helliwell, Patrick Laperle or Brent Dragon as drivers worthy to dice it out with Mike and Ben Rowe, the Clarks, Benjamin, Joey Doiron and Jay Fogleman, then I’m sorry, but you don’t know a hell of a lot about racing.

I’ve been waiting most of my life for the stakeholders to get together in a room — or perhaps a steel cage — work out their differences and put all the cars, drivers and fans at a single venue on a single day and night for a truckload of money.

Since we’ve all been waiting for such a summit since 1985, expect that meeting to take place on or around the Twelfth of Never.

The days of NASCAR North are long gone, as are the days when racers established down south under that all-powerful acronym came to a race like this without appearance money.

So we’ve got what we’ll get today, which is pretty doggone good.

Maine’s best, a cross-section of drivers from three different generations, with just enough out-of-towners in the garage to give it some national cache.


The list of prospective qualifiers won’t be anywhere close to a record. Much over 60 will shock me. But it’s of a quality that we haven’t seen in a while. Certainly the best field since 2006.

It’ll be fast and loud and everything else we took for granted once upon a time.

Who’s going to win? Cassius Clark. Yes, owners and sponsors and sanctioning bodies and rules may change, but the tradition of my putting a bull’s-eye on some poor guy’s fire suit never will.

Happy birthday, TD Bank 250. And many more.

Kalle Oakes is a staff columnist. His email is koakes@sunjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @Oaksie72.

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