My 32-year streak is ending. For the first time since I was 11, sitting five rows from the top in Turn 1 and hooting and hollering as Mike Rowe became the first homegrown winner, I will not be in attendance at the HP Hood Oxford 250.

I have moved to the great Commonwealth of Kentucky, where my consolation prize was attending the July NASCAR race at the beautiful facility in Sparta. This is a land dominated by year-round chatter about the state university’s college basketball team. More about that tie-in later.

One tradition that won’t die is the willingness to embarrass myself by handicapping the race and trying to pick a winner. What a year to try this for the first time from afar, since by rough estimate there have been 99 different Super Late Model winners at Oxford Plains Speedway and another 52 on the Pro All Stars Series.

Seriously, though, the only way I could think to illustrate the depth of this field is by relating it to something else with which my insider knowledge never assists me: Filling out an NCAA tournament bracket.

Here in the Bluegrass, and everywhere else, they call that exercise in futility March Madness. I guess this is Maine’s edition of, what, August Acceleration?

Let’s get to it. My “seeds” for Sunday’s expected field, 1 through 16. Yes, there probably will be more than 64 cars, just as there now are more than 64 basketball teams in that tournament, but I’m a stubborn old-timer …

1. Joey Polewarczyk Jr., Wayne Helliwell Jr., Glen Luce, Austin Theriault. Just pick a car number ending in ‘7,’ give your friends the field, and win whatever bets you make. Good as the overall roster looks, from my view the upper echelon is almost indisputable. Whether you thought Joey Pole or Wayne, um, Hell crossed the line first at the recent 150-lap PASS tuneup, you know you saw a heck of a race. Luce is the defending champion and was super-fast in practice Friday, same as a year ago. AT has never failed to finish in the top five in this event.

2. Travis Benjamin, Ben Rowe, Cassius Clark, DJ Shaw. Benjamin’s hopes of a three-peat bit the dust soon as I picked him a year ago, but he looks stout with his new team. Rowe has struggled at OPS since his 2003-04 wins but is still a big-game quarterback. Cash is King (same as his team name) of the 250-lap specials in Canada. Shaw, the PASS North point leader, eyes redemption after sitting this one out due to a Sunday morning tech dispute in 2015.

3. Mike Hopkins, Johnny Clark, Jeff Taylor, Mike Rowe. If Rowe is still racing when he’s 95, he’ll never be lower than a No. 3 seed at Oxford. Ditto for Taylor, a part-time racer these days but the only guy with more OPS Super Late Model titles than Rowe. Clark is enjoying a bit of a renaissance after a down year or two on tour, some of which is a result of newcomers such as Hopkins stealing the thunder (and speed).

4. Jay Fogleman, Garrett Evans, Joey Doiron, Garrett Hall. Fogleman’s son Tate gets more headlines these days, as the young lions often do, but Jay is still better equipped to win a race of this magnitude. Evans is super-fast out West, but OPS is a tough nut to crack without prior experience. Doiron would be a No. 1 or 2 seed if not for the non-racing injury that has sidetracked his season. Hall is one of those fresh faces in PASS country and one of the few repeat winners from April to now.

5. Jeremy Davis, Derek Griffith, Dalton Sargeant, Reid Lanpher. Davis is going to win a big race someday soon. For now, consider him a bracket buster. Griffith is probably underrated here after his OPS and PASS wins in the past month. Sergeant is this year’s Christopher Bell, the guy with the top-notch equipment and “future star” tag. Such can’t-miss prospects rarely fare well in this spot. Lanpher was only a car length away last year, but he isn’t having quite the same caliber season in ’16.

6. Tate Fogleman, Derek Ramstrom, Dave Farrington Jr., TJ Brackett. Fogleman and Ramstrom have been racing with PASS since they were both, what, nine years old? So they’re veterans now, and fully capable. Farrington is on the verge of his second Beech Ridge championship, but it’s his improvement in the tour setting that makes him a possible winner. Brackett gets the nod over his dad, who is saving his regular ride for the Saturday night championship chase.

7. Shawn Knight, Tim Brackett, David Oliver, Ben Lynch. Lynch was the sleeper a year ago, rallying from a lap down to finish a surprising third. Knight is capable of leading laps by the dozen. Tires and pit stops are the unknowns for him. Oliver was a PASS race winner a year ago, and yes, Timmy is an Oxford legend.

8. Justin Drake, Scott Robbins, Shawn Martin, Tracy Gordon. As I wrote this, Drake was winning practice on Friday afternoon. Robbins and Gordon have made huge gains after ending their semi-retirements. The Rocket is a past winner; The Flea should have won it five times by now. Martin? Smooth, cerebral, and one of the good guys. I’d love to see him make a run.

9. Mike Landry, Bobby Timmons, Dillon Moltz, Brent Dragon. See? We’re down in the bottom half, and I could make a compelling case for each of these guys winning. Moltz, who does much of his racing in the other New England states for a team based in Jay, intrigues me the most.

10. Dan McKeage, Dennis Spencer, Bryan Kruczek, Kodie Conner. In order: Beech Ridge champion, Oxford champion, one of last year’s pre-race favorites, and a fast youngster from Dale Earnhardt’s hometown of Kannapolis, North Carolina, tackling the 250 for the first time. Spencer has the best long shot potential due to his familiarity with the finicky track.

11. Corey Bubar, Scott Mulkern, Larry Gelinas, Travis Stearns. Gelinas is a past winner (go ahead, argue that point) who always seems to find a way to qualify without using the provisional. Stearns enjoys better luck in ACT than PASS, but local knowledge won’t hurt. Mulkern is never less than ultra-fast, and Bubar was a surprise leader in this race not many years ago.

12. Michael Scorzelli, Andy Saunders, Adam Polvinen, Gary Smith. Polvinen and Smith have won at Oxford this season. Saunders is the Wiscasset champion and point leader. Honestly, I’ve never seen Scorzelli race. He could be the next Jimmie Johnson, for all I know. But again, 250 rookies usually are in for a rude awakening.

13. Scott Farrington, Kyle Treadwell, Kyle DeSouza, Jeremie Whorff. Farrington gets to wake up Sunday morning knowing thats he’s already in the show, thanks to a runner-up finish in the July PASS non-winners’ event. Treadwell and DeSouza don’t lack speed at OPS. Whorff is back with Woodman Racing for his annual bid to recapture the 2006 glory. He should be stronger this year with a few shakedown rides under this belt.

14. Kelly Moore, Matt Matheson, John Flemming, Alan Wilson. Oh, man, I still almost shed a tear when I think of how close Wilson was to the 2004 win. If you don’t at least quietly root for him, you aren’t much of a local racing fan. Matheson and Flemming carry the torch for Canada. Moore isn’t at his late 1980s/early ’90s level, but he’s fully capable of making the show.

15. Scott Moore, Spencer Morse, Jeff Burgess, Wyatt Alexander. Seriously, this is where I start to feel terrible. These guys are all good racers. They’re not North Carolina A&T or Weber State, by any stretch. But somebody has to be the underdog. If you’re in this part of the bracket, you absolutely need a great pre-race draw to have a decent day.

16. JT Thurlow, Gunnar Rowe, John Michael Shenette, Jacob Dore. Again, if one of them draws the pole for one of the heats, the top four and a chance to shock the world are within reach. That’s the beauty of this race.

Final four, plus one: Look for Polewarczyk, Shaw, B. Rowe, Theriault and Helliwell to dice it out for the win.

One shining moment: Polewarczyk wins his first Super Late Model 250 and second overall. No photo finish necessary this time.

Somebody please take a lot of pictures, anyway. I don’t miss everything about Maine, but I will miss this race. It’s special. Enjoy it for me!

Kalle Oakes is a former writer and editor for the Sun Journal. He also was a track publicist at OPS. He now lives and works in Kentucky. He can be reached by email at [email protected]


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