Wayne Helliwell Jr.
Defending Oxford 250 winner Wayne Helliwell Jr., of Dover, N.H., drives underneath Kyle DeSouza coming off Turn 4 at Oxford Plains Speedway on Sunday, July 30. Helliwell will look to make it two in a row on Sunday, Aug. 27.

When most race fans think about a high-profile, short-track race like the prestigious Scott’s Recreation Oxford 250, presented by Fastway Trailer Products, some things that immediately come to mind are prestige, history and an elite list of winners, along with the big paycheck and huge trophy each of those winners receive.

What many people may not consider, however, is the significant expense teams and owners incur while preparing to compete in the historic 250-green-flag-lap feature event.

The expense of attempting to qualify for — let alone run — the showcase Oxford 250 is intimidating, to say the least, and is a topic generally reserved for race shops and team offices.

In the shop of 2016 winner Wayne Helliwell Jr., team owner Bruce Bernhardt and his driver have been working overtime to prepare.

“It takes literally hundreds of hours and a lot of money to make a serious attempt at this race,” Bernhardt said. “When I used to work with the Dions, they took a month to get ready for the 250. We’ve been busy getting ready for weeks now.”

Rubber meets road

One of the biggest money siphons is one shared by every team at some level: tires.

“Last year we bought 22 tires,” Bernhardt said, “and we’ll probably do the same this time. That’s the biggest chunk, coming in at $3,800. We’ll spend about $800 on hotel rooms, and we’ll need a drum of race fuel, which costs $550. We’ll also spend close to $1,200 on testing and track rental. We’ll spend about $6,350 when you add it all up.”

Turner native Glen Luce had his time in the spotlight after winning the 250 for the first time in 2015. As a veteran team owner in the Pro All Stars Series North circuit, Luce is experienced in handling the high cost of racing. He knows what it takes to do it right.

“We actually have it a little easier as a local team, since we don’t have to buy hotel rooms,” Luce said. “We still have to buy tires, and plan to buy 22 for the three days at a cost of $3,800. We’ll spend around $1,000 on pit passes and another $1,000 in general expenses.

“We usually burn up about $500 in race fuel, so we’re up to $6,300 here with no lodging. If I didn’t have great sponsors, we couldn’t make the kind of effort it takes to win the 250.”

Attention to detail

Luce also has an ace in the hole with seasoned crew chief Seth Holbrook, a full-time employee on the team. Both have been going over the car in extreme detail.

“We’ve been checking every single thing there is to go over,” Luce said. “We’re putting on new brake rotors, pads, and a new clutch, even though the old one was working fine. We don’t want anything to fail should we have a chance to win a second 250. We’ll spend at least 100 hours trying to prevent a mechanical failure.”

Travis Benjamin earned back-to-back Oxford 250 victories in 2013-14, driving for his family-owned team at the time. These days, he’s a hired gun for Petit Motorsports.

“We did pretty well to win those two races as a family-owned team,” Benjamin said. “We probably spent the least of any team who’s won in the last decade, because we just didn’t have a big budget at the time. What we did have was good people in the right places, and a fast car.”

Before he had somebody else paying the bills, he knew just how costly preparing for the biggest race of the season can be.

“To go run the 250 in a competitive manner, you’re going to need a budget of between $6,000 and $10,000, depending on how many tires you buy, and how thorough you want to be in preparations. It can be very tough for a lot of teams.

“We’ll buy between 20 and 24 tires this year, so that chews up about $4,000. We’ll pick up the pit passes for our crew members, which adds another $750. With race gas and other miscellaneous expenses, like food, that’s another $500.”

No guarantees

The tough reality is that forking over the money to foot these bills in no way guarantees success.

“We’re looking at a total of $6,550 without any trouble and with no guarantee of making the race,” Benjamin said. “This year, we’re in good shape with the Petit Motorsports No. 7 ride and I feel confident. I’d love to be the third driver who wins a 250 with two different teams.”

Portland, Oregon, native Chuck Bown won the 250 in 1986 for Littleton, N.H.-based Quint Boisvert, and again in 1990 for Virginia-based Hensley Racing. Mike Rowe won it for Phil Gerbode’s Vermont-based team in 1984, with MGM Racing in 1997, and his third for SP2 Motorsports in 2005.

Different package

Joe Polewarczyk also knows a great deal about the cost of racing. His son, Joey Jr., won the 250 back in 2012 when it was a Late Model race. The team has also run the 250 in its current Super Late Model iteration.

“It’s an expensive proposition, no matter what type of car you run,” Polewarczyk Sr. said. “The biggest expense, of course, is all the tires this race requires. We’ll buy 24 for the three days, which is $4,000. We’ll be testing there before race weekend, which adds another $1,200 to the equation.

“Hotels rooms aren’t cheap, so we’ll spend another $1,000 on lodging. Pit passes for the crew will come out at $800, and we’ll easily burn up $600 in fuel for the hauler. If you consider wear and tear on the car and hauler, that can be $800.”

But wait, there’s more. To do it up right, most teams pull out all the stops.

“There are other expenses, as well,” Polewarczyk Sr. added. “It costs us $800 to have the shocks rebuilt; at least $300 for food and $100 just to enter the car. The scary total comes out to $9,600 if you want to make a serious effort at this race.”

Sponsors help

John Griffith is a racer’s father who makes a big contribution to his son’s racing program. Derek, of Hudson, N.H., has already won on the PASS tour this year driving for Louie Mechalides’ LCM Racing squad.

“We’ll buy four and a half sets of tires, which gives us a set for Friday practice and another for Saturday,” the elder Griffith said. “It’s a 10-tire race on Sunday, so with a total of 18 tires, that’s $3,000. That’s probably on the lower end. I know some teams will burn up two sets a day in practice.

“Because we live so far away, we have to get three rooms for three nights at a cost of $1,800. The race car will burn about $500 in fuel; we’ll spend about $750 in pit passes, and another $600 on general expenses. All totaled, it’ll be about $6,650.”

Griffith pointed out that the money doesn’t all come out of his wallet.

“We’re blessed with several good sponsors, because without them, we couldn’t do this. Most of these teams have partners who support them, as well. To compete at this level, it takes solid financial backing. We’ll give it our best effort on Sunday.”

But … why?

The Oxford 250 is the most expensive race of the year for just about every driver involved. Yet it’s also the most important, high-profile race they’ll attempt to run, making it well-worth the effort — and the cash — to make an attempt.

The fame, the $25,000 paycheck, the publicity — and the bragging rights — draw teams by the dozens to the late-summer classic in Oxford.

For those who don’t make the feature, that money is gone. For those who do, the return will manifest itself later in the evening.

“It’s a big financial gamble every racer loves to make,” Bernhardt said. “And if you’re lucky and everything goes your way, it’s one that can actually pay off.”

Glen Luce
Former Oxford 250 winner Glen Luce (No. 7L) follows Farmington’s Cassius Clark into Turn 3 at Oxford Plains Speedway on Sunday, July 30. Luce finished second that day and won the most recent PASS North race at Lee Speedway on Aug. 4. 

Travis Benjamin
Two-time Oxford 250 winner Travis Benjamin of Morrill drives off Turn 4 during the PASS 150 at Oxford on Sunday, July 30. Benjamin won the race after Cassius Clark led the first 137 laps and could try to claim his third 250 crown Aug. 27. 

Joey Polewarczyk Jr.
Former Oxford 250 winner Joey Polewarczyk Jr. of Hudson, N.H., drives off Turn 4 during the PASS 150 at Oxford Plains Speedway on Sunday, July 30. Polewarczyk has made big gains in his Super Late Model program and could contend for the win.

Derek Griffith
Derek Griffith of Hudson, N.H., drives underneath three-time Oxford 250 winner Mike Rowe during the PASS 150 at Oxford on Sunday, July 30. Griffith has been gaining speed in recent weeks and could be a contender for the big 250 trophy. 

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