Cody Childs takes his No. 94 street stock around virtual Oxford Plains Speedway in a practice session. Submitted photo

Shawn Kimball’s motivation for starting the Maine iRacing Invitational Series five weeks ago was to provide a way for local stock car drivers scratch the itch of competition and give race fans something to watch while live sports were shuttered by the coronavirus pandemic.

Digital event poster for a local iRacing event at virtual Oxford Plains Speedway. Submitted photo

Kimball’s idea caught the attention of Kevin Varney, who got an idea of his own — put the virtual race cars of iRacing on the virtual track at Oxford Plains Speedway, and like Kimball, dedicate a race to the memory of a late driver. 

After five weeks of circling around virtual tracks from other parts of the country, Kimball and his band of Maine racers will finally take to the 3/8ths-mile oval on Saturday for the running of the Larry Emerson Memorial Street Stock 200. 

“I was watching some iRacing one night, and I got to thinking I’d like to see a street stock race at Oxford,” said Varney, who lives in Mechanic Falls and is owner of Varney Racing, which competes mainly at Oxford Plains. “And then I remembered in the early 90s there used to be a 200-lap world championship race. So I figured I would contact Shawn and maybe do some sort of reprisal of that. Then it kind of dawned on me that we should honor a guy (Larry Emerson, who died in December) who was kind of a staple in street stocks. 

“So I figured, may as well make this a tribute race to a guy who was truly a legend and had one of the biggest hearts for grassroots racing that I know.” 

Kimball said Varney has done “the bulk of the organizing” for Saturday’s virtual race, including gathering sponsors, such as race sponsor Northeast Synthetics. Kimball said his job will be “the race director of what happens on the track.” 

Varney, whose son Brandon has driven in some of the previous races of the series and is a former track champion at Oxford Plains, said he contacted Emerson’s family about turning Saturday’s race into a memorial event. 

“I contacted (Larry’s grandson) Calab (Emerson-Mains) and had him make sure it was OK with the family before I went forward with it,” Varney said. “(Larry’s nephew) Marty (Emerson) is one of the sponsors actually through his Emerson Pilot Car Services business. And (Larry’s grandson) Jonathon (Emerson) thought it was a great idea. 

“Unfortunately, none of those guys are on iRacing or I would have given them a provisional.” 

The cars of Cody Childs (94) and Jacob Heathcoat (32) battle it out at virtual Five Flags Speedway during a iRace last month. Submitted photo

Brandon Varney, who finished second in points for Oxford Plains’ Outlaws division championship to Emerson-Mains last year, will be one of the nearly 50 drivers who will attempt to qualify for the race, which will have a maximum starting field of 27 cars. 

Cody Childs, who also competed in the Outlaws division last year and has been a part of Kimball’s series since the beginning, called Oxford Plains a tough track for iRacing. 

“When it comes to visual features and track surface, (iRacing) absolutely nailed it. I’d say it’s spot on in those aspects, but there are some things that don’t align with the real world,” Childs said. “There’s always great side-by-side racing at Oxford, but in the (simulated version) the second groove is non-existent, so you have to drive the track different to adjust for the different style of racing.” 

Kimball said the broadcasts of the series’ previous races, which have been streamed live on the CMDR Rithwald YouTube page, have averaged hundreds of viewers, with the inaugural race that honored the late Dave Thompson receiving the most views. 

Kimball said the attention his series has garnered has exceeded his expectations, and he expects to see an increase in viewers for Saturday’s broadcast.

Varney is happy to be able to honor “one of the most respected guys in the garage area” at Oxford Plains in Emerson, who won three street stock championships and had 40 career feature wins at the track. 

Kimball’s racing resume at Wiscasset doesn’t have those totals, but he shares Emerson’s love of racing. He’s thankful to have iRacing to turn to until tracks in Maine reopen. 

“It’s different than driving a real car, but the rush of competition is still there,” he said. 

WEEKEND RACING AT OPS CANCELED

Late Thursday night, the Oxford Plains Speedway Facebook page posted an update about racing scheduled for this weekend, and it wasn’t news that fans or drivers wanted to hear. 

“Monday’s Memorial Day event at Oxford Plains Speedway has been canceled,” the post began. We have been working with local and state representatives this week and had high hopes that we had a shot at getting approval for this weekend. 

The season schedule on the track’s website featured the first Motor Mayhem event as well as the opening day for the Oxford Acceleration Series on Monday. Also on the schedule was a fan meet and greet and Oxford Championship Series racing on Saturday, though the Facebook post didn’t specifically mention those events. 

The post did state that the track is “still unable to get our plan to safely operate the Speedway approved” but it is “optimistic that this will change soon.” 

The post said the track is looking into holding “open practices within the coming weeks.” 

Other Maine tracks announced more specific plans for practice sessions on Thursday. “Division-specific” group practices will begin at Wiscasset Speedway on June 6-7, and Beech Ridge is starting its practice session schedule June 4-6. 

Comments are not available on this story.