Oxford 250 champion Johnny Clark celebrates in victory lane after winning the 2020 race at Oxford Plains Speedway on Aug. 30. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Editor’s note: Obviously, the biggest sports story of 2020 in the Sun Journal’s coverage area was the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. For our year in review, we decided instead to count down the other top stories of the year.

The biggest race of the year had its smallest fan turnout in its nearly 50-year history, but the Oxford 250 was able to survive the coronavirus pandemic.

Due to restrictions, only 200 fans were allowed in the 8,000-seat front grandstand on Aug. 30, while thousands more were relegated to having to watch a livestream of the race on their phones, tablets, laptops or desktop computers.

Everyone watching witnessed Hallowell’s Johnny Clark winning the crown-jewel race for the first time in his long and otherwise successful career.

“We came into this believing,” Clark said after the race. “I still can’t really believe it, though. It’s a little weird. With COVID, the place isn’t going nuts. I saw the back pit going nuts, which was awesome. It’s still the Oxford 250. It’s awesome. I’m just tickled.”

Clark had accomplished everything in the Pro All Stars Series except win the 250, entering the 47th edition of the event having claimed six series championships and 37 series victories. To win in his 13th try at Maine’s biggest race, Clark had to hold off nine-time Oxford Plains Speedway track champion Jeff Taylor.

Clark certainly had a car capable of winning the race — he and his No. 54 car posted one of the fastest practice times the Friday before the Sunday race. However, in a nod to “2020,” all of Saturday’s action — racing and practice alike — was washed out due to rain. So, instead of a three-day weekend’s worth of preparation, the Super Late Model racers had to scrap some of the information learned from Friday’s practices because of changes to the track caused by the rain.

In another ode to 2020, Alan Tardiff earned the pole position for the 250 after winning the first heat race. Painted on the hood of Tardiff’s car as it took the opening green flag was the logo for “iRacing,” the racing simulator that many drivers took to in the spring, during the early stages of the pandemic, while waiting for the on-track racing to start.

Jeff Taylor, right, tracks down Alan Tardiff during the early stages of the Oxford 250 at Oxford Plains Speedway on Aug. 30. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal file photo Buy this Photo

Taylor, one of the most accomplished drivers in Oxford’s history, had one of his best chances to take home his first 250 title, but a self-imposed penalty — he admittedly blew past a stop sign exiting pit road — put him too far behind to catch Clark.

“I figured I better stop and penalize myself before they had to,” Taylor said after the race. “I don’t know if that’s the way it would have worked — I really don’t know. It just comes from not racing enough (in recent seasons).”

Taylor had to settle for his third runner-up finish after crossing the line 0.722 seconds behind Clark. Joey Doiron rounded out the podium, and Dave Farrington Jr., the hottest driver in the series entering the race, finished fourth.

Teenager Kate Re made 250 history by becoming the fourth female to make the starting grid, but she was the first to race her way in through the qualifying process. Re finished second to 2017 winner Curtis Gerry in the final consolation qualifier, and just ahead of two-time winner Ben Rowe.

This year’s Oxford 250 was the first following the death of race creator and former track owner Bob Bahre in July. Bahre was able to attend one final 250 in 2019, for which he was named grand marshal. The track hosted a memorial service for Bahre in late July.

The history of the race, along with honoring the drivers for all their year-long preparation for the race, was one of the major reasons track owner Tom Mayberry went forward with this year’s Oxford 250, despite the grandstands being limited to 2.5% capacity.

Mayberry will certainly be hoping to host more fans when the 48th edition of the event comes around the final Sunday of August 2021.

“I can tell you this, if it’s like this again next year, I wouldn’t do it,” Mayberry said in the lead-up to the race. “If everything was the same as it is right now, I wouldn’t because it’s just been too hard.”

“This race needs the fans,” he said.

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