John Salemi (63) gets turned around in front of Eddie MacDonald (17) during a race at Oxford Plains Speedway earlier this month. Oriana Lovell photo

For nearly all of the drivers attempting to qualify, the Oxford 250 is the biggest race of the year.

Brandon Barker (88) drives behind TJ Brackett (61) going into Turn 1 at Oxford Plains Speedway earlier this month. Oriana Lovell photo

But it’s not the only race on the schedule.

The long path to racing at Oxford Plains Speedway the last Sunday of August began in April and has included more than 20 features for some drivers — along with some competitive qualifying heat races

Making it through that path with little to no bumps in the road — or, worse, damage to the car — can be just as grueling as the 250-lap crown jewel on the Pro All Stars Series schedule.

“If you wreck during the season bad enough, I mean, it puts your whole season in jeopardy, hurts your budget,” Windham driver Brandon Barker said. “The 250 cost a ton of money for teams.”

Most teams don’t have that kind of money just laying around.

“For a small team like us, a crash before the 250 really puts us in a bind financially,” said Calvin Rose Jr. of Turner. “We only have so much to work with for a budget.”

Rose’s budget, as well as his 250 preparation, faced a challenge when he was involved in a big wreck in late July, but he and his team have fixed his No. 8 car and fine-tuned it back into racing condition.

The Oxford 250 is the big fish that drivers are angling for, but they’re still racers. The 20 or so features that come before the 250 are just as competitive as the 250 and still come with a checkered flag and a winner’s check at the end.

“To us, the most important race is always the next one,” Kyle DeSouza of Turner said. “We take everything one race at a time.”

Ryan Moore (47) and Trevor Sanborn (29) sandwich the car of Dave Farrington Jr. during Super Late Model action earlier this month at Oxford Plains Speedway. Oriana Lovell photo

As much as they want their cars to be in good shape for the big race, Barker said drivers can’t be worried about crashing during any of those pre-250 races.

“Yeah, I look forward to the 250 every year, but if you’re worried about crashing your car in races before the 250, you shouldn’t even race them races,” Barker said.

DeSouza and Rose share similar sentiments about not worrying about wrecks.

“I try not to think about accidents and whatnot, just in hopes it doesn’t happen,” Rose said. “We race door-to-door with a handful of weekly guys that we can really trust not to run us dirty. It’s actually the weeks coming up to the 250 when a lot of other teams not running for points show up that things can get a little hectic.

“I’d say the few races before you start to think about the big show coming — which is why we skipped out on the (PASS race at Oxford on Aug. 14). Couldn’t risk any more damage, budget-wise.”

Ryan Littlefield after suffering front-end damage during Super Late Model action earlier this month at Oxford Plains Speedway. Oriana Lovell photo

DeSouza said part of the shared respect among drivers comes from each of them know how much money goes into the cars.

“Hundreds of man hours and thousands of dollars go into making these machines into the works of art that each and every car is,” he said. “Everyone at this level has learned to respect and appreciate what goes into making a race car and the amount of preparation that goes into not just this race but each and every race.”

Crashes not only make a dent in the wallet, they can also affect a car’s performance, even after it’s fixed.

“You can’t make your car faster by putting fenders on it and replacing bent parts,” Barker said. “Something I am still trying to learn.”

And the extra time it takes to makes those fixes often takes away some of the time typically used for making adjustments that make the car faster.

“It took us about four nights to get ours back together right (after a crash in a race on July 31 at Oxford), but we all have full-time jobs and only so many hands to help,” Rose said. “It’s when you get into bending suspension points, that can really set you back on getting the car back where it should be. Some of the bigger teams probably wouldn’t take so long.”

Calvin Rose Jr. (8) drives in traffic during Super Late Model action at Oxford Plains Speedway on Aug. 7, 2021. Oriana Lovell photo

Barker, who won the 100-lap Oxford 250 qualifying race that Rose crashed in, said he tries to keep good notes on his car so car builder and fabricator Robbie Harrison can get it back the right way after any damage.

Rose said there’s always a fear of not knowing how a damaged car will run after it’s been fixed. His team was able to find the right setup the week after his most recent crash and he drove it to an Oxford Plains weekly Super Late Model division win.

“We like to test once the car is ready again. Luckily, ours still went good and we got the win after the wreck,” Rose said.

Unlike Rose and DeSouza, Barker competed in the most recent SLM race at Oxford and placed fifth in the 150-lap feature.

None of the three drivers will be holding back Sunday or giving special worry to preserving their cars.

It’s the Oxford 250. It’s go time.

Derek Kneeland’s car sits torn up and turned around at Oxford Plains Speedway during a race on July 31, 2021. Oriana Lovell photo

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