Stephen Nasse and his crew member, Chris Cater, work on his car in between practice runs on Friday at Oxford Plains Speedway. Adam Robinson/Sun Journal

Practice laps, tinkering with the car, the long days and changing elements.

Those are all things drivers at Oxford Plains Speedway have been dealing with as they prepare for Sunday’s Oxford 250. 

“You have to be insane to want to do it,” said West Bath driver Nick Reno of the grind of preparation leading up to the big race. “Just the amount of money and the time and everything put into it, but it’s such a huge event. If you have anything to do with the racing community in Maine or New England, the Oxford 250 is it. It’s always been my one goal in racing, to race in the Oxford 250. Not win it, just get in it.”

Sometimes, the days and weeks of preparation go smoothly. Other times, drivers need to deal with some major car problems. Stephen Nasse, who has traveled from Pinellas Park, Florida, to compete in his first Oxford 250, has struggled to keep his car’s engines running.

“It’s been difficult,” Nasse said. “Chevrolet has put us in a tight spot with these motors. I think it’s seven in the last two weeks that have blown up. … We’ve been working hard, and when you get a brand new motor you never expect to have these kinds of issues. The trip was good and we are happy to be here, and we have a new motor so hopefully this one lasts.”

Even though he’s experienced major motor problems over the past two weeks, Nasse said he has continued to learn about the track and how his car runs on it. As his knowledge of Oxford Plains has grown, so has his confidence.

“It’s a different race track. The slower you go, the faster your times, so you have to slow it down, roll into it real slow. And my fastest laps I feel like I’m going nowhere on the corner, but they’re my fastest laps,” Nasse said. “I enjoy it and I know they produce good racing here, so I hope we can be a part of the whole show. My confidence is pretty high. I didn’t feel great coming in but we’ve had some practice laps and I actually feel pretty good.”

Another traveler from the South, Bubba Pollard of Senoia, Georgia, said he has learned from his previous runs at Oxford Plains, which includes a victory in his first attempt in 2018.

The year after he won, Pollard said he tried to make too many adjustments to his car during the week leading up to the race, and it cost him.

Bubba Pollard of Georgia with his car on Friday in between practice runs at Oxford Plains Speedway. Pollard won the 2018 Oxford 250 in his first attempt but has struggled the past two years. Adam Robinson/Sun Journal

This year, he’s taking it easy in practice. 

“Sometimes I feel like we overthink it, and as crazy as it sounds, you’re over-prepared,” Pollard said. “If you just go out and do what you’re used to and what you’re accustomed to week-in and week-out, I feel like you’ve done better. I feel like that’s what we did the year we won it in 2018. The next couple years we over-thought the race. We didn’t know how big it was until we won it.

“We try to keep the same routine in the things we do, but the biggest thing, being here for three or four days, is keeping up with the race track. It changes so much and the track temp changes, and so it makes it tough to stay disciplined.”

Pollard and Nasse have both learned about the track, the wisest ways to use the week and how to best tune up their cars to be in contention to celebrate in victory lane on Sunday.

Reno, meanwhile, isn’t focused on winning but on qualifying for the race after missing out in his previous couple of attempts.

“As far as the race goes, we haven’t even thought of a game plan because our focus is on getting in,” Reno said. “We are focusing on short-run speed when everyone else is focusing on long-run speed. We need short-run speed to get into the race. Once we get into the race then we will adjust from there.”

Reno said he is now driving Super Late Model cars full-time and is more prepared than he was for his most recent Oxford 250 qualifying attempt three years ago.

Other drivers, such as D.J. Shaw, have their sights set beyond the qualifying heats, with the thinking, Shaw said, that, “If you don’t qualify then you weren’t good enough to win, anyway.”

“That’s obviously the first thing you’ve gotta do, and you have to qualify good to have a good chance, but you’ve gotta come with a mindset to win,” Shaw said. “It’s one of those deals for us, if we aren’t good enough to qualify then we weren’t good enough to win, and it’s not that big of a deal, anyway.

“Don’t take yourself out of contention. If the car is good, don’t do something stupid. The heat races are longer than normal so do what you’ve gotta do to position yourself good for either the feature or the next round of qualifying. Think about the bigger picture and try to have something to race with.”

Shaw noted that the large field, which includes top drivers from all over the country, makes winning the Oxford 250 even more difficult to win. But it also makes victory lane even more sweeter. 

“I like it, really,” Shaw said. “The (No.) 13 team with Cassius (Clark) is probably one of the two best teams in the Maritime (Pro Stock Tour) in Canada, so you’re getting that area represented. Then you’ve got Pollard and Nasse, who are probably two of the four best in the country. With (Derek) Griffith being here and being the best up this way and so many regulars here, every corner of the East Coast and beyond are represented here, so if you win, you know you beat the best.”

The grind of getting their cars ready for the 250 is grueling, but, drivers agree, that the race is worth the grind.

“It’s our Daytona,” Shaw said. “Everyone wants to win it and everyone puts so much into it and there’s so much time and effort and money being spent.

“It’s an event. You can feel it in the atmosphere here, with the camping and the fans, and it would be an honor to win it.”

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