Editor’s note: To commemorate the 50th Oxford 250 on Sunday at Oxford Plains Speedway, we asked a current and a former Sun Journal staff writer which of the previous 49 races is their favorite. Kalle Oakes picks 1984. Read assistant sports editor Wil Kramlich’s favorite here.

This photo taken after Mike Rowe became the first Maine driver to win the Oxford 250 appeared in the July 10, 1984, edition of the Lewiston Journal. Screen grab

Nineteen hundred eighty-four.

It’s the subject year of a futuristic novel that both ends of the political spectrum have forever co-opted as a cautionary tale.

Maybe you prefer to remember it as the title of an unforgettable Van Halen album that put “Jump” and “Panama” on the soundtrack at sporting events for all eternity.

Or perhaps it’s stamped on your brain as the Summer Olympics that were a cheat code for the United States thanks to a boycotting communist bloc.

For my money, it is also the chronological center of when the Oxford 250 was at its peak.


At the outset of its second decade, the 250 was in full bloom as the ultimate north/south late model championship race.

NASCAR’s old sportsman class had only recently morphed into the so-called Grand National division (later Busch/Nationwide/Xfinity Series) but had yet to cannibalize the ranks of regional stars who barnstormed the Eastern time zone in search of bucks and bragging rights.

Oxford Plains Speedway, with a visionary owner in Bob Bahre, an expansive grandstand and its quirky, reverse-cambered, almost circular layout, was the perfect venue for such a slam-bang affair.

Adding to the allure were “run-what-you-brung” rules that built the biggest tent imaginable for such a showcase. An absurd 106 drivers attempted to qualify for 40-ish qualifying spots in 1983.

The specifications were policed to an extent that convinced local weekend warriors they could at least qualify and/or compete without getting in the way.

And regional touring stars, while not typically inclined to travel as far from home as their counterparts beneath the Mason-Dixon Line, were empowered to believe they could challenge for the checkers.


Through 10 then-mid-July classics, the nawth (Joey Kourafas, Dave Dion, Don Biederman, Tom Rosati, Mike Barry) had more than held its own against the good ol’ boys (Butch Lindley, Bob Pressley, Tommy Ellis) in victory circle.

I’ll let the peanut gallery decide where New York modified ace, newly moved to North Carolina and on the cusp of NASCAR Cup stardom Geoff Bodine’s two wins belong on that list.

Also, more on him later.

What we hadn’t seen prior to the summer of “Footloose,” “Purple Rain” and “The Karate Kid” was a Maine winner in the 250.

Lord knows Dick McCabe was knocking on the door, cigar in hand. Future craftsman of a three-peat, Ralph Nason, claimed to have beaten Lindley but to no avail in ’76. Harvey Sprague and Jeff Stevens preceded McCabe as podium finishers.

Oh, and there was Mike Rowe, who had broken free from the Saturday night grind after winning four consecutive OPS titles with alarming ease from ’78 to ’81. But with nary a top-10 finish to his credit in the big show, Turner’s top dog wasn’t touted among the favorites when the masses gathered along Route 26 on July 8, 1984.


Tucked into that crowd, six rows from the top of the bleachers overlooking the entrance to turn one, was a stocky, bespectacled 11-year-old finally, hallelujah and glory be, attending his first Oxford 250. Mom believed it was the both the Lord’s Day and probably too late of a night even during summer vacation. It took years to sway her.

It was worth the wait. I witnessed one of the most competitive and caution-filled 250s to that point. No lead was safe. Lap leader bonus money had been in effect for a few years, and pit-stop strategies were as diverse as the field of cars and number of states represented in it.

Rowe, who started on the outside of the fifth row in a black No. 24 car owned by past qualifier Phil Gerbode of Vermont, hung around without much fanfare for the first 200 laps.

Underneath the hood was a V-6 little engine that could. Perhaps at a disadvantage on the straightaways against the V-8s but razor sharp through those tight corners, Rowe’s ride was built for the long haul and to benefit from his local knowledge.

Sure enough, with about 30 laps to go, Rowe powered to the point and was gone like Joan Benoit Samuelson in the Olympic marathon later that month.

Rowe ran away from Robbie Crouch (a star-crossed three-time runner-up in his 250 career) for the watershed win.


Third-place Lindley was treated for dehydration after the grueling night and tragically would never compete in another 250. A crash while leading an April 1985 race in Florida ultimately took his life.

McCabe memorably parked Bodine into the backstretch wall in the closing laps and took full credit for it, much to the delight of the partisan crowd.

After evolving into a full-fledged Busch race in the second half of the 1980s and into the ’90s, the 250 was forced to reinvent its place in a changing and booming sport. It has been primarily a super late model race under the umbrella of various promoters and sanctioning bodies for the past 30 years.

It’s a different animal housed in the same zoo, contested with a format that nobody ever seriously threatens to fix, because it ain’t broken.

I’m not sure if 1984 was the best 250, or the one with the best field. It certainly doesn’t boast the most fantastic finish in a half century of them.

But if you ask me — and no less a recent newcomer to the race than Sun Journal sports editor Lee Horton did — that edition was the race at its peak, won by a local hall of famer over other regional and national hall of famers.

Those of us who have been alive for all 50 years of this party may sometimes have trouble recalling what we ate for breakfast. But rest assured, 1984 was the marquee event at my old home track that I’ll never forget.


Kalle Oakes was a Sun Journal staff writer and columnist — and, for a four years, sports editor — from 1989 to 2016.

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.