PHOTO: Shawn Martin is one of a host of Oxford Plains Speedway locals trying to win the TD Bank 250 this weekend. (Justin St. Louis/VMM photo)
OXFORD, Me. — Oxford Plains Speedway’s racers aren’t scared of a few outside invaders. At Sunday’s TD Bank 250, their biggest competition may come from each other.
Only four regular Late Model races have been contested at Oxford this year, plus an American-Canadian Tour event in June. An average of nearly 30 drivers have competed at those four weekly events — with a whopping 37 in the pits on July 2, the largest weekly Late Model field in New England this year — each with drivers from New Hampshire, Vermont, even as far away as Ontario and New Jersey, joining the Maine locals.
Each time, the locals have won. Only one outsider, Miles Chipman from Epping, N.H., has earned a top-ten finish, running fourth two weeks ago. And in that ACT Late Model Tour event — where all but a few were invaders — Oxford regular Jeff White trounced the field.
Former track champion Shawn Martin of nearby Turner, Me., says bring it on. Martin won at Oxford on July 9 and has two career ACT victories at the track. He finished fourth in the 2008 TD Bank 250 and fifth in 2009.
“I love racing against a lot of cars. The bigger the race, the more laps the better, I think,” Martin said Wednesday.
Racing against large fields, Martin says, has helped him prepare mentally for Sunday’s blockbuster event. More than 60 cars — including one fielded by NASCAR star Kyle Busch — have already entered as of Saturday afternoon. More are expected on Sunday.
“We had never had to qualify for a Saturday show, but we had to do it [on July 2], which is great. It made things interesting,” Martin said. “It definitely gets you into that whole ‘250’ mindset that you have to make the show and run against a lot of cars.”
The TD Bank 250 will see as many as 75 entries attempt to qualify through heat races, consolation races, and last-chance events. Six heat races were run last year. Oxford Plains Speedway management recently applied a treatment to the outside lane that adds cornering grip. Many asphalt-surface tracks around the country use similar methods.
While drivers enjoyed the added traction on the high groove, some were concerned that there wasn’t enough grip on the bottom lane.
“There’s plenty of inside, it just has to be where you want to set your car up for,” Martin said. “Last week it was a little less just because they gooped up the second groove and we’re not used to having that much grip. If you try to run down low you get a little loose coming off, [but] we made the bottom work, we made the middle work, and we’re happy with that. I think the track’s a lot of fun. Whenever they goop that stuff up it makes you search and try to find different lanes, and I think it’s fun.”
Martin, Don Wentworth, Ricky Rolfe, and Tommy Ricker have each won at Oxford this season, in addition to White’s ACT victory. Top contenders from the weekly roster will also include nine-time track champion Jeff Taylor, Tim and T.J. Brackett, Carey Martin, Shawn Knight, Jimmy Childs, veteran Al Hammond, and Corey Morgan, who finished third in last year’s TD Bank 250. ACT competitors Ben Ashline, Glen Luce, Dave Farrington, Jr., and Dennis Spencer, Jr., also have strong ties to Oxford and have run well in weekly events there this season.
The crown jewel for them and racers across the country is Sunday’s 250-lap classic.
“There’s two goals I have left in racing,” said Martin, 32. “I think of myself as kind of seasoned now, I’ve been racing for fourteen years, and this is as far as I’m probably going to go, so my two big goals I’ve got are winning the 250 and [New Hampshire Motor Speedway].
“But if I had to choose one,” Martin grinned, “it’s definitely the 250.”