Far from home, Bill Ryan Jr. walked into a restaurant in Los Angeles on a February day in 2011 and quickly scanned the room. Where’s the television? Would it be showing the Daytona 500?

That was Ryan’s introduction to Trevor Bayne, the 20-year-old driver with no pedigree and practically no one’s hope to win NASCAR’s biggest race. The owner of Oxford Plains Speedway and the promoter of the TD Bank 250, stared at the television.

“Wait a second,” Ryan remembers saying to himself in amazement. “Who’s going to win the Daytona 500?”

An unknown youngster from Knoxville, Tenn., whose life was transformed that day. Overnight, he became the darling of the sport. “Everyone loves the underdog,” said Ryan. “He was certainly that.”

Monday, Ryan announced Bayne was entered in this summer’s TD Bank 250. Bayne, a native of Knoxville, Tenn., joins a lengthening list of Sprint Cup drivers who have come to this dusty short-track oval. The race, first run in 1974 has drawn crowds of more than 10,000, making it Maine’s biggest one-day sporting event.

It’s an all-star race of sorts, mostly pitting American-Canadian Tour drivers against the so-called Saturday Night drivers who stay at home on their local tracks. Sometimes, PASS drivers from the rival tour in northern New England will enter a race-legal car. Sometimes strangers show up.

Every year since Ryan took over Oxford Plains Speedway in 2004, there has been at least one Sprint Cup driver to add salt to the stew. That the July 22nd race date coincides with an open weekend on the Sprint Cup schedule obviously helps.

Bayne will qualify for the big race in a Late Model Sportsman car owned and prepped by Kendall Roberts of Barre, Vt. Steven Wallace, son of Rusty Wallace, raced a Roberts car in 2009. Brad Keselowski was in it a year later.

The locals may respect their richer and nationally known counterparts when they wheel their race cars onto the track but it hurts when a Kevin Harvick or a Kyle Busch wins, as they did in 2008 and 2011 and take the $50,000 or so out of the purse.

That kind of money goes a long way to funding a race team in New England for the rest of the season.

To most Cup drivers it’s pocket change. Hey, several years ago, some Cup drivers got $10,000 an hour just to sign autographs and say a few words to their fans.

Which brings us back to Trevor Bayne. He’s not collecting empty bottles and cans for their deposits, but the struggling economy has put him out of work on many weekends. He races for the Wood Brothers, a team long on history but short on cash.

Bayne has gone to only six of the 17 Sprint Cup races run so far. He is back at Daytona for this weekend’s race.

No sponsorship money has kept him out of one of Jack Roush’s Fords on the Nationwide Series, a rung below Sprint Cup racing on NASCAR’s ladder. Winning the 2011 Daytona 500 did not give him a golden key to unlock doors.

Bayne is not going hungry, certainly, but he’s racing for his supper every time the Wood Brothers find the sponsorship money to put him back into their race car.

Before the economy went bust, team owners Roush and Rick Hendricks and Roger Penske and Joe Gibbs seemed to be adding another car every other year.

Now the money’s gone and hope has taken a beating. Although Bayne, a devout Christian, never seems to be without faith.

He’s a please and thank-you type. In the public eye, he’s the antithesis of Kurt and Kyle Busch, Harvick and Keselowski, who have all worn the bad-boy sign around their neck.

Although, truth be told, each was approachable to race fans and media when they raced at Oxford Plains.

Going back to racing’s roots, which Oxford Plains and the TD Bank 250 represents, can do that.

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: [email protected]

Twitter: SteveSolloway/PPH