As the Maine short-track season revs up over the next two weekends, Oxford Plains Speedway and Wiscasset Speedway begin Year Two under new ownership with very different business models.
Oxford Plains and its second-year owner, Tom Mayberry, who also runs one of the top touring series in the Northeast, is ramping up its return to powerful, asphalt-grabbing stock cars.
That puts the track firmly in line with Mayberry’s Pro All-Stars Series (PASS), which includes many of Maine’s best-known drivers. PASS will make three stops at Oxford Plains, including the weekend of Maine’s premier event, the 41st TD Bank 250 – also known as the Oxford 250 – set for July 20.
Multiple divisions of PASS touring cars will kick off the Oxford Plains season Saturday with a 150-lap Super Late Model race as the feature event. The weekly Oxford Championship Series gets started May 3.
“We’re working hard to make it something where it’s like a hand in a glove,” said the track’s first-year general manager, Dick Therrian. “It’s two different things. PASS is a traveling tour and Oxford has its weekly shows but we’re making it so a lot of the weekly competitors can travel if they want, and the PASS guys can do a weekly tour if they want.”
Preseason registration at Oxford for what it calls the Pro Late Model division indicates drivers are accepting the change more readily this season.
“Last year they had anywhere from 14 to 20 cars,” Therrian said. “This year we have over 35 pre-registered. Last year was the first year converting back to those cars and some took a wait-and see-approach, and now they’re jumping on board.”
Mayberry purchased the three-eighths mile track from Bill Ryan in October 2012.
Ryan switched his headline division to the less-expensive Late Model division, aligning with the Vermont-based American-Canadian Tour (ACT) over the final years of his ownership.
Meanwhile, in Wiscasset, Kingfield-based lumberman Richard Jordan and his wife, Vanessa, are continuing with a family-friendly, all-inclusive approach they took in 2013 to gradually rebuild the 35-acre facility.
The Jordans purchased Wiscasset Speedway at auction in July 2012 for $130,000, and set about rebuilding concession stands and the pit entrance, and removing tons of scrap.
“I will say we picked up thousands of tires that people threw into the woods over the years,” Vanessa Jordan said. “The whole facility needed help. It was pretty run down.”
Wiscasset halted racing midway in the 2010 season, and was dormant in 2011 and 2012.
When the track reopened, the Jordans found drivers were interested in up to eight different styles of cars, including a truck division.
The Jordans were convinced they needed to cut the show length down to three hours.
They plan to split the eight divisions into two groups of four that would run on alternating Saturday nights, with a fixed admission price of $5.
“A byproduct was that it made racing more affordable,” said the longtime track publicist, Ken Minott. “At first it wasn’t very popular with the drivers and teams. By the end of the season it proved to be very popular. The majority of drivers found they could do stuff with their family on their off weekends, and didn’t run out of money and could race the full season.”
Wiscasset will stick with its two-group format. Group 1 includes Pro Stock, Super Streets, Outlaw Minis and Legacy cars, and got its season started Saturday. Group 2 (Late Model, Strictly Street, Thunder 4 and Trucks) takes to the track at 2 p.m. Saturday.
Finding the right balance between being affordable – for fans and race teams – and remaining competitive as an entertainment option is the major challenge for short-track operators, said the Beech Ridge Motor Speedway owner, Andy Cusack.
“We all know we’re not in a growth spurt in the economy,” Cusack said. “The point is there’s not a lot of extra money for a sport that relies heavily on sponsorship.”
Beech Ridge, located in Scarborough, is Maine’s oldest track and has been run by the Cusacks since 1981, when it was purchased by Andy’s father, Ralph, a 12-time track champion.
Cusack has adopted a less-is-more approach, with an emphasis on making sure every class that goes on the track is competitive and that the 7 p.m. show is over by 9:30. This year Beech Ridge has eliminated its under-performing Road Runner division on its Saturday night card and will go with three healthy divisions: Pro Series, Sport Series and Wildcat.
Beech Ridge also will host three PASS touring events, including its season opener May 3 and the season finale 400-lap event set for Sept. 13.
The Ridge’s weekly series will start May 24.
Elsewhere in Maine, Speedway 95 in Hermon opens May 3. It will hold a PASS race Aug. 24. Unity Raceway, owned by a three-time Oxford 250 winner, Ralph Nason, has been available for lease since November. Nason said he hasn’t had a qualified candidate show interest to open the track this summer, “though I still have hope that it could happen.”
Steve Craig can be reached at 791-6413 or at: