ARUNDEL — It is often said the best racing at the Oxford Plains 250 occurs in its multiple heat races as drivers battle for a coveted starting spot in Maine’s biggest and richest short-track auto race.
Vanna Brackett intends to turn good heat racing into history at Sunday’s 41st annual 250 by becoming just the second woman to start the race.
“It would definitely be an honor,” Brackett said at Wednesday’s media day press conference held at Bentley’s Saloon.
“She’d actually be the first to qualify without a provisional (starting spot),” her father Tim Brackett, seated next to her, added. “I would be proud.”
Heat racing for the main event begins at 2 p.m.
Travis Benjamin of Morrill is the defending race champion. Benjamin was the first driver from Maine to win the 250 since Jeremie Whorff of Bath in 2006. The winner will earn $25,000 and race leaders are rewarded at a clip of $100 per lap.
For Vanna Brackett, 27, Sunday’s race is less about earning money than it is about proving she belongs.
The Buckfield resident has been competing at Oxford Plains since she was 16 and is now a regular competitor in the Oxford Championship Series Pro Late Model division – the track’s premier group.
She made her first attempt at the 250 last year but a heat-race wreck led to a blown motor, ending her attempt before it ever really got rolling.
“I just got hit by another driver (went) over the curb and ripped the oil pan off of it,” Brackett said. “That was the end of our day. I had a fast car last year. It was an older car but we’d finally got a handle on it and it just got ripped away before even really got going.”
If Brackett can make the race in her pink No. 3, she will join Karen Schulz of Yorktown Heights, New York, as the only women to start the 250.
Schulz was granted a provisional in 1989 after failing in her attempts to qualify. It would be Schulz’s only start in what was then called the Busch North Series. She started 42nd (one spot ahead of Ricky Craven) and finished 42nd (one spot behind Davey Allison).
While Schulz only made one 250 field, Brackett does not see her quest as a one-and-done scenario.
“I could race for a couple more years,” she said. “I’m definitely more prepared this year. We have a better car. I’m feeling more confident this year than I was last year.”
Brackett came to racing like so many others by following her dad. Tim Brackett, 52, is a two-time Oxford Plains track champion.
Now he’s racing against both Vanna and his son, T.J., on a weekly basis in the Oxford Championship Series.
Last season it was a Brackett sweep of the Pro Late Model division with T.J. winning the season title, Tim finishing second and Vanna, who won one race, placing third.
This year the points have been harder to come by for Vanna Brackett, in part because the track is averaging more than 28 Pro Late Models starters in its eight races, a significant increase compared to 2013. She is currently 12th in the points with three top-10s in eight races.
Vanna Brackett began racing go-karts at the age of 14. When she turned 16, she joined the Ladies division at Oxford Plains, winning track championships in that division in 2007 and 2010. After a year in the Strictly Stocks racing against the men, she jumped to the Late Models (then the tracks’ premier division) and then went to the Pro Late Model when the faster cars outfitted with wide, slick tires returned to the track in 2013.
Brackett knows her presence on the track is not always greeted with welcoming acceptance from her male peers.
That won’t deter her from reaching her goal.
“I’d just like to make it and get a good finish,” she said. “Definitely getting in would be a big step for us.”
NOTES: Oxford Plains Speedway General Manager Dick Therrien said he expects a field of more than 70 cars to attempt to qualify for the race. Last year under new owner and speedway president Tom Mayberry, the 250 returned to the more powerful Super Late Model division (or Pro Late Model) and 68 cars attempted to qualify.
From 2007-2012 then-owner Bill Ryan made the 250 a Late Model race in part to spur an increase in car counts. Ninety-seven cars attempted to qualify in 2007 with 82 making an attempt in 2012.
Oxford Plains will host racing on Friday and Saturday leading up to the 250. Friday night the PASS Modified and Sportsman divisions are the headliners. The PASS New England Late Model Series 125 highlight Saturday’s seven-feature race card.