Willow, a dachshund belonging to Norm and Deb Steeves of Pittsfield, waits for a ride Wednesday morning at Oxford Plains Speedway before the rain came. The Steeves have seen every race since 1974, and were the first to arrive last week. They travel the race circuit and know many racers, with Travis Benjamin a favorite. The couple expect Nick Sweet to win this year’s Oxford 250. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

OXFORD — The first rule of camping at Oxford Plains Speedway during 250 weekend: Don’t take Chris Wiltshire’s spot.

“Twenty people around here will be like, ‘Get the hell out of here,'” Wiltshire said while standing around a fire with friends Wednesday afternoon.

Wiltshire, of Vermont, has been attending the Oxford 250 since he was 16 years old, including some trips with teenage friends. He said he has witnessed camping at the speedway shift from makeshift tents and pop-up campers to recreational vehicles and tour buses.

“We used to come up here, when it was nothing like this, with 20 bucks in our pocket for bread, baloney and some beer,” Wiltshire said.

For Wiltshire and other dedicated racing fans, the Oxford 250 is like the Super Bowl of stock car racing. He reserves 250 weekend every year. Far from his job in human resources, the 250 is a time to relax and have a lot of fun.

“I wear a suit every day. I come here, and this is it,” he said, gesturing toward half a dozen friends who were sitting around a campfire and enjoying beverages. “This is like a deer camp weekend for me. It’s in my book for the next 20 years. It’s where we go, what we do, no matter what.”

Set up in front of the speedway’s gates, Deb and Norm Steeves of Pittsfield said they have camped at the racetrack for a decade. Norm Steeves said he is a friend of Tom Mayberry’s, the president of Oxford Plains Speedway.

Joe King of Jay plays cornhole Wednesday with Mike Libby of Windham. Both have been coming to the races for the past 20 years. King borrowed his brother-in-law’s camper, background, for the week. The men predicted a win by Nick Sweet or Curtis Gary. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Steeves said he has always been active in the state’s racing community, also attending races at Unity Speedway. He added that he is eager to see 72-year-old driver Dean Grant compete in the vintage category Saturday. 

Steeves said he counted about 520 campers during 250 weekend last year.

As the storm clouds gathered Wednesday, Norm and Deb Steeves battened down the front of their RV, decorated with a palm tree lamp, a hula girl holding a checkered flag and a pink lawn flamingo. Deb Steeves said she will cart their 11-year-old dachshund, Willow, around the speedway in a stroller throughout the weekend.

She said Willow started coming to the races as a pup, and the roar of the engines does not bother her.

Deb Steeves of Pittsfield holds her dog, Willow, before the rain came through Oxford Plains Speedway on Wednesday. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Years ago, Norm Steeves said, the 250 weekend had a reputation as a rowdy, Wild West affair, but things have been quiet and safe for years.

“It’s been very good, very quiet,” he said. “We’ve been here so long and we know so many people. Even if you don’t know them, if they’re walking by, they stop and talk. Once a year we come out here, sit back and enjoy. We love doing this.”

For Wiltshire, that camaraderie — and some great races — will keep him coming back as long as he can.

“It’s the same cast of characters, just getting older and older,” Wiltshire said.  “It’s a great event, and we love coming up here.”

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