Mike Rowe waits to be called during the pre-race draw at the Oxford 250 at Oxford Plains Speedway in August 2017. Sun Journal file photo

 

It was 14 years ago that Gary Drew made history, not just for himself, but for every driver who ever competed in what has long been a very competitive top division at Oxford Plains Speedway.

When Drew — who had a reputation for having lightning-quick race cars that somehow faded over long-distance races — won the Oxford 250 in 2001, it marked the first time a driver competing full-time that year in Oxford’s weekly division claimed the coveted Oxford 250 trophy. Making the feat all the more remarkable, he did so by holding off fellow weekly warrior Scott Robbins for the win.

The very next season, Robbins won the Oxford 250 for himself.

No weekly driver at Oxford Plains has done what Drew or Robbins did since.

In the 17 years since Robbins’ turn in victory lane, the list of winners has been a who’s-who of racing at the regional and national levels of stock car racing.

There are two NASCAR Cup Series champions who have won in Kevin Harvick (2008) and Kyle Busch (2011). Two-time Pro All Stars Series champion Travis Benjamin has three victories (2013, 2014, 2019). American-Canadian Tour champions Joey Polewarczyk (2012) and Wayne Helliwell Jr. (2016) have each won an Oxford 250. Massachusetts’ Eddie MacDonald, who has driven in every regional tour in the Northeast as well as the NASCAR Cup Series and NASCAR Xfinity Series, went back-to-back in 2009 and 2010.

Hall of Fame driver Mike Rowe and his son Ben Rowe, the winningest driver in PASS history, each have won it. Georgia’s Bubba Pollard, perhaps the best Super Late Model racer in the nation, came up and won the race in 2018 before ever having seen the track in person.

But being among the sport’s iron hasn’t been a prerequisite for winning the Oxford 250, either. Glen Luce and Curtis Gerry had zero wins between them — ZERO — in a combined 101 career PASS races before each won the Oxford 250 once in a three-year span between 2015 and 2017. Who could forget Jeremie Whorff in 2006 or Roger Brown in 2007?

The trip down memory lane, and through some of the legacy-defining performances and utterly shocking victories, is all a pre-cursor to the real question.

What will the the 47th annual Oxford 250 look like on Sunday?

We know it will look different. The grandstands will be virtually empty and the usual throng of people that crowd the facility each year for the spectacle alone will be thinned dramatically. 

And given that the racing season in Maine didn’t even begin until the end of June, more than two full months after its regularly-scheduled opening, nothing this summer has been normal. Races have been few and far between, with PASS itself contesting all but one of its eight races to date at only two venues — Oxford Plains and White Mountain Motorsports Park in North Woodstock, New Hampshire.

Is this the year that we get another surprise winner, the way we did with Drew, Luce or Gerry? Does Dave Farrington Jr., who’s won three straight in weekly competition at Oxford, join Drew and Robbins in the annals? Does nine-time Oxford champion Jeff Taylor finally add the one line missing from the top of his decorated resume?

Or given the lack of track time overall this season for all the competitors involved, do we see the cream rise to the top in the form of PASS point leader Nick Sweet of Barre, Vermont — winner of half the races run this season — or three-time winner Benjamin as he chases history? Is it somebody else like Cassius Clark, Johnny Clark, Derek Griffith or someone similar, a group of whom has a number of near-misses between them.

This is my 27th consecutive Oxford 250. Over the two and a half decades covering this particular race,  I’ve learned never to trust my eyes. I’ve seen lap times, I’ve seen qualifying lineups, I’ve seen starting grids. They almost never add up.

What I do trust are my ears. When you report on racing for a living, you learn to hear what people are saying. When they say they don’t know what to expect this weekend, I’m listening.

Nobody seems to know who the race sets up for this weekend. Given everything that’s happened, it’s hard to blame the insiders themselves for not having a clearer picture.

In a year that’s been anything but predictable, all any of us have learned to expect is the unexpected.

That we’ll even have an Oxford 250 champion at all on Sunday evening might be the craziest part of this entire 2020 season.

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