OXFORD — Being the last to drop a line into the water is usually less-than-ideal for a fisherman. But for sixth-generation Cundy’s Harbor fisherman TJ Watson, fishing for the prize late was a good thing Sunday at the Oxford 250.

Of course, Watson had traded in his fishing waders for a firesuit over the weekend, and the prize he was fishing for was a good starting position for qualifying.

T.J. Watson greets the crowd during introductions for the Oxford 250 on Sunday at Oxford Plains Speedway. Brewster Burns photo

Watson was the third-to-last driver to enter, and therefore the third-to-last to blindly pick a poker chip out of a bag – the 250’s procedure for selecting starting spots for the qualifying heats. By the time it was Watson’s turn, the three chips remaining were chip No. 1 (pole position for heat No. 1), No. 2 (outside pole in the first heat), and No. 57 (14th starting spot out of 15 in heat No. 5).

“I knew I was going to the get the pole chip,” Watson said. “I’ve just been like materializing that in my head for like the last four months, since we put this whole race team together. We’ve drawn the pole one time before – my sister drew the pole, and she drew second, outside pole, the next year.

“When it got down to just a few chips left and the pole wasn’t (gone), I was actually fairly confident I was going to pull it out of the bag. So it just happened. I don’t know. I got a lucky draw, I guess.”

Watson finished second in his heat to secure the No. 6 starting spot in the main event. He estimated it was his seventh time attempting to qualify for the race and his fourth time making it in, but first since 2011. He started seventh that year and finished 34rd. He first qualified in 2007, starting 11th and placing last in 44th. The next year, he qualified 13th and finished 20th.


This time, he finished 26th.

Nick Sweet, the last driver to choose a chip, likened the process to playing games of chance at Oxford Casino down the road from Oxford Plains Speedway. Except, Sweet didn’t really have a choice, or a chance. He watched 56 drivers pull chips, then Watson drew chip No. 1 and Barry Poulin picked chip No. 2.

“I kind of controlled my own luck today; I was the last to enter, and you get the last chip in the bag,” Sweet said. “So that’s the way it goes. It’s just luck of the draw on that.”


Some drivers jump at the chance to enter their name into the 250 as soon as they can, such as 2017 winner Curtis Gerry and 2020 champ Johnny Clark, who were the first two drivers to enter and the first two to pick chips. Sweet, a driver from Vermont who races in the Pro All Stars Series and American-Canadian Tour, instead waited until the days leading up to 250 weekend.

“We never know if we’re racing. We’ve come and gone,” Sweet said. “We decided early last week we were going to go, and here we are.”


Watson said he mailed out his entry weeks ago, but “our mail down in Cundy’s Harbor has been all messed up, and I guess it didn’t make its way here, so we weren’t even on the roster.”

Poulin, from Benton, brought his car out for only the second time this season, and Sunday was his first time attempting to qualify for the 250. He said blindly picking between the Nos. 2 and 57 “is what it is. It was something, I guess.”

“Well, the (No. 2 spot) was good, but we proceeded to the back of the heat so fast. I think the 57 would have been easier,” Poulin said. “The car has just been the worst it’s been all day. We always hope for the luck of the draw, we got the luck of the draw, and then the car was terrible. It’s the Oxford 250. I’m just happy to be here.”

Barry Poulin stayed relaxed before his consolation heat. Brewster Burns photo

Sweet also didn’t have a successful qualifying heat after starting so far back in his heat, from which the top-four finishers moved on to the 250.

“We weren’t as good as I want to be. Tried to run the top in qualifying and really just it wasn’t working for us. So we got to try to get some work going here,” Sweet said after heat racing and before the consolation qualifying races. “It’s hard to pass on the bottom because everybody protects the bottom. But we’ll just keep fighting, and we’ll try to get into this thing.”

Neither Sweet nor Poulin were able to advance from the consolation races or the last-chance qualifier.



Watson’s good luck Sunday was in contrast to his 2022 season leading up to the 250.

“The car, we’ve gone through three motors since we started this season, and it’s just been trouble for us. We just got this motor off the dyno (diagnostic machine) and put it in the car, and we were leaking oil,” Watson said. “So all the testing that we’ve done and everything was just out the window. We’ve been chasing a car that we can’t get the front end under it, and it was just oil on the right front and on the right rear. So I’ve been out driving around on ice. That heat race was literally on sticker tires, completely blind of what the car was gonna do.”

T.J. Watson of Cundy’s Harbor talks with Nate Brown atop his race trailer after qualifying for the Oxford 250 on Sunday at Oxford Plains Speedway. Brewster Burns

After sliding from the bottom of the track to the third groove during practice, Watson made it his game plan to stick to the bottom in his heat.

“Curtis Gerry was starting behind me, and I knew he was fast. And I told him that he was going to have to go around me,” Watson said. “I was gonna yard-sale the field before I gave up that bottom.”

Watson admitted that there’s a lot of pressure to qualify for the 250 with all the time, effort and money that are put into the attempt. He said his equipment this year is the best he’s ever had, and he was able to raise enough money – much of it through a raffle for a tuna-fishing trip – for 33 tires, 20 of those bought just for 250 weekend.

That’s part of the reason why Watson said his hands were shaking after he drew that No. 1 chip.

“A lot of stuff has to happen and go your way, and we’re elated,” he said.

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