(Oxford ME) Optimism and uncertainty abounded.
Today was Media Day for Sunday’s 46th running of the Oxford 250.
The Honey Badger Bar & Grill setting had five drivers; Curt Geary, Mike Rowe, Derek Griffith, DJ Shaw, and Garrett Hall on hand. Ben Rowe arrived later.
“At my age (69) I’m still excited about the 250,” said 3-time winner Mike Rowe. “A lot of drivers have a chance to win it. You can’t make any mistakes.”
“If I wasn’t the winner, I’d want my old man to win,” said Ben (2-time winner) with a smile.
Ben took a second at Oxford in July and he was quoted as saying that “it felt like a win.” Makes sense when you realize that in Ben’s previous twelve starts at Oxford Plains Speedway his best showing was one fourth.
“It eats at you when you haven’t won a race in a while,” recalled Ben. “You ask yourself, ‘Did I forget how to do this?’, and ‘Did I forget all I know?”
Ben won the Oxford 250 in 2003-04. “I got stagnant because we were ahead of everyone else, but they caught up. It has taken us this long to get back on top.”
Young Derek Griffith (22) watched the race the first time he saw it. “We came over (from New Hampshire) and didn’t make it in. I was real young. It broke us down a bit. We ended up sitting in the backstretch stands. It was a cool show.”
Derek sounded like an OPS 250 promoter as he discussed the event: “There is nothing like this race. It’s crazy watching 41 cars drive around the OPS. Anyone can win. The amount of talent and good cars that are here for this weekend is amazing. People that come for the first time will come back for the rest of their lives.”
Derek has won races this year in Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire.
Last year was Garrett Hall’s first try at the Oxford 250. He finished fourth.
Despite Garrett’s success in 2017 his lack of experience in the big race is causing him some anxious moments: “I’m losing sleep. There are so many different factors that run through your mind. It’s stressful. It’s not a race that is easy to get ready for.”
One of the biggest struggles includes the length of the race and the infield pit stop that is required. None of the other races that these drivers run in have the length and that pit-stop requirement. Not only does the driver have to be on his game but his crew needs to as well.
One driver, however, who is familiar with all this is last year’s winner, Bubba Pollard. “Bubba is used to running and winning long races (All-American 400, Rattler 250) and has a crew in place that knows what to do,” added Ben Rowe.
Even though Bubba could handle the quirks of a long race, he came in (from Georgia) last year totally unfamiliar with Oxford Plains Speedway. “What Bubba did last year was impressive. Some good drivers have raced here for years and never won. He comes in for the week and wins it!”
Bubba will be in the field on Sunday. He would seem to be the driver to beat. “I liked Bubba to win it last year,” said Ben, “even though he had never seen Oxford. We tested Beech Ridge with him and then we came over to Oxford. I knew right off the bat that he’s that good.”
Based on this season’s results at OPS, the 250 favorites would be Curt Geary and Nick Sweet. Nick has been very good lately at the track while Curt had been good all year. Curt won the 250 in 2017.
“The race is unique,” added Derek Griffith. “At times it’s four and five wide. You get guys that can start dead last in the consolations and win this thing. That’s what Mike Rowe did in 2005.”
Derek wanted the race to start right away. “I’m ready to go. The campers are rolling in and the parking lot is filling up. I wish we were here with a truck and trailer today!”
I asked Derek if he had any superstitions: “I got a new race suit the end of 2017 and every time I wore it, I got wrecked. I’ve been wearing my old suit for the majority of this year and we’ve had a good year.”
Garrett Hall gave even more detail to his race-day superstitions. “I am very superstitious: the racing suit, socks, even underwear. Can’t bring a grill to the track. No hamburgers or cheeseburgers….and there’s even more!”
The race should certainly be an exciting one with so many intangibles and so many terrific drivers/cars on the track.
Who will be standing near the $25,000 check on Sunday night?