(Oxford ME) Last year it was Johnny Clark.
This year, Cassius Clark.
No, they’re not related.
But both, in successive years, put an end to their Oxford 250 frustrations.
Cassius was the latest, winning the 48th annual Oxford 250 on Sunday night at Oxford Plains Speedway.
Cassius had failed to win the event in thirteen previous tries, same number as Johnny Clark.
It wasn’t a record either one of them wanted to be a part of. Their eventual success, however, should be an inspiration for those who keep trying to win the event.
“We’d dominated so many 250’s,” explained Cassius recalling his frustrations. “In other attempts, we had led with twenty-five laps left and had been in front for over hundred laps and yet failed to win. The race was just a thorn in our side!”
But that changed tonight. The Farmington (ME) resident took the lead for good with twenty-seven laps left.
Cassius also had to survive a pretty good bump from second-place finisher Curtis Gerry on the final turn to get the win.
“I bumped him a little bit and moved him over,” said Curtis afterwards, “but I didn’t make it to the line to beat him. I wouldn’t want to win that way anyway.”
The entertained crowd was treated to thirteen restarts. Not a favorite of drivers but fans love them. The spread-out field tightens up and the corners become very interesting to navigate.
Cassius Clark got his first lead on Lap 177. There would be six restarts after that. On this cool (60’s) evening, Cassius, on the inside, was the quickest on the restarts.
A hint of what was coming today was a race two weeks ago in which Cassius won a PASS 150 event at OPS.
“That was my first race since last year’s 250,” said Cassius. “The car had been taken back to Canada last year and they worked on it from our mistakes and made this thing awesome.”
Before today’s race, Cassius was actually confident about winning. “We thought today we were going to have a bit of a cakewalk, but they definitely made us earn it.”
Cassius bumped with Eddie MacDonald (6th) battling for the lead and ended up with a nice dent on the right side of his car.
Derek Griffith (3rd) started twenty-ninth and got to the front, even holding the lead on Lap 222.
“We were good,” said Derek afterwards. “We came up through and we led some laps. The last set of tires we burned up a little bit on the outside. However, we’ll take what we got.”
Derek was second in the 250 two years ago.
Joey Doiron (4th) was third last year. This year he was in contention again.
“We tried to maintain with Curtis (Gerry) in the first run,” said Joey after the race. “We did lead a few laps.”
“After our pit stop there was a huge wreck,” added Joey, “and we ended up having to hop the curb. I don’t know if we bent something on our left or right front. The car wasn’t quite the same afterwards. We didn’t have enough at the end, but we did hold on, though.”
The most disappointed driver post-race was probably Curtis Gerry. Curtis started the race in fourth and was in the lead or near the lead all race long. Curtis led from laps 6-108.
“It was frustrating to come so close,” said Curtis afterwards. “I was definitely faster than him (Cassius Clark) on the bottom, but I don’t know if I had anything on the outside for him.”
“We had a really good car in the first run,” said Curtis. “We got a little too free at the end of the race. When we pitted and took tires, they were a little too snug for the outside but very good on the bottom.”
If it had been the Oxford 251? “I think I would have gotten him in one more lap,” said Curtis. “Once I was under him, it would have been over.”
Curtis will get a sizable check for the many laps he led. They’re worth $100 each.
Johnny Clark (5th) told me afterwards that he almost didn’t race.
“You wouldn’t believe what we were making for changes and how bad we were,” said last year’s winner.
“We certainly didn’t have a fifth-place car at noontime today,” said Johnny. “We were thinking we should just pack up and go home.”
But they did stay, and despite starting thirty-first, were able to get fifth.
“The track was rubbing up so much,” he added. “I’ve never seen it like this before. It made things so tight. But we came home fifth and that’s nothing to hang our heads about.”
Cassius Clark knew his car was good. “I knew that my car was super-fast,” he said, “so if I stayed on the bottom, they were going to have a hard time getting by me.”
“Curtis (Gerry) was really fast,” added Cassius, “and he was on me there. He definitely made me work for it.”
Derek Griffith: “Every time we’d gain a little bit, he (Cassius Clark) would just gain it right back. I feel as if I used the car up a little bit on the outside of him on those restarts. I wish I had been restarting from the bottom.”
Cassius Clark: “I’ll have to ask my buddy Johnny (Clark) how long it takes for this win to settle in. The atmosphere here was awesome.”
Bubba Pollard (10th) started last (43rd). The driver from Georgia came north in 2018 and won the 250 on his first try.
Billy Clark (Cassius’ dad) was in the OPS 250 six times in the 1980’s and 1990’s.
Notably missing from the race were frequent OPS 250 driver Jeff Taylor and highly-touted Florida driver Stephen Nasse. Neither did well enough in the heats to qualify.
The win by Cassius Clark was the first for anyone from Maine’s Franklin County.
Teenager Kate Re was the lone female entrant. She finished twenty-seventh.
The temperatures in the 60’s were certainly a big surprise for late August. The coolness had to make the upper parts of the track more workable.
TJ Bracket (39th) and DJ Shaw (42nd) started in the front but the race didn’t go well for either of them.
Thanks, from me, to the OPS owners for giving me a chance to take pictures and get interviews for this entry.
(All of the pictures above and below will enlarge considerably if you click on them.)