(Oxford Maine) The empty house at the Oxford Plains Speedway on Tuesday was misleading because I know that’s going to change.
It was Media Day leading up to the 48th Oxford 250 on Sunday.
Be certain that the noise will be coming and the excitement as well.
Today, however, was quiet. There were only two race cars, Kate Re’s #10 and Johnny Clark’s #54, plus several drivers on the track.
I had the opportunity to interview several of the drivers (Johnny Clark, Dave Farrington, Eddie MacDonald).
Johnny Clark was last year’s winner. It was unexpected. Johnny hadn’t won a race at OPS since 2006 and in his most recent race there he finished 26th.
But there he was on Victory Lane last August.
“I remember hearing the track announcer say that ‘Johnny Clark has been rubbing the lucky lamp all night,” recalled Johnny.
“It wasn’t like our win was a fluke,” he added. “We led 101 laps which was more than anyone else. We turned in the fastest lap of the race.”
“We had the car to do it and we were able to get the luck we needed to go to Victory Lane,” said Johnny.
Dave Farrington is in his twenties and very intent on winning the 250 for the first time. Dave took fourth last year and wasn’t very happy about it.
He felt that the numerous cautions and lapped cars made it difficult to make a good run.
“I saw the scoreboard with twenty-five laps left and we were second,” recalled Dave. “For several laps we were side-by-side with Johnny.”
“We were in good position but call it what you will, luck or circumstances, but they took over,” said Dave. “It always seems that there’s that one lingering caution before the end of the race.”
Eddie MacDonald has won the OPS 250 twice. The wins were back-to-back in 2009 and 2010.
In both of those victories, Eddie drove up on the track and no one could keep up with him.
“Our car was really good in those wins,” explained Eddie. “There is so much that goes into winning this race. Pit strategy is important.”
It looked like the beginning of a long string of top finishes for Eddie but that’s not how it’s been.
“I don’t know if the track has changed but we aren’t able to get to the outside,” said Eddie.
“In the last five years, I haven’t been able to come off the bottom of the track here,” Eddie added.
Eddie was optimistic about Sunday’s race: “We came here a couple of weeks ago with a totally different setup and it seems a little bit better.”
“For the most part you can make your own luck if the car is good,” said Eddie. “You try to put yourself in a good position and not burn it up.”
Dave Farrington was expecting a big race from Johnny Clark on Sunday. “We know that Johnny is going to come back with just as good a piece as last year.”
Dave added, “We’ve been maintaining all year. We have a very good piece. Whether we have the fastest car or not, we still need a perfect day for things to fall our way.”
One advantage that Dave Farrington has over other drivers is his familiarity with Oxford Plains Speedway. He has led in points for two straight years.
“We’ve been racing here week after week,” said Dave. “We’ve dealt with any weather/track condition that could come up. We have a notebook with the information we’ve gathered and hopefully it will help us to be there at the end.”
Dave realizes that the weekly OPS races and the 250 are different. “We’ve certainly got just as many laps on this track as anyone else this season. However, we haven’t seen an OPS 250 winner from the weekly Oxford competitors in a while. We’re hoping to break that.”
Dave expected to be busy on Sunday morning. “A lot of teams are practicing this week in their shops,” he explained, “like almost a live, hot pit stop. We’ve got a crew that is scattered throughout the state of Maine. We really don’t get together that often. Our first practice could be on Sunday morning.”
One thing I like about Media Days is that you can ask questions you would never think of doing after an event. So I came prepared.
I asked the drivers to explain how they chose the number they have on their cars.
“My whole racing I’ve been #17,” said Eddie MacDonald. “It was my hockey number in high school (Triton Regional – Byfield MA). It’s one of the only numbers I could have in hockey and racing.”
Johnny Clark (#54) and Dave Farrington (#23) traced their number back to the one their dads used when they raced.
“My dad was born in ‘54,” said Johnny. “He was my hero behind the wheel.”
Kate Re also told me that her #10 came from her dad’s racing number.
How about the car’s colors?
One of the cars you can’t visually miss is Dave Farrington’s. It is bright orange.
“That color helps our spotters find us quicker than all the black cars,” said Dave. “I am also a 2009 graduate of Jay High School where our colors were orange and black.”
Eddie MacDonald has used a variety of colors. “We’ve used orange, red, and black,” said Eddie. “We leave it up to the car owner and the sponsors to decide.”
Johnny Clark’s car for Sunday’s race is not the same one as last year.
“We debuted this car at Loudon in April, and we were actually thrashing to finish it,” said Johnny. “The lettering is what we got at the track. We kept things as they were after we won that race.”
“Back in the early 2000’s I had a white car,” Johnny said. “It had red accents and a red roof and hood. Everyone had a white car so then I decided to go black in 2007. I’m not saying I started a trend, but you look now and there are a lot of black cars out there.”
I asked the drivers about their recollections of the first time they raced at OPS.
Eddie MacDonald: “It was in the late ‘90’s. We had just bought a car and wanted to try it out. I had been running at Lee and the setup at OPS was very different. I got out there and I thought I was going fast but all the locals went flying by.”
Dave Farrington: “It was in 2010-11. I was just getting my feet wet in racing. We’ve come a long way since.”
Johnny Clark: “It was 1997 and the race was the Oxford 250. I was seventeen at the time. We drew #2 out of the bucket for the heat race. Steve Knowlton, Jeff Taylor, Timmy Bracket, and Kenny Wright were all in the heat. They all tangled up about halfway through and we held on to get second and qualified seventh.”
As for the race itself?
All three drivers have provisional qualifications but each of them hopes that they will improve their positioning in the 250 with good runs in the heats on Sunday.
“The provisional qualification would start us about 38th,” said Dave.
“Oxford is definitely not my best racetrack,” said Johnny. “I have, however, made some progress over the last several years figuring out what I need to do here. We’ve won before and we know we can do it again.”
Thanks to the drivers for their cooperation.
I also interviewed teenager Kate Re but unfortunately my digital recorder wasn’t functioning. Maybe I’ll get a chance to talk to her on Victory Lane after the race on Sunday.