(Oxford) Go ahead, try to predict the outcome of Sunday’s 49th annual Oxford 250. (I will at the end of this entry.)
On Thursday afternoon, the OPS track owner (Tom Mayberry) and a collection of race entrants gathered on the track ahead of the Oxford 250.
Three tents were set up on the edge of the track for the purpose of lessening the heat for the projected warm afternoon.
Just as the proceedings were set to begin, the rains came. Instead of the heat it was the down-coming water that the tents deflected.
Tom Mayberry laughed and said, “We could have been inside but there was 0% chance of rain.”
The unpredictable weather in these parts and projecting the OPS 250 winner on Sunday night are certainly similar: No one really knows for sure how things will go.
I had the chance to discuss the upcoming race with seven drivers on Media Day: Cassius Clark, Eddie MacDonald, Johnny Clark, DJ Shaw, Gabe Brown, Max Cookson, and Bubba Pollard.
Owner Tom Mayberry said he expects sixty+ drivers to try to qualify and have forty-two drivers in the race.
Below is a selection of quotes from each of the drivers.
CASSIUS CLARK – “I haven’t raced since last year’s 250. I did attend a race but sat in the grandstands. I’ve had my fair amount of laps around this place. It hasn’t changed. It’s still a big circle. Just planning to get back in the car and go. We’ll have plenty of practice this weekend. I never watched last year’s race. I did see the highlights on TV. I haven’t thought too much about racing but when I walk though the kitchen in my house, I can see the trophy sitting on the mantle. It’s a good memory. (Regarding Curtis Geary’s bumping on the final corner) We kind of expected someone to get into the back of us there. I was prepared for it. I slowed my pace down a little anticipating getting run into. I didn’t want to get knocked off the bottom there. He was going to have to do a lot more bumping to get by me through there. I haven’t seen any of the guys since last year. The car hasn’t raced since last year.”
EDDIE MACDONALD – “We switched cars up last week. There are a lot of good guys here. This is always a tough race. Everything must work out for you. It’s a lot of fun up there in the upper groove when the car handles right. Last year we ended pitting for four new tires near the end. With 50-60 laps left we had the lead but then we ended up getting spun out going around a lap car. Hopefully on Sunday we’ll be there at the end and have a shot at winning.”
JOHNNY CLARK – “Hoping for a little better than last year. You try to put yourself in a position where good things can happen. We want to be in the top five near the end with a shot at it. Last year we were too tight on the last set of tires. We would have been better off to have left them alone. You don’t know if it will be a long-run race or a short-run race.”
DJ SHAW – “We won the last race here a couple of weeks ago. I was running 17th through forty laps and then the car decided to take off. I’m not usually too good driving on the ‘Angels’ Express’. The main goal in going higher is not to lose out there. We did everything wrong all day last year. We pitted at the wrong time and then didn’t have fresher tires than the people in front of us. We got caught up in a skirmish and just decided to park it. Hopefully we’ll improve and get back to the previous year. This is the best momentum I’ve had going into this race. There are too many guys who have a shot to feel confident that you can win.”
GABE BROWN – “Luckily, we’ve gotten in on a provisional. I think this year we’ve actually got a car that can make the race and be competitive. In 2018 I raced here weekly and ran up front every week. We then struggled in the PASS races with the same car and against the same people. This place changes so much but that is the character of it. I think that we have a better handle on it this year.”
MAX COOKSON – “It’s a pretty cool feeling to be in the race. I’ve watched all the races forever. I’ve watched the races online, picking them apart. I admire Bubba (Pollard). He’s won everything from here to California. I want to do what he’s doing. We have the car. We need to stay patient. We’ve got to complete all 250 laps. We’re putting a crew together. I have a lot of people involved from my hometown. Some have never been to a racetrack before. We’ve had them over practicing pit stops.”
BUBBA POLLARD – “What keeps me coming back (from Georgia) is the atmosphere, history, and the fans. You look around and see all the campers and fans. We had great success a couple of years ago. We want to get our ducks in a row and our feet back on the ground. We didn’t qualify last year so we started 40th. We were able to drive up toward the front and have a top ten race car. Hopefully, we can build on notes we took from last year. The first year here we came in not knowing what to expect. We didn’t know how the racetrack changed. We ended up winning. I believe that the last few years we’ve been overthinking it.”
I put this at the bottom because how many readers will actually read this far? I am about to make my predictions.
I believe that the winner’s last name will be “Clark.” It could be Cassius again or it could be Johnny.
Cassius won last year. His car is well rested and so is he. He has finished in the top eight in six of the last eight years.
Johnny won in 2020. He has the best record of anyone over the past three years never finishing lower than fifth.
Those two are my favorites but I must give consideration to several others in the field.
Derek Griffith finished 3rd last year and 2nd in 2019.
Curtis Geary was a close 2nd last year.
Joey Doiron finished 5th or better in three of the last four years.
DJ Shaw finished 6th or better in three of the last four years.
Trevor Sanborn has been excellent at OPS this year and finished 8th in the last two 250s.
Dave Farrington has been in the top eighteen for five straight years.
Brandon Barker has been in the top nineteen for four years in a row.
Ben Ashline has top-thirteen finishes the last three years.
Plenty of possibilities with very little certainly. Could make for a very exciting Sunday at Oxford Plains Speedway.