(Oxford ME) Racing was back.
At least the way I remember it.
The pits were crowded, and race cars were in places unused until today.
The parking lot was transformed into a campground. Fires were burning and, I suspect, stories of previous races were being shared.
Races were won and for the first time since June 27th you could hear the winner’s support system erupt in cheers.
But all this was tempered by a look across the infield to the grandstand.
There the policies of Governor Mills (D) were on display. In an area ready and willing to hold thousands, there were several hundred spectators.
The Oxford 250 is scheduled for Sunday (August 30th). In the past, the noise of the cars warrants some sort of hearing protection.
The crowds make plenty of noise too. But not this year.
The race will end, and the primary excitement will come from the driver and his close associates.
But I digress!
This is a story about last night’s Bandit’s racing.
It was exciting.
Let me tell you why.
There were folks in the pit grandstand, and they came to root for specific drivers.
There were more cars in the race than usual. I counted at least twenty. The more cars, the more action on the corners.
With eight divisions racing in the heats and a large delay while some 250 drivers got some practice, the start of the feature was delayed into darkness.
Without headlights and running under streetlights, the visibility was limited. Another direct link to action on the corners.
The cautions were frequent in the Bandits 20-lap event. Cars went into the infield. Others went off the track high-side.
The placement in the feature is based on a rolling three-week average. That puts those who show up every week, but haven’t been very successful, in the front. The successful regulars face the task of getting by a collection of less-successful drivers to get where they have been ending up. I actually like the concept because it makes every feature interesting.
But I continue to digress.
The surprises for the Bandits were already in place even BEFORE the race itself.
Jeff Libby got a pole start in the first heat and actually won. I know that he has never won a feature at OPS. I’m guessing that the winless thing might also extend to heats as well.
I have interviewed Jeff after several of his near-wins and he has never made an excuse. He sees me coming and he says, “One of these times….” Tonight was that time!
Jeff had points leader Alex Mowatt chasing him at the end but on this evening, Jeff held off the challenger and had, what has been, the elusive win.
The other heat winner was young Luke Mowatt. Last week, in a heat shocker, Luke held off his older brother for the victory. That impressed me at the time. However, in the feature that followed, Luke could only get 6th.
But there was Luke again tonight winning a heat.
Tonight, however, was only Luke’s fourth feature race of the season, all in the last few weeks. I didn’t think he had the experience yet to be a feature contender.
“I didn’t have a car,” Luke told me afterwards as to why he hadn’t raced earlier in the season.
Tonight, Luke started on the pole in the feature and won the biggest race of his life.
“It was his time to win tonight,” explained his brother Alex post-race.
Luke had the sweet starting spot and a car that could handle the numerous restarts.
Meanwhile, Alex the points leader with three wins, started back in the pack thanks to the 3-week rolling average. That was indeed where the action was.
In recent weeks Alex has avoided most trouble by staying away from the inside. Not tonight. With 20+ cars in play, Alex went off the track early along with Chad Wills and his new car.
“I got a nice dent that I’ll have to fix,” said Alex.
But Alex stayed in the race, as did Chad, and thanks to cautions moved back in contention.
Luke, meanwhile, escaped the fender benders.
“I knew about them, but they were all behind me,“ he said.
Before too many laps were gone, Alex had recovered from his earlier mishap and was in 2nd challenging his younger sibling. Having seen Alex for eight weeks show the ability to engineer comebacks, I was quite certain I knew what would happen next.
But I was wrong.
Luke held his own.
A caution put them side by side near the end but that didn’t matter. On this night, Luke did not wilt. He rode to his first feature win in only his 8th race.
I have four siblings and I know how competitive things can get among us, so I tried the “sibling rivalry” angle with the Mowatt brothers but they wouldn’t take the bait.
“You weren’t just letting your brother go, were you?” I asked.
“No, I was actually trying to catch him,” Alex laughed. “With all that went on I was fortunate to be there to get second.
“I’m happy for Luke,” said Alex.
Caleb Proctor ended third in the car that Chad Wills borrowed (for a win) on August 15th.
Tempers reached an elevated status after one of the multi-car spinouts. OPS security made sure that things didn’t get worse in the pits.
The weather turned cool as the evening wore on.
One of the most dangerous places you’ll ever be in would be the pits at night. The cars, coming and going, have no lights and there are no overhead lights in the pits. It truly can be “look, listen, and run for your life” in that area!
All of the pictures above and below will enlarge considerably if you click on them.
I am on Twitter (McClellandPeter) and Instagram (McClelland Miscellanea).