Forty Pro All Stars Series Super Late Model teams made their way to Oxford Plains Speedway on Sunday afternoon for what was billed as the final tune-up for the 42nd Annual Oxford 250. Many, including this writer, made their way to that event thinking it would sort out the pretenders and the contenders for the “250” on August 30.
Boy, were we all wrong.
Sunday’s H.P. Hood 150 accomplished the exact opposite of what we all believed that it would. Instead of sorting out the pretenders and contenders, the race only added more names to the list of drivers expected to be contenders.
Fifty-three drivers are currently on the entry list for the Oxford 250 and that number is expected to rise to over 70 as the countdown to race day continues. It is not an exaggeration to say that close to half of those drivers have a legitimate chance of taking home the big $25,000-plus check.
Of course this doesn’t mean there still isn’t a handful of favorites going in, but the gap between the handful of favorites and the rest of the contenders is as small as it has ever been.
Travis Benjamin enters this year’s Oxford 250 looking to join Ralph Nason and become just the second driver ever to win three straight. His success at Oxford Plains Speedway and in the Oxford 250 certainly makes him one of those favorites.
Mike Rowe, the current PASS North points leader and the winner of this year’s first race at Oxford, is another that you can probably add to that list of favorites. He will be looking to make history as the only four-time winner in the history of the event.
Joey Doiron should also be looked at as a favorite. The two-time PASS North winner this season has led a total of 92 laps and contended for the win in both Oxford 250’s since the event returned as a Super Late Model event.
But in addition to those favorites, there’s a long list of other drivers who could very well end up in victory lane.
How can one overlook Bryan Kruczek after his dominating performance at Oxford Plains less than one week ago? The answer is: you can’t.
Kruczek has proved on multiple occasions this season that his flat track program is just as good, if not better, than anyone’s right now. He’s had the strongest car in both events at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway (ME) this season and charged from 21st to win Sunday’s H.P. Hood 150 at Oxford.
Could August 30 be the day that Kruczek shines and becomes a name known by short track racing fans throughout the country? It very well could be.
What about Jeremy Davis? Our friend Steve Perry at Mainely Motorsports likes to call him “Podium,” and rightfully so. Davis has been one of the most consistent Super Late Model drivers in the Northeast this season. In addition to two wins with the Granite State Pro Stock Series, Davis has recorded top-five finishes in five of his last six PASS North starts including a runner-up finish Sunday at Oxford.
If a little bit of luck goes his way, he will certainly be a contender.
Although both Kruczek and Davis turned in impressive performances in the final tune-up for the Oxford 250, the driver that caught the eye of this writer was 20-year-old Garrett Hall. Hall is essentially a Super Late Model rookie after making just one start at the end of the 2014 season. But on Sunday afternoon, Hall looked like a veteran as he made his way from the 26th starting spot to eventually finish third.
On his way through the field, Hall passed an impressive list of drivers including Benjamin, Rowe, D.J. Shaw, Johnny Clark and Kelly Moore. According to Scott Tapley of the website InnovativeStats.com, Hall has recorded the highest average position(s) improved in PASS North competition up to this point of the season.
He’s turning heads and there’s a good chance that the thousands of fans in attendance and watching on 51 TV will get to know his name a little better on Sunday, August 30.
Kruczek, Davis and Hall are just three of the drivers who have recently earned themselves “contender” status. There’s a whole lot more that we haven’t even mentioned including Mike Hopkins, who had one of the best runs of his career on August 2 at Oxford. Hopkins led laps before eventually being nipped at the line by Hall for third.
You also can’t forget the local drivers, the weekly warriors, who compete at Oxford every week during the summer. Every year there’s one or two Oxford regulars that work their way into contention during the biggest race of their season. Last year it was eventual track champion T.J. Brackett who battled near the front before finishing fifth.
Current Oxford Super Late Model point leader Tim Brackett, T.J.’s father, has been on a roll and told Speed51.com powered by JEGS just a few weeks ago that, “if the car is as good then as it is now, we’re going to have a good night.”
Beech Ridge Motor Speedway will be well-represented with many of their weekly Pro Series competitors making the trip to Oxford for the richest Super Late Model event of the season in the Northeast. Current points leader Reid Lanpher recently became the first driver in five seasons to repeat in the division. With many similarities between the two tracks, Lanpher very well could be hitting his stride at the right time heading into the “250.”
Recent NASCAR Camping World Truck Series winner Christopher Bell will lead the charge of drivers from the southern part of the country hoping to win one of short track racing’s crown jewel events. He has no prior experience at the tricky Oxford oval, but he’s sure to be a contender with the help of the Kyle Busch Motorsports team that won the race just four years ago.
In addition to all of those drivers mentioned in this column, there’s many more that weren’t mentioned but certainly have what it takes to be contenders on race day.
Two-time Oxford 250 winner Ben Rowe, six-time PASS North champion Johnny Clark, defending American-Canadian Tour (ACT) champion Joey Polewarczyk, Jr., two-time ACT champion Wayne Helliwell, Jr., Trevor Sanborn, David Oliver and D.J. Shaw are just a handful of those other drivers capable of coming out on top.
With so many strong teams and the recent performance from a few unexpected contenders, the 42nd Annual Oxford 250 is as wide open as the race has ever been. When you add that aspect to an event already full of prestige and hype, it’s a great thing for short track racing as a whole.
Race fans throughout the world can watch this year’s Oxford 250 live on 51 TV. For more information and to purchase, click here.
-By Brandon Paul, Speed51.com Editor – Twitter: @Brandon_Paul51
-Photo credit: Norm Marx/Pro All Stars Series