There was a special buzz in the pit area and in the grandstands Sunday afternoon during the Pro All Stars Series (PASS) 150 at Oxford Plains Speedway (ME).
The excitement, anticipation and reward made the 11th race of the PASS North season much more than just your normal 150-lap touring series race. In fact, it was anything but normal; the day felt like a prelude to the 45th Annual Oxford 250 on August 26.
This should have been a normal Sunday PASS 150 at Oxford. But it wasn’t. There was something special about it.
To begin, there were 50 (yes, five-zero) PASS North Super Late Models packed into the pit area at the historic 3/8-mile oval in Oxford, Maine.
While one may think this is status-quo for the final extended-distance race prior to the Oxford 250, that’s not exactly true. Last year’s July PASS North race at the track drew 20 less cars than it did this time around. The same race during the 2016 season featured 36 Super Late Models.
Having 50 cars in the pit area for a “regular” asphalt Late Model touring series show without an increased purse is not status-quo. While short track enthusiasts everywhere would love for this to be the norm, it’s a rarity in today’s short track racing landscape. More than likely, that number will be unmatched by any “regular” touring series show this year.
It’s worth noting that there’s nothing wrong with these other touring series’ and their car counts. It’s pretty much par for the course in 2018. As a matter of fact, PASS North averaged just over 21 cars for their 10 races prior to Sunday.
But 50 cars is a spectacular car count for even some crown-jewel events. And yet this race wasn’t a crown jewel for even this very race track. So again, there was something special about Sunday’s race.
The quantity and quality of the cars alone created a sense of excitement. It also created a sense of drama similar, albeit on a smaller scale, to that experienced during Oxford 250 qualifying.
Due to the large number of cars in attendance, drivers were broken up into five qualifying heats with 10 starting and four transferring into the main event from each. The remaining 30 drivers were split into three consolation races with 10 drivers starting each of those races, but this time just three transferring into the main event from each.
With 29 drivers locked in and 21 on the outside seeking a starting spot, the list of drivers in the last-chance race could have easily been mistaken for a list of pre-race favorites.
Two-time Oxford 250 winner and defending PASS North champion Travis Benjamin, 2016 Oxford 250 winner Wayne Helliwell, Jr., 2002 Oxford 250 winner Scott Robbins, current Oxford Plains Super Late Model points leader TJ Brackett and current PASS North championship runner-up Derek Griffith all failed to qualify through the first two rounds of qualifying.
Griffith and Benjamin (second and third in PASS North points) were ultimately granted provisionals, while Brackett was forced to race his way in through the winner-take-all last chance race.
The qualifying rounds alone made Sunday’s event feel special, but the reward(s) that awaited drivers made the race even more meaningful. At the end of the race, the top-five finishers were rewarded with provisional starting spots for their choice of the Oxford 250 or the Commonwealth Classic at Richmond Raceway (VA).
Knowing how intense qualifying for these two events will likely be, having the chance to earn a guaranteed starting spot certainly upped the ante for all 50 teams in attendance.
At the end of the day, the race itself didn’t disappoint either. Although it wasn’t a barn-burner that featured loads of drama, it was a good race that featured a lot of movement throughout the field.
Ultimately, “that seven (G) car” of Curtis Gerry peaked at the right time to score his fifth straight PASS North victory at Oxford, dating back to last year’s Oxford 250.
Gerry’s remarkable victory put an exclamation point on a day that felt like much more than your average touring series show. The huge car count, intense qualifying rounds and the prize on the line made Sunday feel like a mini-Oxford 250.
-By Brandon Paul, Speed51.com Editor – Twitter: @Brandon_Paul51
-Photo credit: Speed51.com