Tommy Stilphen didn’t expect to win a Late Model race so early in the year at Oxford Plains Speedway, and he certainly didn’t expect to make history at the track, but that’s exactly what the teenager did last Friday night.
Stilphen, 14, of Arundel, became the youngest driver in OPS history to win a championship series race when he took the checkered flag in a 40-lap Late Model feature.
“I didn’t expect this at all,” said Stilphen, an eighth-grader at Saco Middle School. “I was totally pumped. It’s pretty unbelievable. I’m just surprised because I didn’t think I would win this quickly.”
New OPS owner Tom Mayberry lowered the minimum driver’s age at the track from 16 to 14 this season, and Stilphen took advantage in a big way Friday.
He won his qualifying heat and started fourth in the feature.
“I was pretty nervous,” said Stilphen, whose grandfather, Bill Stilphen, runs Richmond Karting Speedway. “But I got up to second pretty quickly and then had to reel in the leader.”
Stilphen did just that, passing eight-time track champion Shawn Martin on the outside in the final lap to win the race.
“When he gets focused, he can drive,” Bill Stilphen said. “We’ll see how he can do moving forward. This was his third race and we held him back a little in the first two. But this time we decided to let him go.”
Tommy Stilphen started racing when he was 6 years old. He drove a PASS Modified car last year before the rules change at OPS enabled him to hop into the Late Model that his grandfather owns. Trevor Sanborn, a Pro All Stars Series North driver, serves as Stilphen’s crew chief.
Bill Stilphen, 60, took the car to Hickory, N.C. in the offseason and tested it.
“Then we brought it back and when Mayberry dropped the age to 14, we put Tommy right in it,” he said. “He’s fourth in points right now, and if we can keep him out of trouble out there, he can maybe get first or second. We’ll see.”
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The clean-up days are over, the final structures have been painted and a new sound system is in place.
All that’s left now for Unity Raceway is the racing to begin — and that happens Sunday.
“We’ve been working away at the track,” said Jere Humphrey, who leases the track from Ralph Nason. “We’ve made some improvements and gave the track a facelift. We’re looking forward to opening back up and seeing what will take place.”
The track, which was closed for much of last season because of financial difficulties, will host a 67-lap Late Model feature that will pay $850 to the winner. The green flag will drop on five regular divisions.
Humphrey said he is curious to see the car counts Sunday.
“We’re unsure of them right now,” he said. “We had 52 cars pre-register for the season. We’ll have a few guys from Speedway 95 and the (American-Canadian Tour) is also off this weekend so some of those guys might come. It’ll be interesting to see. This is a rebuilding year for Unity Raceway.”
Unity hosted practice sessions last weekend and Humphrey said it was a pretty good turnout.
Racing begins at 1 p.m. Sunday. The pit gates open at 9:30 a.m. and the grandstands at 11.
“We’ll try to put out a good program,” Humphrey said. “We’re looking forward to getting it started.
We’re looking forward to seeing some cars go around the track.”
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Another year, another adjustment for Vanna Brackett.
But this time the 25-year-old Buckfield driver is a little more experienced and a little more prepared.
Brackett is a regular racer at Oxford Plains Speedway, and she’s moved up the ladder the last three years. After driving in the Ladies Division, Brackett switched to a Strictly Street car in 2011 before she hopped in a Late Model last year.
Now, she is driving a Super Late Model owned by Winthrop native Kevin Burgess after Mayberry tweaked track rules at OPS.
For the third straight year, Brackett is adjusting on the fly.
“They’ve changed the car again, but I’m adapting to this a little quicker,” she said. “It’s easier to change from Late Model to Super Late Model. It was totally different going to a Strictly.”
Brackett finished 13th out of 14 cars at the season opener April 28. A week later she was 12th.
“Getting the car to handle was always a challenge,” she said. “I was comfortable but the car wasn’t.”
Soon, they both would be.
Brackett finished a season-best eighth last Friday and says she is ready to make a run at a podium finish.
“The first two weeks were a struggle,” she said. “But now we’re getting better. We couldn’t get the car to turn in the corners but now we’ve got that figured out. We want to get a couple of wins. Some podium finishes would be nice, too. We’re moving in the right direction.”
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It’s been an eventful season for Fairfield native Jeff Burgess.
The 2011 Unity Late Model points champ won three consecutive races at Wiscasset Speedway before he blew a motor last weekend.
“It was a parts failure,” he said. “When you have that it breaks many parts. We saved the intake and the heads and everything else was a loss.”
Despite the blown motor, Burgess still plans to race Sunday at Unity. He’s borrowing a motor from Mark Norris, a Farmington native, something he also did in 2010.
“We had a blown motor in 2010 and borrowed a motor from him and went out and won four races,” Burgess said. We’ve done this before so we’ll see how it goes. We’ll go to Unity this weekend and see if we can re-coup some of my losses. The last time we were there we were pretty fast.”
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Left turns: Three-time Unity Late Model points champ Frank Moulton is moving from Bingham to Ellsworth, putting his summer racing schedule on hold. Moulton said he hopes to run a part-time schedule later in the summer, possibly at Unity or Speedway 95. … Brian Hoar made history at Airborne Speedway in Plattsburgh, N.Y. last weekend when he won his 39th career ACT race. It was the second win in the last three starts for Hoar.
Bill Stewart — 621-5640