ARUNDEL – Oxford Plains Speedway staff expects over 70 Super Late Model cars to attempt to qualify for Sunday’s 41st annual Oxford Plains 250.

That would represent an increase in the number of cars vying for one of 34 guaranteed starting spots in a race that offers $25,000 to the winner and a total purse over $97,000.

Sixty-eight cars attempted to qualify in 2013, according to Oxford Plains General Manager Dick Therrien, the first year the race went back to the Super Late Models format.

“We’re really expecting a great day,” Therrien said. “A good day would be 8-10,000 fans at the front gate and another 3-4,000 in the back gate. We already have 100 campers on the ground.”

Eighty-two cars attempted to qualify in 2012, the last of six straight years when the race featured the slightly less powerful Late Model cars.

Travis Benjamin, 35, of Morrill is the defending champion and will bring the same car he took to victory in 2013.

“It’s our only car; we really don’t have a choice,” Benjamin joked at Wednesday’s media day held at Bentley’s Saloon.

Benjamin has won three of the past four long-distance races held at Oxford Plains, including two Pro All-Stars Series (PASS) races.

“We’ve got a good car, it’s just that it’s the 250 and anything can happen,” Benjamin said. “If you get a bad number for the heats then you’re chasing it hard all day.”

Other past champions on hand at the media day were three-time winner Mike Rowe and two-time winner Ben Rowe, both of Turner. Representing the Oxford Plains weekly racers were Tim Brackett and his daughter, Vanna Brackett, of Buckfield, Shawn Martin of Turner, and Jeremy Davis of Tamworth, New Hampshire. Pro-All Star Series drivers DJ Shaw of Center Conway, New Hampshire, and Joey Doiron of Berwick also attended.

Mike Rowe, 63, is still on the short-list of top contenders. He won the race in 1985, 1997 and 2005.

“We’re running good, we’re running up front and I see no reason why we can’t win this thing,” Rowe said.

“It’s a race where you have to have patience. You’re not going to win it 50 laps in.”

The 20-lap heat races are a critical component to the annual highlight of the Maine auto racing season. Drivers must finish in the top four in one of the first six heats, or top three in three consolation races. All remaining drivers will get a Last Chance heat race for the 34th qualifying spot. The promoter also has at least six provisional starting spots.

Among the entries in this year’s race is New York native Steve Park, a two-time winner on the NASCAR Sprint Cup series. Therrien said since Park entered the race, the track has seen “a tremendous boost” in ticket sales from the New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts fan base.

There also could be a female driver in the race for just the second time.

Vanna Brackett, 27, is in her fourth season driving in Oxford Plains’ top division, finishing third in points in 2013 in the Pro Late Model ranks. She is the sister of 2013 Oxford series champ T.J. Brackett.

Karen Schulz received a provisional starting spot in 1989 and finished 42nd.

Last year Vanna Brackett attempted to qualify but wrecked midway through her heat race while in a qualifying position.

“I’m more prepared this year; feeling more confident this year than last year,” she said.

Oxford Plains will host racing on Friday and Saturday leading up to the 250. Friday night the PASS Modified and Sportsman divisions will join the track’s regular weekly divisions. The PASS New England Late Model Series 125 highlights a seven-feature race card. On Sunday, the heat races for the Oxford 250 are set to begin at 2 p.m.

Steve Craig can be reached at 791-6413 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: SteveCCraig

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