OXFORD — Gentlemen — and ladies — start your engines, the 41st Oxford 250 is here.

Often referred to as ‘Maine’s greatest race,’ the tires will hit the asphalt beginning at 2 p.m. with an afternoon of heat races, all leading up to the main event as the sun begins to set and the natural light is replaced by the buzz of the stanchions.

“With these type of cars there’s about four big races throughout the country. This is definitely one of them,” said Joey Doiron, who enters the race third in the Pro All-Stars Series North standings. “You win this race everybody knows who you are. This is a race that can really put you on the map.”

From Doiron to three-time Oxford 250 champ Mike Rowe to current PASS North points leader Johnny Clark, just about everyone agreed on one thing heading into Sunday — it is anybody’s race to win.

Here is a look at five groups in no particular order that could take the checkered flag:

PAST CHAMPIONS

There will be four previous winners in the field Sunday, including 2013 champ Travis Benjamin. In last year’s race the Morrill native took over the lead from Doiron on lap 209 and used some nifty maneuvering around lapped cars to hold on for the win.

“Going into last year I knew we had a good shot at winning but honestly this is one of those races that growing up as a kid I didn’t dream of winning it, I just dreamed of being a part of it,” Benjamin said. “I never had the expectations that we should be the ones to win.

“This year I do feel like we should be the ones to repeat. There are so many good cars out there it’s hard to say that. To win one is more than I ever dreamed of, to win two it would just be that much sweeter.”

Benjamin won the PASS North title in 2012, but since then has not had quite the same sustained success — except at Oxford Plains. In his last four starts at the track — dating back to last season — Benjamin has won three times.

“Travis was good at Oxford earlier in the year,” said fellow PASS North competitor D.J. Shaw. “He’s definitely going to be a contender to repeat.”

Someone who knows a thing or two about repeating at the Oxford 250 is Ben Rowe, who won the race in 2003 and 2004 before his father, Mike, ended his streak in 2005. At 64-years old Mike Rowe is attempting to become the oldest winner in the race’s history and given the way he has run so far this season, there is no reason to think he could not do it.

“You can’t count out Mike,” Doiron said. “If it comes down to it with 30 to go and Mike can sniff the lead you know he’s going to be hard to beat.”

Also in the field Sunday is 2002 Oxford 250 champ Scott Robbins, of Dixfield.

NASCAR NAMES

How much does experience on the big stage play into a race like the Oxford 250?

Steve Park and Austin Theriault enter Sunday’s race on opposite ends of their careers, but each bring NASCAR experience to the table.

Park got his start racing in the Winston Cup for Dale Earnhardt Inc. in 1996 and over the past 18 years has competed in the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series.

“If I am fortunate enough to win the 250 I want it with a guy like Steve Park in the race because then you can say I beat the best,” said current PASS North points leader Johnny Clark, of Farmingdale, said. “It means that much more to you at the end of the day.”

The 20-year-old Theriault, meanwhile, has been knocking at the door at Oxford Plains for the past three years. In 2011 and 2012 he finished third in the 250 — giving 2011 winner Kyle Busch a good fight in the process — and last year he placed fourth.

“We have a pretty good history at that track but obviously the win has been elusive,” he said. “Sort of the same story for a lot of people. There are very few that have come out on top in that race and the ones that have come out on top at that race have cherished the moment.”

Theriault, of Fort Kent, has run two NASCAR Nationwide races this season for JR Motorsports — finishing 21st at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 12 and 15th at Iowa Speedway on May 18 — and is hoping this is the year he breaks through.

“It would mean a lot for not only myself, but the whole team. I think it would be exciting for everybody. It’s Maine’s biggest race and New England’s biggest short-track race,” Theriault said. “This is the crown jewel of short track racing. For a lot of people winning this race might be more exciting than a Nationwide race in New Hampshire.”

PASS NORTH

Johnny Clark first competed in the Oxford 250 as a 17-year old in 1997. He started seventh, finished 11th and since then has gone on to have one of the greatest careers in the 14-year history of PASS North.

After struggling the past few seasons, Clark — who had his best finish in 2005 as runner-up to Mike Rowe — is once again back on top in PASS North.

“He’s back in a big way. In the past he’s been the benchmark and they’re a championship organization,” said D.J. Shaw, who relinquished the points lead after a 22nd place finish at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway on July 5. “They’ve struggled for two years but I think everybody knew it wasn’t going to last forever. He’s back in full force and I think he’s better than he’s ever been.

“He’s going to be tough to beat, but if anybody can do it I think our team can.”

Shaw, Clark, Benjamin, Doiron, Cassius Clark, Mike and Ben Rowe have been duking it out on the PASS North series all year. Each will be gunning for the title Sunday, but Doiron in particular will have something to prove after finishing second to Benjamin last year.

“We came so close last year that it would have been nice to get it, but it opened a few doors and I was able to race a few races down south this year because of how we ran,” Doiron said. “I feel like we’re running just as strong as last year heading into this race, so I think there’s no reason why we can’t run at least as good as we did last year.”

LOCAL KNOWLEDGE

Knowing the track can go a long way in a race like the Oxford 250.

While the PASS North racers have been battling it out throughout New England, competitors like Shawn Martin, Jeremy Davis, Shane Green, Tim, T.J. and Vanna Bracket have been honing their craft all season on the very same track they will compete on today.

“Those guys are good,” Mike Rowe said. “They could end up winning this things as well.”

Martin — the Late Model points leader at Oxford Plains — in particular is a name many drivers bring up as a potential winner Sunday.

“I still say Shawn Martin is a sleeper in this,” Johnny Clark said. “I really think that Shawn Martin has got a good car for the long haul and he’s been racing there every week.”

PASS SOUTH

While the field is predominately rooted in New England, a handful of competitors from PASS South will compete.

Daniel Hemric, of Kannapolis, N.C., will be one driver to definitely keep an eye on, as he has won four of the five series races he has entered this season.

Tyler Dippel is currently fourth in the PASS South points race, while Preston Peltier is coming off his first win of the season last Saturday at Southern National Motorsports Park in Kenly, N.C. Tate and Jay Fogleman — who has three PASS South starts in 2014 — is also in the field.

Evan Crawley — 621-5640

[email protected]

Twitter: Evan_Crawley


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