OXFORD — In 2014 the luster of the legendary Oxford 250 appeared to be fading.

Cars and crowds were noticeably smaller for a race that once drew close to 100 drivers from across the East to fight through high-tension heats in hopes of making the main event.

Based on Friday’s practice at Oxford Plains Speedway, at least the cars are coming back for the 42nd annual Oxford 250, which pays $25,000 plus lap leader bonuses to the winner.

Seventy cars practiced Friday. That’s 10 more than tried to qualify in 2014.

“And I think they could get as many as mid-20s more than last year,” driver Wayne Helliwell Jr. said. “There’s always some late entries and there are more people from farther away this year.”

Part of the resurgence can be traced to a new, collegial arrangement between New England’s two top touring series.

Tom Mayberry, the Oxford Plains owner and president of the Pro All-Stars Series (PASS) Super Late Model series, and his counterpart, Tom Curley of the American-Canadian Tour, were in a turf war for drivers and fans a year ago.

That feeling of acrimony was only heightened when ACT had scheduled its own big-money race at Airborne Speedway in Plattsburgh, New York, on the 250’s traditional third weekend in July.

This year there has been a noticeable harmony between the series. They have shared bills at Oxford Plains (twice) and ACT strongholds Airborne and Thunder Road in Barre, Vermont.

ACT got the third week in July, and PASS and Oxford went for a new date in late August.

“I think that’s a plus,” said Mike Rowe of Turner, a three-time 250 winner. “It’s awesome to see everyone getting along.”

Rowe, a PASS tour regular, leads the series’ point race. He’s looking to qualify for a record 32nd time. For him, choosing the 250 has never been an issue.

Not so for ACT regulars like Helliwell and Joey Polewarczyk.

Polewarczyk hasn’t raced in the 250 since he won it in 2012 – the year before Mayberry bought Oxford Plains from Bill Ryan and returned the 250 to its Pro Stock/Super Late Model roots.

“ACT had conflicting races the past two years,” said Polewarczyk, 26, of Hudson, New Hampshire. “It’s great they’re working together now, especially for this one race. This is the race to be at because of its prestige.”

He was at the track Friday and has every intention of putting his ACT car – with some expensive modifications like a $6,000 shock package – into the field.

Last year Helliwell, who lives in Dover, New Hampshire, chose to skip the ACT race at Airborne and came to Oxford, qualifying for the fifth time.

Helliwell said the Oxford 250’s history drew him to the race (he finished 21st), but in the back of his mind he worried that ACT ownership might think he “was jumping ship to go to a PASS race. Now with the combo races we’ve had, you don’t have to make that choice.”

The ACT racers who practiced Friday also included Travis Stearns, Brian Hoar and Jason Corliss.

Another former champ returning is Eddie MacDonald, who won two straight 250s in 2009 and 2010 but hasn’t raced since the return to the SLM format. MacDonald splits his time between the NASCAR K&N Pro Series (formerly Busch North) tour and select ACT races. He and crew chief Rollie Lachance Jr., of nearby New Gloucester were together for the 250 wins in an ACT-style Late Model.

This year the team put together a Super Late Model for the first PASS race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

“We were fortunate to win that race and decided to try to keep the momentum going,” MacDonald said.

As the son of a longtime track owner, MacDonald knows racing from all sides. He said competing tours trying to work together is good for the sport.

“All the racers just want to race and to find out whatever series they’re most competitive in,” MacDonald said.

Make no mistake, the Oxford 250 still has national cache and a past winners list that includes Sprint Cup winners Geoff Bodine, Ricky Craven, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch.

“When you go down south in the driver introductions they always say ‘Oxford 250 winner,’ and people know what that means,” Polewarczyk said with a slight smile.

The allure of the 250 has drawn aspiring drivers Spencer Davis of Dawsonville, Georgia, and Christopher Bell of Norman, Oklahoma, this year. Bell drives for Kyle Busch Motorsports, which brought two cars for Bell in its Sprint Cup-style hauler.

“I’ve raced 68 times this year, including this race,” Bell, 20, said. “All over the country. I raced at New Hampshire (Motor Speedway) earlier this year. Other than that, Pennsylvania’s the farthest east I’ve been.”

So why come to Oxford?

“It’s a prestigious event. And it pays really well,” Bell said.

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

[email protected]

Twitter: SteveCCraig

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