The summer schedule can feel like a grind. One week after the next, one race track after another, one feature race following the next, until you lose track of days and events and it all starts to feel the same. Never is that more so than for Pro All Stars Series teams this season facing a 19-race slog over a seven-month stretch.

A race at Oxford Plains Speedway can feel a lot like one at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway, 150 laps at Speedway 95 in Hermon looking identical to the same distance at Lee USA Speedway in New Hampshire. But there are various points in every season in which something a little more than points and a paycheck are at stake.

Take this Sunday at Oxford, for example, unassumingly listed as a PASS 150. But it promises to be more than that, even with the dangling carrot of a guaranteed starting spot in the 45th Oxford 250 a month from now. The final Oxford race every summer before the Oxford 250 attracts both extra cars and extra eyeballs, setting an early tone for the $25,000-to-win behemoth just weeks away.

History indicates the added attention is warranted, more than just a promotional tool to generate ticket sales.

Column head shot Travis Barrett

In 2016, Wayne Helliwell Jr. won the last Oxford PASS event prior to the Oxford 250 (in a dead heat with fellow New Hampshire racer Joey Polewarczyk). Not long after, battling illness, he won the Oxford 250.

Last season, Curtis Gerry finished what appeared to be an unassuming fourth in this race. Upon closer inspection, however, the statistics backed up what most acute observers failed to recognize in the moment — though it was just the fourth career top-five finish in a touring series event for the Waterboro driver, it was his first away from his home track at Beech Ridge.

Less than a month later, Gerry turned in a dominant effort in the Oxford 250 for the win, his first of four straight Oxford wins heading into this weekend.

The 2015 version of the midsummer PASS 150 at Oxford might have been an outlier, but both 2013 and 2014 hammered home the point. In each of those seasons, Travis Benjamin won the most recent race at Oxford ahead of the 250 (in 2013, it came just nine days prior thanks to a weather postponement) and — by the time the checkered flag flew in 2014 — the Morrill driver had not only become the first Maine driver to win the Oxford 250 in seven years, but also one of only eight drivers to win more than one Oxford 250.

Benjamin is also on a shorter list of drivers who have won back-to-back Oxford 250s, just the fifth driver to do so.

Beyond the recent trend of Oxford 250 champions turning in strong performances at Oxford ahead of northern New England’s marquee short track event, there are two reasons this weekend’s PASS 150 lends so much insight into the future.

Most obviously are track conditions. Unlike previous visits to Oxford this season in the spring, with a cool, relatively green race track, the summer heat is here. When teams roll onto the speedway Sunday afternoon for practice they’ll be facing conditions almost identical to what awaits them in August during practice and qualifying rounds for the 250. Weekly teams have pounded the pavement all summer long now, and the true characteristics of the flat, .375-mile oval (circle) are showing up. Not only will those cars that turn in strong race efforts Sunday evening likely be ready to go in the Oxford 250, but even those teams that are among the most consistently fast in practice rounds will be on pace to have a say in the outcome of that race a month from now.

There’s also the matter of car counts on Sunday.

There were 28 teams already entered as of Monday, in an entry list published by PASS, and more are expected by the time race day rolls around. With a car count in the 30s — a conservative estimate given that it’s a Sunday evening and no weekly tracks are competing — it’s a significant uptick from the typical PASS fields during the season. It will test not only a car’s speed, but also a driver’s ability to navigate traffic both during qualifying and the 150 itself, a precursor for Oxford 250 success.

So, who do we like on Sunday?

You’d be a fool not to give Gerry serious consideration, given that he’s not been beaten at Oxford Plains since winning the Oxford 250 in 2017. Reid Lanpher of Manchester is a two-time Oxford 250 runner-up, the most recent PASS winner (at Beech Ridge on July 7) and he’s landed in the top five at Oxford in four of his last five starts there. And then there are the usual suspects — Benjamin, Helliwell, D.J. Shaw and Massachusetts’ Derek Ramstrom (who always seems to have a car in contention late in races on flat tracks) — and some of the weekly Oxford drivers like T.J. Brackett.

But the prediction game isn’t really what this week’s PASS 150 is about, at least not for victory lane on Sunday night.

It’s about predicting what’s going to happen when the pressure, the trophy and the winner’s purse increase exponentially later in the season.

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

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