OXFORD — Tradition once dictated that assembled drivers for the Oxford 250 media day were asked to name their favorites to claim victory by week’s end. That era has long since passed, in large part because it’s simply too difficult.

“Back 10-15 years ago, you probably had five guys that could win it,” said three-time Oxford 250 winner Mike Rowe of Turner. “Now, you’ve got 20. It’s definitely better and the competition is closer. Everybody is doing a great job.”

Nine drivers, along with Oxford Plains Speedway owner Tom Mayberry, gathered Wednesday at the Honey Badger Bar & Grill – located at the site of the former OPS offices – to offer their thoughts and opinions about the 45th Clark’s Scrap Metals Oxford 250 on Sunday. Rarely does such a group agree on anything, though there did seem to be consensus that this year’s race will be as competitive as any in recent memory.

Sixty-six teams have officially filed entries as of midweek, but the entry list should top out at around 70 cars, Mayberry said.

“The field is going to be as tough as it’s ever been,” Mayberry said. “I’m pretty excited about that.”

Like the prediction game, gone are the days of 90-plus cars crowding the Oxford Plains pit area on race day. But that doesn’t mean there’s a lack of competition.

“There’s 20 people who can confidently say they can win this race,” said Derek Griffith of Hudson, New Hampshire, who won a Pro All Stars Series race at Spud Speedway in Caribou last month to earn a guaranteed starting spot in the 250.

Griffith is one of five drivers who secured a starting spot by winning a “Road To Oxford” qualifying race. Canada’s Cole Butcher, Strong’s Tracy Gordon and Georgia’s Bubba Pollard also will start the Oxford 250, regardless of how they fare in qualifying rounds. Preston Peltier of Georgia and Curtis Gerry of Waterboro also won qualifiers, but Peltier is not entering the Oxford 250, and Gerry, the defending champion, can rely on a past champion’s provisional if necessary.

Gerry has made PASS history by winning five straight races at Oxford Plains, the only driver ever to win five consecutive PASS races at the same track.

“It’s a huge responsibility,” Gerry said. “I feel like there’s a huge weight and a big bull’s-eye on my shoulders. Everything has to go right to be able to do it again.”

The nine drivers in attendance Wednesday have a total of six Oxford 250 wins and more than 50 PASS victories, 200 Oxford Plains feature wins and 10 OPS track championships.

Even with such a small sample of drivers who will be on the starting grid, there appears to be more competition than ever, given the nearly universal acceptance of crate engines across the field – cost-efficient, though less powerful than traditional hand-built power plants. With those engines comes a weight break, allowing crate engine cars to be 50 pounds lighter than their counterparts. Less weight means less tire wear, a crucial component to success in long-distance races.

“I do think the rules and the competition have kind of changed. Everything’s gotten tighter,” said Travis Benjamin of Morrill, a two-time Oxford 250 winner. “There’s always been 20 cars than can win the race, but the margin of error is a little less now.

“I think (the engines) are kind of what brought the whole field together. You look at (practice speed) time sheets, and from first to 20th, it’s only a 10th of a second difference now.”

Fan interest in the race seems to be back, as well.

“The campers are already way up from where they were at this time last year,” Mayberry said, noting there were 70 more campers on the property Wednesday than there were at this time in 2017. “Advance ticket sales have already passed last year’s sales through Saturday (of race weekend). It’s because of the events and shows (these drivers) put on every week.”

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