OXFORD — Tradition once dictated that assembled drivers for the annual Oxford 250 media day were asked to name their respective 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,” three-time Oxford 250 winner Mike Rowe of Turner said. “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 at the Honey Badger Bar & Grill — located at the site of the former Oxford Plains Speedway offices — Wednesday to offer their thoughts and opinions on this weekend’s 45th annual Clark’s Scrap Metals Oxford 250. 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 official 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 Sunday’s 250.

Griffith is one of five drivers to have won “Road To Oxford” qualifying races this season to secure their starting spot Sunday. Canada’s Cole Butcher, Strong’s Tracy Gordon and Georgia’s Bubba Pollard also will start the Oxford 250, regardless of how their respective days go in qualifying rounds Sunday. Preston Peltier of Georgia and Curtis Gerry of Waterboro also won qualifiers, but Peltier is not entering the Oxford 250 while Gerry is the defending champion of the event and has a past champion’s provisional he can rely on to make the race.

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

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

At media day alone, there were six Oxford 250 wins and more than 50 PASS race victories, 200 Oxford Plains feature wins and 10 Oxford track championships represented by the nine drivers in attendance.

Even with such a small sample of what will comprise Sunday’s Oxford 250 starting grid, there appears 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 tenth of a second difference now.”

General 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.”

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

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