OXFORD — Max Cookson sits back in his chair, takes a few sips of Gatorade, and stares out into the pit area at Oxford Plains Speedway.

If he weren’t wearing his brown race suit, he could easily be confused for an ordinary teenager just hanging out, looking at race cars.

But the 19-year-old Pittsfield native is far from ordinary — he is the frontrunner in the big Super Late Models division at OPS. As of Wednesday, Cookson and his No. 39 car had 620 points, ahead of more proven drivers Calvin Rose Jr. of Turner (599 points) and Curtis Gerry of Waterboro, who won the 2017 Oxford 250, as well as the 2019 SLM season championship.

“I definitely think we’ve been overachieving as to what we should be doing,” Cookson said. “Every week, we just try to get a little better and a little better and keep progressing, as a driver, as a crew chief, as a team, just try to keep progressing and get a little bit better every week.”

Fellow OPS drivers have taken notice.

“Cookson, he’s been right on the money (all season),” Rose said. “He’s had a good showing in his rookie year. It’s pretty impressive to jump into a car like that and do as good as he’s doing, so hat’s off to him.”


“He’s definitely doing good, he’s got a good team behind him,” Gerry added. “He was a definitely a good modified driver, champion and all of that. Especially to come up in a super like that (and win), that’s pretty impressive.”

This is no overnight success for Cookson. Last year, he was the Pro All Star Series (PASS) Modified champion. Making the transition to the SLM division seemed to be the natural move.

“I think it was, without a doubt, the right decision,” Cookson said.

Cookson raced on the go-kart circuit beginning at 5 years old. That experience, dad Chris Cookson says, helped shape the driver Max is today.

Super Late Model driver Max Cookson, 19, of Pittsfield, is enjoying a standout season at Oxford Plains Speedway. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

“When he was exactly 4 years and 11 months old, I bought him a go-kart,” said Chris Cookson, who also doubles as a team crew member. “I walked into the kitchen, his mother looked at me and went, ‘You bought a go-kart, didn’t you?’ I said, ‘Yup.’ She didn’t say a word to me, that was it.”

Over the course of the next six years, Cookson found success in iRacing — a racing simulation game — before transitioning into modifieds last year. He didn’t think he would have such early success.


“Not early on,” Cookson said. “Obviously you want to, that’s the goal. There’s a lot that goes into these cars. For what we’re doing, with the help of our crew, we’re doing a heck of a job.”

Cookson found success quickly, winning his first SLM race at the OPS season opener April 24.

“That was just incredible,” Chris Cookson said. “So many people called and talked to him (after the race). We walked into Jeff Taylor’s Distance Racing Products (in Fairfield) that Monday after the race. He looks at Max and goes, ‘My god, there’s Dale Earnhardt.’ He said, ‘It’s been decades, since I can remember, someone winning their first Super Late Model race.’ To do that to start out of the gate was incredible. We’ve had a second win (since then), we’re leading the points. We’re just having a super year. He’s just got a lot of natural talent and spends a lot of time working on the car.

“He’s able to go out, run 10-15 laps in a race, come in and say, “OK, the car needs this, the car needs this.’ Nine times out of 10, the car is better, the car is faster.”

When the Cooksons aren’t working, a lot of time is being spent in the family garage, tinkering with the car.

Max Cookson runs practice laps in his No. 39 car on July 9 at Oxford Plains Speedway. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

“The Super Late Models are a little more maintenance,” Chris Cookson said. “The shocks are much more sophisticated, that’s a big thing to learn. There’s more work on the car, more maintenance on the car. There’s more adjustments, so there’s more tools in your toolbox, and for those adjustments, you have to make the right ones.”


In a 50-lap SLM race on Saturday, Cookson managed to place third, helping to keep his lead in the standings. To do so, Cookson had to battle for positioning with Kyle Desouza, currently fourth in the SLM standings (575 points). In the final laps of the race, Desouza passed Cookson for third place. Instead of appearing over his head in the situation, Cookson showed the moves of a veteran driver, making a criss-cross move behind Desouza and reclaim the third spot for the end of the race.

“It was just good, hard racing,” Max Cookson said. “Kyle drove by us, but then we were able to cross him up, stay in third.”

Max Cookson isn’t sure how long he’ll end up racing, but he said he’s going to enjoy every bit of the ride.

“I think everyone’s dream here is to do it for the long haul, that’s not realistic for 99 percent of people,” he said. “I’m going to do it and have as much fun for as long as I can do it.”

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