Dillon Moltz’s No. 5 car will be ready to roll in Sunday’s Oxford 250. Submitted photo

OXFORD — Overheard this midway through Saturday’s practice session for the 49th annual Oxford 250:

“This is all a waste of time.”

The pursuit itself, pouring maximum effort into winning the Northeast’s crown jewel motorsports event, is an honest one. The dollars and sweat equity spent on winning the nation’s richest one-day stock car race can barely be measured. Drivers have made entire careers out of winning the Oxford 250, and teams have cemented themselves as among the very best at their craft by placing the 6-foot tall trophy in their race shop.But after watching five hours of practice this weekend (three on Friday afternoon and two more on Saturday morning), and with an additional 90 minutes slated for Sunday before racing begins, one thing has become abundantly clear.

The competition has never been closer in the nearly five-decade history of the Oxford 250, and it’s not necessarily the best thing for the future of the sport.

Consider this: During Saturday’s two-hour practice session, more than 60 cars hit the track to tune up for Sunday’s Oxford 250. The top 53 cars on the speed chart (and likely several others whose times were not recorded) were separated by less than half a second — 0.413 seconds — at the session’s end. The line for finding success is finer than ever, and it’s a line that’s not found with a racing groove, tire selection or even elbow grease applied in the weeks leading into the big event.

The line forms at the collective doorstep of the chassis manufacturers who build these race cars from the ground up. Distance Racing, Port City Race Cars, Dale Shaw Race Cars and Fury Race Cars are the builders of choice in the Oxford Plains Speedway pit area this weekend, and each has been represented in Oxford 250 victory lane in each of the last three seasons. The Super Late Models they churn out annually are now “cookie-cutters” — as one former Oxford 250 champion noted Saturday — all sculpted from the same block of metal.


What does it mean for the race itself?

During the heyday of the Oxford 250 from the mid-1990s through the early 2000s, when car counts were highest and the starting fields were a who’s-who of the Northeast, there wasn’t the parity the field boasts in 2022.

There were a small handful of drivers to watch with legitimate chances to win the race — guys like Dave Dion, Ralph Nason, Mike Rowe, Jeff Taylor and Tracy Gordon among them — and another three dozen drivers who were either hoping for a solid finish or simply to qualify.

If you didn’t win, you went back to the shop — and for the next year you bought a few new parts and pieces, tried to improve on your setups or hoped to gain some more experience.

Until Gary Drew’s upset win in 2001, a driver currently competing weekly at Oxford Plains had never won the Oxford 250.

So, just how close is the competition now?


There were four former Oxford 250 winners (Ben Rowe, Curtis Gerry, Bubba Pollard and Glen Luce) who finished up Saturday’s practice firmly mid-pack on the speed charts — between the 20th- and 40th-fastest cars — plus a nine-time track champion (Jeff Taylor), the Port City Triple Crown champion (Trevor Sanborn) and the current Oxford weekly Super Late Model point leader (Max Cookson).

Any of the drivers who landed in these 22 spots could make the case that they’ve got an opportunity to win on Sunday. So could another 15-20 drivers, leaving us with more than half of the race’s 70 total entries viewing themselves as “contenders” should they have the right amount of good fortune come Sunday evening.

While it might be the right formula from an entertainment perspective — think NASCAR racing at Daytona or Talladega — that victory could come from anywhere on the starting grid does lend to some unpredictability. But it’s not necessarily the right formula for the health of short track stock car racing.

Nowadays, if you’re not competitive in the Oxford 250, you don’t head back to the shop and work on making a six-year-old race car run better. You don’t find tweaks for your engine or replace worn out parts.

Instead, you call Distance, Port City or Fury and you order a brand new chassis to try and beat the guy that just beat you. Your checkbook gets you access to the same equipment, the same setups and the same knowledge as the dozens of other cars parked alongside you in Oxford’s jam-packed pit area.

The days of ingenuity, hard work and on-track experience have been replaced by technological advances and the information superhighway. There is no more “junk,” as southerner Tommy Ellis infamously referred to his fellow competitors following his 1983 Oxford 250 win.

The competition level for Sunday’s 49th annual Oxford 250 will be as high as ever, and the right to call oneself a champion of Maine’s largest sporting event is as difficult to earn on-track as it’s ever been.

It’s just that everything leading up to Sunday is kind of a waste of time.

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