Oxford Plains Speedway kicked off their 2020 season with an action-packed weekend, welcoming both the track’s weekly divisions and touring series (with no fans due to continuing state regulations) over the course of two days. This was just the beginning of Maine’s race season, but weather already began rearing its ugly head, forcing an earlier start time for Sunday’s events.
With impending weather, the track allowed each division three short and fast-paced practice sessions in the morning, with very little downtime in between.
The American-Canadian tour kicked off the racing action, with Marcel Gravel, Derek Gluchacki and Rich Dubeau picking up the first heat victories of the day.
The Pro All Star Series Modified division continues to grow each and every season and Sunday proved no different, welcoming 18 competitors to the track. Among those competitors was Chasing the Checkered driver and 2019 PASS Modified champion Spencer Morse, who was going for two in a row in the division.
Tyler Fiscus and Ajay Cates took home the heat race victories in the division.
The big surprise in the PASS Super Late Model division on Sunday was that Jeff Taylor was absent in the pit area after completely dominating the Super Late Model race the night prior. Derek Griffith was also absent from the field, as he was able to kick off his ARCA Series career at Pocono Raceway, scoring a top-10 finish in his #22 Original Gourmet Lollipops machine.
2019 Oxford Plains Speedway track champion, Curt Gerry, sailed away with the first heat victory. Josh Childs continues to show growth in the division and took home a heat victory as well. 2019 Beech Ridge track champion, Dave Farrington, Jr. and Nick Sweet followed suit, picking up victories in their respected heats.
Once the heat races were completed, it was time for the PASS Modified division to take the stage. Tyler Fiscus took off with the early lead, but trouble was brewing early as series rookie, Ashley Beyea, took a spin on lap 3 in turn 4, drawing the first caution of the feature. The trouble continued with Chandler Harrison, who also faced trouble on the restart.
The chaos continued early-on as Tracy Gordon and Justin Larson tangled on lap 6 in turn 4, followed by Spencer Vaughan and Spencer Morse getting together in turn 1. Vaughan was able to return to the track before the green, but Spencer Morse unfortunately wound up falling a few laps short of the leaders.
Tyler Fiscus took off with the lead once again on the restart as Tyler King advanced into the runner-up spot behind him, later taking over the lead on lap 20.
From the mid-point of the race and on, the feature race was plagued with caution after caution. Chandler Harrison, Bill Dixon, Matty Sanborn, Ajay Cates, Colby Benjamin and Spencer Vaughan were among the drivers that went around on the track, causing a flurry of cautions.
Remaining cautious of time and impending weather, race directors ended the race on a yellow-caution on lap 44, granting Tyler King his second feature victory of the 2020 season. Bobby Nadeau, Justin Larson, Tyler Fiscus and Gary Dwinal rounded out the top five.
The ACT feature also started out with a bang as Reilly Lanphear and others tangled on lap 2 in turn 1, drawing out the first caution of the feature. Stephen Donahue took off with the lead on the restart, gaining ground over his competitors. Walter Sutcliffe went around on the front stretch on lap 20, leading to another yellow flag.
Joey Pole and Stephen Donahue went head-to head on the restart, with Pole gaining the edge after a handful of laps. Brian Kruczek was also on the move, advancing into the runner-up spot over Donahue. After proving strong all day, Brian Kruczek took a spin on lap 84 in turn 4 after facing mechanical troubles, parking the #19 machine for the day. Chaos erupted mid-pack on the restart, leading to another caution.
After leading the majority of the race, Joey Pole took a spin on lap 143 in turn 3 after making contact with the #30 of Rich Dubeau. Following the incident, Pole made a picture-perfect spin move on the backstretch, whipping the #97 machine around to meet the nose of Dubeau’s machine, displaying his displeasure about the incident. Due to the spin, Pole was forced to restart the race back in tenth place where many lap cars separated him from the leaders.
Wayne Helliwell, Jr. became the leader as Joey Pole began his fight back through the field, advancing back into the top five with five laps to go. Helliwell was able to hold off the competition, scoring the feature victory. DJ Shaw (pulling double duty), Jimmy Hebert, Joey Pole and Ryan Kuhn rounded out the top five.
Skies darkened as the Pro All Star Series SLM drivers took to the track for the final event of the weekend, leaving teams wondering just how far the race would go before the skies opened up.
Curt Gerry took away with the early lead in the feature. Corey Bubar was in hot pursuit of the leader in the beginning laps, overtaking the lead from Curt Gerry on lap 18. Nick Sweet was also on the move early, powering to third over Dave Farrington, Jr. on lap 35.
Gerry and Bubar began battling it out once again as the leaders met lap traffic on lap 39. Gary Smith took a hard spin on the back stretch on lap 41, postponing their battle for the top spot. Curt Gerry lost some ground on the restart, losing spots to both Eddie MacDonald and Nick Sweet. Lap traffic allowed Eddie MacDonald to get to Corey Bubar’s back bumper on lap 77, but Bubar still held strong.
Nick Sweet found his way to Eddie MacDonald’s door on lap 88 as the two drivers went 3-wide while battling lap traffic. Sweet finally cleared him on lap 93, then setting his sights on Bubar. Bubar was held up by a lap car on lap 105, allowing Sweet to pull right up to his back bumper. Sweet eventually took over the lead over Corey Bubar on lap 114, with Travis Benjamin following suit.
After solid performances all day by both drivers, Josh Childs and Curt Gerry both faced trouble with just under 50 laps to go. Gerry eventually retired his car to the back pits on lap 117 after facing mechanical troubles. Lightning was sighted far off the horizon with just 30 laps to go, but the battles raged on all over the track.
Scott McDaniel got stronger and stronger throughout the day, eventually advancing to fourth over Eddie MacDonald on lap 128 as Jake Johnson, another dark horse, followed suit.
DJ Shaw and Travis Benjamin began battling it out with just five laps to go, remaining head-to-head until both drivers crossed the finish line.
Nick Sweet sealed the victory, making it his second of the season. DJ Shaw got the edge at the line, merely edging out Travis Benjamin for the runner-up spot. Jake Johnson and Scott McDaniel rounded out the top five.
Sunday’s program provided plenty of excitement and unexpected moments that any race fan would enjoy. We saw some repeat and returning winners and best of all, the impending weather failed to rain (quite literally) on anyone’s parade.
I look forward to seeing how the rest of the season unfolds and among many others, I am (impatiently) awaiting the day where fans can visit the track once again. It just isn’t the same when you’re looking out at an empty grand stand.
Until that day comes, keep the faith and support local short track racing in any way that you can. That’s the only way our beloved sport will survive throughout these troubling times.