TRACK OPERATOR SHARES THOUGHTS ON SHORT TRACK RACING By Mike Twist
Oxford's Bill Ryan Talks About Tours and More
As Oxford Plains Speedway (ME) gets ready to open their gates this weekend for both their season opening event and the 2006 kick-off for PASS North, it is much like many other tracks across the nation. The track balances out a successful weekly racing card (which consists of a traditional Saturday night show and an entry level night of racing on Wednesday evenings) with touring events that draw racers, and fans, from throughout a region.
In the past, the tours have been a large part of the Oxford schedule. In recent years, the NASCAR Busch North Series, ISMA Supermodifieds and NEMA/USAC Midgets have all booked dates at the track. The ASA National Tour was scheduled for a race there in 2004 before the series started to take on water and cancelled parts of their schedule. None of those of tours are back at Oxford for 2006.
Instead, the ACT Late Models and PASS North Super Late Models will each visit the track this year.
“We’ve got two great touring series in ACT and PASS
Bill Ryan (L) talks to a local television reporter with Kyle Busch's TD Banknorth 250 car as a backdrop last season. (51 Photo)
coming to the track for two races each this year,” said track operator Bill Ryan. “Those are the cornerstones of our schedule [along with the td Banknorth 250, which is not a sanctioned touring event].”
Having those two particular tours, which both have large followings in Northern New England, to the track makes sense to Ryan.
“Those touring races are great,” said Ryan. “PASS and ACT are affordable for a racetrack and even if a couple of clouds roll across the sky, I can still get enough fans to come out.”
Both tour also give Saturday night regulars a chance to compete against regional invaders. The Oxford Pro Stocks are PASS friendly, while with a few changes, the Late Model Stocks at Oxford can enter the ACT show.
“The fans like to see the guys who race every week race against guys coming in. They don’t want to pay more to see some guy from Irvington, Connecticut, and I’m not sure that there even is such a place, come in and race.”
“We coordinated our rules with PASS in the off-season. We made sure that our Pro Stocks were compatible with their cars. We’ve been working more and more with the ACT guys to get our Late Model Stock class closer to what they run. We’re trying to push our guys to the ACT model with a crate motor as an option. Off season, we worked with ACT to get on the same tires and we’ve switched from American Racers to Goodyears. That’s worked well.”
Even though the PASS cars are quicker, Ryan doesn’t think that his fans care as long as the racing is good.
“The Pro Stocks are faster, but the average fan can’t identify the different between a lap that is 15 seconds flat or 16 seconds flat.”
What isn’t on the schedule for 2006 is the NASCAR Busch East (formerly Busch North) Series. The tour returned to Oxford for the first time in over a decade last year, but was up against the Bristol NASCAR Nextel Cup race on television the same night and never drew the type of crowd that justified the cost of the show.
“I got the wind taken out of my sails last August,” said Ryan. “I might like a series, but I can’t book a race just because I like to see those cars run. I’ve got better things to do with my money than to buy a $50,000 race ticket.”
As many tracks face challenges to their bottom line, Oxford has been successful with their weekly shows thanks to aggressive promotion, a loyal fan base and keeping costs down.
“We’ve tried to add that minor league baseball feel to the racetrack with contest and goofy promotions. We try to create an atmosphere of fun and the kids love it.”
Ryan expects continued success in 2006, even with rising gas prices.
“We haven’t been struggling at all,” said Ryan. “On a weekly basis we draw about 350 cars. That’s incredible.”
“There’s a bad psychology around gas prices. Everyone pretends that the price of gas used to be zero. They complain about it costing $70 to fill up their tanks when last year it cost $60. You might see people staying closer to home this summer, but I don’t think it will have a major impact on things.”
Oxford Plains Speedway before the start of the 250. (Justin St. Louis / 51 Photo)
PASS North visits Oxford twice this season. (Norm Marx Photo)
The ACT Late Models also have a pair of dates at Oxford in 2006. (Alan Ward Photo)
Oxford’s biggest race of the year, the TD Banknorth 250, has sold out for the last two seasons thanks in part to having NASCAR stars like Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth show up to race. This year, Maine’s Ricky Craven will enter the event along Cup rookies J.J. Yeley and Denny Hamlin.
What hasn’t happened at the 250 though has been any Southern and Midwestern Super Late Model entries. This is despite a $25,000 winner’s purse and $100 per lap leader bonus. Freddie Query raced at the track in
the 1990’s and guys like Bob Pressley, Harry Gant and Butch Lindley would tow up from the Carolinas before that. The time is ripe for another Southern invasion and although Ryan hasn’t directly heard from any Southern teams, he has gotten word through the grapevine that a few might be interested in coming up to run the race.
“We’ve heard from guys who have talked to other people and maybe this year it will be more of a possibility,” said Ryan. “Guys from Maine met people at the Hickory PASS South race and then the 250 goes from being an abstract idea to one where they can call up someone and ask about the race. I know that Mike Rowe talked to some people down there about the race and there’s interest there.”
The TD Banknorth 250 is set for July 30th. The PASS starts their season at the track this Saturday night. Speed51.com will be at both events to bring you complete coverage.