CRAVEN HITS THE TRACK AT OXFORD FOR FIRST TIME IN 14 YEARS
Maine Native Tests With Johnny Clark to Prep for 250
Ricky Craven has carried the colors of Budweiser, DuPont, Kodiak and Tide on his race cars. He is one of a select group of drivers to win a major event in all three of NASCAR's national touring divisions. Racing has both rewarded him financially and broken his bones over two decades of touring across the continent.
honestly make you forget about Bill Buckner and 1986?
"You can make the argument that we were the outsider and maybe we felt that we weren't given a chance to win. Did I think that at the time? You bet I did!" Craven said. "That's the race that nobody really remembers us almost winning, but other than 1991, it's the one I remember the most."
Craven and Johnny Clark Motorsports tested the No. 25 and No. 54 cars Monday at OPS in a session that was briefly opened to selected members of the Maine print and visual media.
While the Newburgh native regaled the press with tales of catching brook with his son on Moosehead Lake, Craven squeezed in a few reminders that he hopes Sunday's race won't be another 'one that got away.'
Ricky Craven was back at Oxford on Monday.
(Trudy Marshall/Jarracing Photography Photos)
"When I look at the guys who are 20, 22, 24 years old, even at 40, I can match their level of talent," Craven said. "I know that I can. I've won in Trucks, Busch and Cup. You don't do that by mistake. For me to want to race, I've got to be excited about it. I've got to feel that excitement, that sense of reward. This race offers that."
Believe it or not, there is a learning curve.
Craven hasn't turned left on the historic, 3/8-mile oval since unsuccessfully defending his TD Banknorth 250 title in 1992. Pro Stocks are nothing like the heavier Busch cars he drove back then.
Johnny Clark used to be a kid who watched Ricky Craven race. Now, he'll be his teammate.
Still, if you ask him to recount some of his greatest disappointments behind the wheel of a stock car, Craven won't waste many words before telling the tale of the Sunday evening that would've, could've and should've been: The TD Banknorth 250 at Oxford Plains Speedway in 1989.
Craven was still a mop-topped, red-headed relative newcomer to the New England racing scene. While OPS, the 250 and most of the racing world were in the palm of NASCAR's hand at the time, Craven campaigned primarily under the auspices of Tom Curley and the rival American-Canadian Tour.
"We built a car with E.J. Prescott specifically for this race," Craven recalled Monday during a lunch break from his first on-track appearance at OPS in more than 14 years. "We lost the engine in practice, started last in the non-qualifiers' race, won the non-qualifiers' race, then came all the way up through the field in the feature. And just as we were taking the lead we were black-flagged for a piece of the bumper dragging off the car."
Two years later, Craven dominated a star-studded 250 field and set the tone for his NASCAR success. But think of it this way: If you're a Boston Red Sox fan, did 2004 really, truly,
"It was easier my first time at Daytona than coming here 15 years later and slowing down," Craven said with a laugh.
He doesn't consider himself a pre-race favorite on Sunday. That honor might go to Cassius Clark, a successor to Craven in the EJP colors who is on a similar hot streak to Craven's amazing summer of 1991.
Then there is Craven's teammate, Johnny Clark, who finished second in the race last July.
And let's not forget three-time race champions Mike Rowe and Dave Dion. Craven didn't let them go unremembered after his most recent NASCAR triumph in the Craftsman Truck Series at Martinsville, Va., last fall.
"I was standing in victory lane after the truck race, they said it was a victory for the veterans, to which I responded, "Listen, I grew up watching Mike Rowe and Dave Dion and they both won big races this summer at Oxford Plains Speedway. They're veterans. I'm in my prime years," Craven said.
"Mike Rowe, Dave Dion, Stan Meserve ... those guys are legends to me. They're what I wanted to be when I was growing up, and they're still racing!"
Rowe and Dion were in the field along with Jeff Gordon, Bobby Labonte and Jeff Burton when Craven achieved his breakthrough victory 15 summers ago.
"It was a Busch race. We were on our way to winning 10
Craven (R) compares notes with Johnny Clark (L) during their test.
races and winning the (NASCAR Busch North Series) championship, and at that point my confidence was just sky high," said Craven. "I was thinking, bring 'em on. I think we led 190 laps. At that time, I was counting the laps, because I needed the money."
Craven said his best memories of the TD Banknorth 250 came before he was old enough to drive a car.
"I think of Bob Pressley dominating in 1978. Or the year before that when he didn't win," Craven said. "This race in a lot of ways captures the essence of motor sports, because the fastest car doesn't always win. Sometimes the fastest car is the most exciting. But in 1977, I watched Don Biederman win, and I'm sure 90 percent of the people in the grandstands said, 'What?' "
Between 60 and 80 of the premier late model drivers in the region will take their shot at Craven and fellow NASCAR personalities Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and J.J. Yeley on Sunday, perhaps becoming the next long shot to emerge as a household name.
Tickets are available but going quickly. Call the Speedway box office now at (207) 539-8865 to reserve your seat. Qualifying begins Sunday at 2 p.m.
The TD Banknorth 250 is the final installment of a three-day race weekend, all presented by New England Dodge Dealers. Friday and Saturday night action begins at 6:30 p.m. (OPS PR)