has both types of racecars in his Canadian shop, but has also won major events with both of them.
After the announcement, all hell broke loose. Internet message boards, press releases and blogs pointed out why one type of racing was better than the other, the track was both praised and berated for the decision – with some claiming that it would ensure a long and prosperous future for the facility and others saying that it would turn the track into prime real estate to build a Home Depot on within a few years.
A racing civil war broke out. We’ve already looked at the story from the perspective of the Super Late Model competitors [click here for that full story], now Speed51.com has talked to several of the big guns of Late Model racing to see their side of the story.
The move was made in an effort to curb costs and unify rules between short tracks of New England. The 250 is an open show without any official sanctioning from any touring series. However, it has enjoyed a cozy relationship with a tour in the past and will continue to do so in the future. Up to this year, PASS North has treated the race an a non-points, non-sanctioned event. In 2006, it will have a similar situation with the ACT Late Model Tour. In fact, ACT teams will receive show-up points, but not race points, towards their championship, by attempting to qualify for the 250.
In 2006, there were 87 entries for the 250 – a robust car count by anyone’s opinion. But track owner Bill Ryan, Jr. was concerned about the future of the division after seeing tracks like Lee USA Speedway (NH), Star Speedway (NH), Wiscasset Raceway (ME), Seekonk
OXFORD 250 CHANGES AMEAN BIG THINGS FOR LM TEAMS by Mike Twist
Lower Costs, Uniform Rules Lead to a Shake-Up in a Major Event
It only took one announcement, one change in the rulebook at one track, and a change in only one race, to throw fendered racing in New England into a tailspin.
There has been an evolution in the type of cars used for the race throughout its history. The most significant came between 1992 and 1993, when it went from a NASCAR Busch North Series race [it had been a point-paying NASCAR Busch Series event the year before that] to a Pro Stock/Super Late Model race. Ironically, the Super Late Models in New England toured with ACT at that time.
“They did the same thing then,” said Ben Rowe, who raced weekly at Oxford in the Compact and Charger classes during that period. “Those cars got outpriced and they brought to race back to the Saturday night deal. They ran those cars until we got to what we have now. It’s a money issue. Maybe we can get in there and have a lot more cars.”
It was hard to imagine a more drastic change than from the steel-bodied NASCAR machines to the low and wide fiberglass Super Late Models, but several drivers who identified themselves with the 250 found a way to make the change. Dale Shaw, Jamie Aube, Dick McCabe, Mike Weeden, Dave Dion, Kelly Moore and Mike Rowe also raced in 1992 and 1993. Joe Bessey returned in 1994. Of those drivers, Rowe, Moore and Dion entered the race this past season.
Speedway (MA) and White Mountain Motorsports Park (NH)
drop Pro Stock in favor of Late Models. The writing was on the wall in his opinion.
THE NEXT BIG THING?
"The decision to merge our Oxford Networks Pro Stocks into our Late Model class was a very difficult one," Ryan said in a press release making the announcement. "I have struggled since 1998 when I purchased the Speedway to make the Pro Stock division make economic sense for both the competitors and the Speedway. It has been disappointing to me to see car counts fall as Pro Stocks become a rare breed in New England.”
“I think that this is going to be a big thing for the Late Models,” said 17-year-old Joey Polewarczyk Jr. [more commonly known in racing circles as Joey Pole]. “Pro Stocks have been running for a long time, but the new trend is Late Models and they are taking New England by storm.”
Joey Pole isn’t just spouting the party line either. He knows a things or two about both types of cars. Pole is an ACT regular who also runs a limited schedule of PASS North races. He goes where the big shows are. The New Hampshire driver attempted to qualify for this year’s 250 before motor problems did him in, won the pole and finished third in the crown jewel of the ACT Late Model schedule - the Milk Bowl, and he is entering the November “Mason-Dixon Meltdown” at South Boston, one of the biggest SLM shows in the county.
EVOLUTION OR REVOLUTION?
Major changes to the 250 aren’t without precedent.
In late August, Oxford Plains Speedway (ME) announced that starting in 2007, the track would drop their Pro Stock [Super Late Model] division and move Late Model Sportsman into the flagship position at the track on Saturday nights. More significantly, that also meant that the annual TD Banknorth 250, with its $25,000 winner’s purse, lap money and 30-plus year history, would also make the switch.
Teams that were on the inside of the 250 were now on the outside looking in, while a new group of teams had new opportunities that they couldn’t have imagined.
“It’s a sad day for a Pro Stock driver, but a good day for a Late Model driver,” said Patrick Laperle, who not only
Patrick Laperle's team has a #91 Super Late Model and a #91 Late Model. Most teams aren't as lucky. (51 Photo)
“I think that you’ll see a lot of the guys who have raced the 250 in the past do something for next year,” said Brent Dragon, a stand-out ACT competitor. “I know that there are quite a few who have been looking at cars to buy for even just that one races.”
ACT drivers have also had to swallow major changes that made their equipment obsolete. They did it when the tour moved from Super Late Model to Late Model cars in the mid 1990’s and again when spec engines were phased into the series.
“I don’t think it is any different from when Tom [Curley] announced that we were going to spec motors,” said Dragon. “It’s hard to swallow at first if you have all of the equipment. You’re starting over again. You really are.
Ryan Nolin goes wheel to wheel with Phil Scott in ACT Late Model competition this past season. (51 Photo)
Dragon's #55 ACT Late Model (51 Photo)
Late Models will invade the TD Banknorth 250 in 2007. (51 Photo)
“I was running a big motor and Mark Lamberton was running a big motor. I really didn’t want to see that come because we had good motors and it was an advantage. A lot of teams didn’t have what we did. It took me two years to switch and after I switched, I wished that I had done it earlier.”
SPEC’ING IT OUT
The ACT Late Models, and the Oxford 250, are not the only form of short track racing hopping on the spec part bandwagon either. From Legend cars to ASA Late Models to the NASCAR Grand National divisions, spec parts are becoming a major part of racing.
“If you look at NASCAR right now with the Busch East Series and the AutoZone West Series, those guys are all going to crate motors and composite bodies,” said Dragon. “That’s going to allow a lot more teams to do that, just like it has here. I think that it’s a great way to go.”
The lower costs of a Late Model, with spec engines and spec Koni shocks will make going to the 250 a more attainable goal for many teams.
“I think that it’s a good deal,” said ACT regular Ryan Nolin. “It presents the opportunity for people who don’t have enough money to run a Pro Stock to run that race. It’s a prestigious race and there should be a lot of cars running it. Just to make it into the field will be an accomplishment.”
“Running the 250 is something that I’ve always wanted to do, I just never had the money to built the type of car that they had been racing,” said Dragon. “It’s finally an opportunity to do that and say that I’ve raced the 250 before I get done. I’m looking forward to it.”
NEW ENGLAND’S NEW STANDARD?
The 2007 Oxford rules have not been released yet, but it is likely that ACT teams will be legal along with Oxford, Lee, Thunder Road, Wiscasset, Seekonk, White Mountain and Waterford regulars.
"While we are excited about this new direction for Oxford, just as important to us is the fact that the decision is also good for short track racing throughout New England," said Ryan in his announcement. "All track owners need to work together to ensure that there is a vibrant class of Late Model cars that drivers can utilize to compete throughout New England. We need one formula. Right now, it is too hard to try and juggle rule books to make the cars fit together.
"This decision is a positive step in furthering the concept of a standardized New England Late Model. Much of the credit for the growth of the Late Model class must go to ACT and its pioneering introduction of crate motors to the division. We hope to see our local drivers be able to run big-money events at tracks such as Thunder Road, Sanair and Lee USA as well as our own TD Banknorth 250."
That should bring the cars in the back gate.
“It’s going to be big,” said Pole. “I think that there will be 120 cars for the race.”
“I think that there are going to be a lot of cars there,” said Dragon. “It’s going to be quite a field.”
A side benefit to the Oxford switch is that drivers can now races three nights a week, in addition to the ACT Tour and big open shows, with the same car at tracks throughout Northern New England. A young driver could run 60 or 70
races in one season if their budget allowed and their heart desired.
“We’re going to be racing more the ever last year,” said Pole. “It’s good because a lot of these tracks have the same rules, so you can race all over. Seat time is a big thing – the more the better.”
Pole also feels that the Late Models are an excellent training ground for young drivers.
“It think that it is the best around,” said Pole. “There are a lot of good young people racing here – DJ Shaw, Ryan Nolin and more. I think that is because of the rules. With the set-ups, you have to use more finesse to be fast because everyone is so equal.”
Teams from other tracks, like Lee USA Speedway, will be able to now enter the 250. (51 Photo)
Ryan Nolin (L) and Joey Pole (R). (51 Photo)
Ben Rowe is interviewed for television by George Campbell. The race draws major mainstream media attention in Maine. (51 Photo)
THE WORLD ACCORDING TO BEN
Ben Rowe’s driver’s license might read Turner, Maine. That town is where he resides, where he gets his mail and where he raises his family. But when it comes to his racing life, Rowe’s home in a little bit to the Southwest – it’s Oxford Plains Speedway.
That is where Rowe grew up watching his father Mike destroy the competition. It is where he got his own racing start as a teenager wheeling a Volkswagen Sirocco. It’s where he’s won a pair of TD Banknorth 250s and its where he lost a few of those prestigious races as well – running out of gas with five laps to go in 1996 or getting taken out by lapped cars earlier this year. Oxford is more than just a track to Rowe – it is sacred ground.
Rowe has spread his wings beyond the facility too. He’s tried NASCAR Busch North Series racing. He’s won three PASS North titles. In his spare time this year, he was the winningest driver in ACT Late Models. He’s raced from Florida to Maine and when it comes to short tracking, Rowe knows the business.
So when it comes to the people who are most impacted by the changes, and qualified to intelligently discuss it, Ben Rowe has to be on top of the list. His heart might not be in making the change, but his head knows that it might be the best move for the race.
“I love Super Late Models,” said Rowe. “That is where my heart and soul is. I love going fast. But looking at it from the owner’s side, realistically we only have 10-15 teams that can afford these things. They are high priced and we need to do something. We need to have the car count. We’re here to put on a show for the fans and if we only have 10 cars, we aren’t going anywhere.
“PASS is building the car count back up. They’re doing good. ACT is doing good. There are going to be some ups and downs and that will be the case all the way up to the 250. Some people will say that there will be 200 cars there. Others will say that it is going to be the worst race ever. I think that the racing is going to be fine. It doesn’t matter if we are in a Late Model with eight-inch tires or a Super Late Model with 10-inch tires. You are going to have the same guys race and it’s going to be competitive.”
At this point, there are some drivers who are openly against racing a Late Model in the 250. Don’t expect to see Johnny Clark or Dave Dion racing at Oxford next July 22nd for example. But there are another group, which
includes both Rowes, who may try to race both types of cars. Rowe’s biggest fear is that they might not be able to without making some hard decisions.
“I just hope that they don’t start scheduling races on top of each other,” said Rowe. “Come out with a schedule where ACT has 10 or 12 races and PASS has 10 or 12 and we work together.
“I can see a Saturday/Sunday deal. If we [PASS teams] run Saturday night somewhere, then we could do the 250 on Sunday. Let us make that choice. The fans should have that choice too. Don’t make people make choices of having two races like that on the same day. That’s not good.”
Rowe plans on hedging his next season with his current PASS North team of Richard Moody Racing.
“A team like ours next year will have an ACT car and a PASS car. Whichever race pays the best at the track we like the most, we’re going to go.
“I’ve won a championship three times. I really don’t care about points anymore. I just want to drive racecars. That’s how [team owner] Rick Moody is – if there is a race somewhere, it doesn’t matter if it is in Canada or Tennessee, we’re going to race.”
LM OR SLM: WILL THE FANS NOTICE?
One criticism that has been made about the change is that the Super Late Models are being replaced with a lower division – one that is slower. But when tires [Pro Stocks/SLMs run 10-inch rubber, the Late Models run eight-inch tires] are taken out of the equation, is there really much of a difference? Dragon doesn’t think so.
“This cuts down on the cost and speed-wise, it really isn’t different,” said Dragon. “I think that at Oxford, if we were running the 10-inch tires, we would be very close to what we would run. Shawn Martin and Doug Coombs entered the 250 this year and they were very competitive with the same motor.”
So are the changes good or bad for the 250? Good or bad for racing? There are bound to be winners and losers with the changes, but probably not nearly as many as some people are predicting. There will be Super Late Models and Late Models racing in New England in 2007 and beyond. Both PASS North and ACT had very healthy car counts at their late season shows. Neither tour appears to be going anywhere. The 250 will go on and possibly, this might all become a moot point in a few seasons given racing’s natural progression.
“Two or three years don’t the road, these cars will probably evolve into a Super Late Model and everyone will forget that we ever talked about all of this,” predicted Ben Rowe.
Either way the TD Banknorth 250 will take place on July 22, 2007 and what will happen then is just like the rest of racing – unpredictable.
Ben Rowe's Super Late Model ride - the #4 (Top - Norm Marx Photo) and his Late Model mount for 2006 - the #10 machine. (Bottom - 51 Photo). He won multiple times in both cars.
OPS track owner Bill Ryan (R) talks with Kyle Busch. (51 Photo)