But when this year’s 250 drew 87 entries and a packed grandstand of approximately 15,000 people, Pro Stock/Super Late Model teams and fans breathed a sigh of relief.  It looked like any major change could be a few years away.

Two weeks after the 250 was in the record books, the track announced the change though.  Late Models would replace the Super Late Models in 2007.

The reasons for the change were plentiful and were outlined in a statement from the track and its owner, Bill Ryan, Jr.  [click here for more].  It was easy to see the winners from the move – now Late Model teams from the ACT ranks, as well as weekly competitors from tracks throughout New England such as Lee USA Speedway (NH), Seekonk Speedway (MA) and Waterford Speedbowl (CT) would be able to compete for a $25,000+ winner’s purse.  Oxford LMS regulars had seen their rules get closer and closer to ACT rules in the past few season, so it gave them a place to race too.
“That’s the biggest race in New England, I’m very excited we’ll be able to race it next year!” said second year ACT driver Ryan Vanasse. “Pro Stocks are expensive cars and even though I used to have one, I was never able to make the finances work to go to the 250.  The ACT Late Model is an affordable car. Seekonk (Speedway) is also heading toward ACT’s rules for that very same reason.”

New drivers would make it into the race and old faces could also return given the right circumstances.
Late Models to Replace Super Late Models for '07 Race
It was a move that had been rumored throughout the region for several years – that the TD Banknorth 250 at Oxford Plains Speedway, one of the richest and most prestigious short track events anywhere, could drop the Pro Stock/Super Late Model class that has been the norm for the race since 1993 in favor of less-expensive ACT-type Late Models with spec engines, spec shocks and lower-priced parts all around.
didn’t have enough tires at the 250 this year.  To me, I took that as that they didn’t want to get stuck with any tires at the end of the year. 

“They had 80-something cars there and plenty of good cars.  I don’t know what else that they want to 250 to be.”

“This dilutes the quality of the race,” said Cushman.  “Over time, the cars will evolve and the drivers will get better.  The fans will also forget what is missing, but it will still be less of a race.”

Stepping down into a slower and less sophisticated racecar for such a prestigious race is something that the Super Late Model fraternity disagrees with the logic of.
“I’ll definitely have a car there and I won’t be surprised that there will be over 100 cars, especially with the influx from Canada, 10-15 should make the trip as opposed to the five they had this year,” said 1994 250 winner Derek Lynch.  “A gap has been bridged at the hand of Robbie Thompson, Ben and Mike Rowe, Dave Whitlock and myself.  The conception that it’s a step backwards to move from a Pro Stock to a Late Model has been overcome with the fact that we’ll be running for the same purse in 2007 that Jeremie Whorff won in 2006.”

It’s obvious why the Late Model guys were happy, but on the other hand the decision was a hard pill to swallow for two dozen Oxford Pro Stock regulars, the PASS North regulars who treated the event as a non-series “must enter” event in recent years and drivers from tracks such as Beech Ridge, Monadnock and Speedway 95 – tracks that feature Pro Stocks as their premier divisions.
All of those guys have their opinions and when Speed51.com caught up with two of the straightest shooters in New England Super Late Model Racing – driver Johnny Clark and car owner Jay Cushman, neither man was shy about saying what he really feels about the situation.

“I’m heartbroken,” said Cushman, who has had bad luck halt several attempts to win the 250 with his driver Scott Chubbuck.  “I’ve been to every 250 since 1979 and it has been my driving force every year to win that race.  It hurt a lot.”

“I think that it is too bad that they did this,” said Clark, who raced a Pro Stock at Oxford before stepping up to the PASS North tour.  “I think that they were too quick to do this.  We’ve heard rumors for two or three years about this.  I think that this decision was made before the season even started.  This was going to be the last year for Pro Stocks and it was kept hush-hush.  They
ACT head Tom Curley hinted strongly at the possibility on the night before this year’s 250, when the ACT Late Models ran a 100-lap support race for the Pro Stocks.

“Some of your fathers and your heroes have been in this race [the 250] for the last 33 years and you’ve watched it from the grandstands,” Curley said in the ACT drivers’ meeting that night.  “You know what this about and we set the tone here tonight [in the ACT race].  You don’t have any idea how important it is for you to put on a good race tonight, but trust me.  We can put on a great race tonight and you need to do that for a lot of reasons – some of which you will know later on.”

With those comments, it appeared that the writing could be on the wall for the Late Models to take over the 250.
Pro Stocks/Super Late Models are out at the Oxford 250.  (Justin St. Louis Photos)
Both Cushman and Clark think that racing is a division like ACT is bad for the drivers as well.

“To me, it’s more along the lines of train racing,” said Clark.  “I read a comment online about someone asking if the fans liked watching Mike Rowe, Johnny Clark and Cassius Clark all dominant.  Well, are we supposed to nail everyone with equipment so bad that a guy who started racing a year or two ago can race with Mike Rowe or Cassius Clark?  I don’t think that is the answer.  Look how long it took me to pay my dues and get to where I am now.  What are we doing?  We’re making it so that just about anybody can jump into one of these things.  I’ve lost two Oxford 250s already, I just don’t feel like it should be a race that you walk into a win.  When you do something with a crate engine, it opens that up.”
Jay Cushman stands over his car at this year's 250.  (51 Photo)
Late Models will run at the 250 in 2007 and beyond.  (Justin St. Louis Photo)
Johnny Clark is the one who is most impacted by the points changes.  But he's not complaining.  He just wants to win his second PASS title on the racetrack.  (Norm Marx Photo)
“If you took Michael Schumacher and myself and put us both into a Formula One car at Montreal, he would beat me by 30 seconds or so a lap.,” said Cushman. “If you put us both into identical Corvette Z06s, he might beat me by ten seconds a lap.  If you put us both into Volkswagen Beetles, he might beat me by only a second.  If I wanted to race against a better driver like that, I’d like to race in the slowest cars possible.

“Why is it that nobody from PASS North to Busch East to ASA to Busch South to All Pro to Hooters Cup have ever given anybody from ACT an opportunity to race anything else?  I think in all fairness, there’s not a big demand for talent because of the cars that they are driving.  You’re not giving those guys any opportunity to progress if they are capable of progressing.  My thought is that Jean Paul Cyr is pretty good because he wins more than everyone else in the same class.  I’ll give him credit that he has more talent, but how would you really know and how could he possibly develop it?  He is racing less of a car than some of us drive on the street.”

Racers have a reputation for doing what it takes to find a way to race.  Will Clark find a ride for next year’s 250 or would Cushman put together a car for the race?  Not likely.
“If I have the opportunity, I’d hate to think that I’d take it,” said Clark.  “Just because it’s a matter of principle.  This is my livelihood – Pro Stock racing with the big engines and the big tires.  They have too much horsepower and you can get yourself into trouble.  I hate this crate engine concept and I don’t want to do it. 

In a statement release by Oxford, Ryan stated that with about $3,000 in changes and a new spec engine, teams could switch over a Pro Stock to a Late Model.  Cushman, who is in the racing parts business, doesn’t think so.

“That is a complete joke,” said Cushman.  “I don’t have a car in my shop that could be converted.  I would need a chassis.  If I had a Howe XL or something before that with straight-up control arms.  You would have to date that back seven, eight or nine years.  If you could do that, it would cost more than $3,000.  The brakes would
be no good.  The shocks, wheels, transmission, clutch, driveshaft and body would be no good.  What would be good?  My radiator, seat, gauges and the fuel cell.”

And switching to a crate motor ? – which comes in one flavor from General Motors, a dyed in the wool Ford fan like Cushman wouldn’t dream of it.

“I’m not a fan of crate motors and I’m not going to run a Chevrolet.”

One development in the past few years at the 250 has been the emergence of several NASCAR stars attending the event.  Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Ricky Craven, Denny Hamlin and J.J. Yeley have all entered the race.  Those appearances have helped sell out the stands and with those names in the field, the race will be popular no matter what kind of car is raced, but is that a good thing for short track racing?
“You get a whole different group of people with the Cup drivers there,” said Cushman.  “When you call Denny Hamlin, J.J. Yeley or Ricky Craven – they don’t care.  They came for their money and they don’t care about winning the race other than the little bit of competitive nature that they have in them.  They are there for a paycheck.  Only one guy spent a dime out of his pocket to have a better chance at winning the race.  That was Kyle Busch.  I guarantee you that next year when Kyle Busch sees what the rules are, he’s going to say the same thing that I said about the Corvette, the Volkswagen and the racecar deal.  He can’t bring his shocks, he can’t use his knowledge or his ability to make the car the best that it can be and he can’t use his driving ability in a street stock.  I will be very surprised if
Kyle Busch has any interest in coming back once he knows what the game is.”

So what does the future of the 250 hold?

“Bill Ryan told me that he knew when he made this decision that he would alienate a whole bunch of hardcore racers,” said Cushman.  “But he told me that he thinks that for every one Jay Cushman, there are 20 ACT somebodies.  He said that not everyone  can afford to be competitive with a Super Late Model and that I can’t argue with.

“They might have 80 cars show up, but I doubt that they be ever have the same kind of race – not with cast iron street brakes, cast iron transmissions and parts like that.”

Of course, there are two sides to every story and there are dozens and dozens of Late Model teams out there who will disagree with most of those statements.  In coming weeks, Speed51.com will talk to those competitors to see why they think the 250 changes are a good thing that will bring more competition, higher car counts and plenty of good racing.

The Cushman team is so against crate engines that they have this logo on their T-Shirts.  (51 Photo)
Johnny Clark's #54   (Justin St. Louis Photo)
Justin St. Louis Photo