Race fans at the annual TD Banknorth Oxford 250 are usually torn. Beginning in 2004, when progressive Oxford Plains Speedway owner Bill Ryan began scheduling the 250 during Sprint Cup’ s off-weekend so he could attract NASCAR drivers to run his race, race fans have found themselves choosing sides.
Do you cheer for the high-profile Cup drivers since they are passing up a rare weekend off to race at their track?
Or do you root for the local drivers in their quest to prove to the Cup drivers that there are some pretty fair drivers in the Pine Tree State who race for the love of the sport.
They cheered for both on Monday night.
Kevin Harvick, who is trying to earn his third consecutive berth in the championship chase in the Cup series and is currently ninth in points, won the 35th annual race much to the delight of the fans who survived Sunday night’ s rainout and Monday’ s 3?-hour rain delay.
The first thing Harvick did when interviewed after the race was thank the fans and the state for the hospitality he enjoyed during his five-day visit.
He had signed autographs at a Quirk dealership in Portland on Thursday and filmed a commercial for the dealership’ s NASCAR GM Goodwrench Pro Shop.
Quirk Auto Dealerships was the primary sponsor for his Late Model Chevy.
Jack Quirk, the president and CEO of Quirk Auto Dealerships, brought Harvick and his wife, DeLana, to his Bangor dealership in 2003. He also brought Tony Stewart and the late Dale Earnhardt (twice) to his dealership.
Quirk said the Cup drivers are caught by surprise by the fan support and the passion the fans in Maine have for the sport.
You can usually tell if a high-profile personality is enjoying him or herself at a public function or just going through the motions.
Quirk said Harvick was sincere in his dealings with his fans and said he always has a good time with him.
“Kevin spent a lot of time with the crowd and they all loved it. He did a real good job with the fans,” said Quirk. “He knows his fan base is widespread and there are a lot of fans in Maine and Vermont. Some of his crew members from his former days in the Nationwide series were from Maine and Vermont.
“Kevin and DeLana have a lot of friends up here,” added Quirk.
It costs money to sponsor a race car and Quirk wouldn’ t divulge what it cost to sponsor Harvick’ s car.
However, Harvick reportedly receives in the vicinity of $20,000 for an appearance and that is believed to be in the ballpark with his sponsorship deal with Quirk.
Quirk has gotten to know Harvick through their business dealings and he said he expects Harvick to “encourage a lot of other [Cup] drivers” to give the 250 a shot.
Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch were the first two prominent Cup drivers to answer Ryan’ s call in 2004. Kyle Busch, Terry Labonte, Denny Hamlin and J.J. Yeley are among the others since then.
Harvick certainly added to his fan base at OPS Monday night.
It was a trying weekend due to the rain delays and having Sunday night’ s race pushed back to Monday night.
But he took it in stride and never complained. He made the most of it.
Race fans in Maine deserve an opportunity to see some of the drivers they enjoy watching on TV every weekend.
And it’ s classy when the Cup drivers acknowledge the fans.