OXFORD, Maine — Frenchville’s Shawn Martin was on cloud nine when the draw was announced for the TD Banknorth 250.
He had drawn the second starting spot in the third heat, meaning he had a great shot at earning a spot in the top 12 of the race.
In fact, if he won the heat, he would have started third. If he just had stayed second, he would have started ninth.
The top four finishers in the six heat races qualify for the 250 with the winners earning the first six spots, the second-place finishers earning spots 6 through 12 and so on.
But on the first lap in his heat race, pole-sitter Daniel Descoste slid up the track and spun Martin out. One of Martin’s tires came off the rim and rolled down the track.
He went to the pits, got a new tire and rim and returned to the track without losing a lap. He finished seventh to earn a better starting spot for the consolation heat and wound up second to claim the 29th starting spot.
Martin, who went on to finish fifth in the Oxford 250, was fuming about the accident.
“I got a great draw, a great car and that guy … I don’t know what the heck he was thinking. He just turned right and took me out. It was unfortunate,” said Martin. “It’s the 250. You would think it’s the best caliber of drivers out there. That guy doesn’t belong in an Enduro car.”
Martin credited his crew with composing him so he could salvage a seventh-place finish in the 12-car heat and then place second in the consolation.
“I was pretty wound up. They got me calmed down,” said Martin, who now lives in Turner. “We had a good start and were excited about it and figured if we stayed out of trouble, we were probably going to make it in on the first round.”
He said revenge entered his mind “but I knew better and just focused on getting the job done. That’s what we’re here to do.”
Martin, who is second in points in the Late Model division at Oxford Plains Speedway, finished a career-best fourth in the 250 a year after starting 25th.
Wallace remembers Oxford 250
Former Sprint Cup champion Rusty Wallace said Oxford Plains Speedway has fond memories for him. He finished 10th in the Oxford 250 in 1989 and won the Sprint Cup title that year. He concluded his career with 55 Cup victories.
He was the grand marshal for Sunday’s 250.
His son, Steve, and brother, Kenny, ran in the race.
“Steven and Kenny have never raced on tires this narrow. And all the cars are pretty similar,” said Wallace. “The competitors are all fired up for the race and it should be sold out.
“People are sick of cookie cutter tracks. They want something different. They want something unique, something with character. This track is very, very unique. I’ve never been on a track where you come off the corners onto the straightaway and the car still rolls toward the wall. And you don’t have walls here so people slide off the track, land in the infield and get back on the track. Their fenders don’t have to hit the wall. The track in Pensacola (Fla.) that holds the Snowball Derby doesn’t have walls. It’s an exciting style of track.”
OPS does have s low wall between turns two and three but there is a lot of grass between turns one and two and three and four.
Wallace’s son, Steve, runs for his race team in the Nationwide series and is eighth in points.
It is his third full season in the Nationwide series and Rusty is pleased with Steve’s progress.
“He’s having a good year. In my mind, it takes three years for a driver to get his feet on the ground and realize what he’s gotten in to. Juan Pablo Montoya was an F-1 champion but he didn’t get anything done his first two years in NASCAR. This is his third year and he understands the lingo and how to treat the fans and the me-dia. Roger Penske said [hiring a full-time driver] is a three-year investment. Sam Hornish won Indy 500s but had a terrible time in NASCAR when he started. Now he’s getting it.”
Wallace, an ESPN-TV NASCAR analyst, is cognizant of the fact NASCAR TV ratings and attendance are slipping.
He likes the new double-file restarts but noted that there have been a lot of wrecks because of it and it hasn’t helped ratings.
“TNT just finished their six-race stretch and ratings were down eight percent,” said Wallace.
But, as Penske told him, there is a “huge generation gap” and a lot of the greats of the sport who helped fill the seats are no longer racing.
“The young fans don’t know the old drivers and the older fans are crying for the sport to go back to the way it used to be. Nobody really knows the young drivers yet,” said Wallace.
He said part of the problem is the young drivers don’t get out to promote the sport like drivers used to.
“You need to get the drivers out in front of people at tracks like this,” said Wallace. “They run a race and then get out of there.”
Steve Wallace has been pleased with his Nationwide series season. He is currently eighth in points.
“We’ve been running real good and had some good finishes,” said Wallace.
He doesn’t feel any additional pressure driving for his dad and trying to live up to his dad’s legacy.
“There’s no pressure at all, really. I’ve lived with it my whole life. It’s all good,” said the younger Wallace.
Wallace struggled in the heats at Oxford and had to use a provisional and start last (43rd).
Still, he liked the track.
“It’s a cool track,” he said.
Family first for Dragon
Brent Dragon of Milton, Vt., did something his legendary father, Harmon “Beaver” Dragon never accomplished: winning the pole for the TD Banknorth 250.
“We usually have to go through the consis and the [last-chance] race,” grinned the 42-year-old Brent Dragon. “But the car has been good all weekend. Right from the start of the heats, our lap times were a tenth or two-tenths of a second faster than the other [heat] winners.”
Dragon has been having a strong season on the American-Canadian Tour with a win and a second-place finish in two of his last three races.
“We’re having a great year,” said Dragon whose first cousin, Scott Dragon, qualified 21st. Scott is the son of long-time racer Bobby Dragon, Beaver’s brother.
Brent Dragon likes the track, saying, “it’s real good. There’s a lot of grip on the outside.”
However, he did note that the track changes “drastically” when clouds cover the sun.
“The track becomes tight,” he said.
His father said he never came close to earning a pole.
“I had the pole at the other end,” quipped Beaver Dragon.
Racing has been a way of life for the Dragons.
“We love racing. It’s our life. And I love this race. I’ve been in racing for 42 years and I can’t wait for this race. I get mad at myself because I couldn’t win it. I wasn’t smooth enough and you have to be smooth to win this race.”
Gelinas competes in Connecticut
Scarborough’s Larry Gelinas, who won the 250 in 1996, travels to Thompson. Conn., to race Pro Stock cars every Thursday night.
“It’s a two and a half-hour drive,” said Gelinas. “I got a call and they wanted me to fill in.
“Even though I have a track in my back yard [Beech Ridge Motor Speedway], I don’t mind it. It’s hard to make money at Beech Ridge.”
He said he never considered retiring.
“It might be easy to get out of it but I don’t want to completely stop racing,” said Gelinas, who won the points title in the Late Model cars at Lee USA Speedway last season.
Gelinas qualified 25th but was spun into some wet grass on lap 139.