PORTLAND — Parity and affordability.
Those were the reasons given by Oxford Plains Speedway owner Bill Ryan for two rules changes implemented for Sunday night’s 37th annual TD Bank 250 race at OPS.
Teams will not lose a lap under caution like they used to if they didn’t service their car in time to exit the pits ahead of the circling pace car and race teams will only be able to purchase eight tires this year instead of 10.
Even though caution laps don’t count toward the 250 laps, a driver could still be a lap down if he was late exiting the pits.
Under the old rule, you had to follow the pace car to the pit entrance and couldn’t pass the pace car until you reached your pit stall; then you had to get your car serviced before racing to the end of pit road where you rejoined the field before the pace car got there or you went a lap down. The pace car would circle the 3/8-mile track at approximately 30 miles an hour so teams had to get their cars serviced in a 45-second window or go a lap down.
What would occur is teams would make several pit stops during caution periods to continue working on their cars until they got ready to drop the green flag.
“I think it’s a good idea,” said defending champion Eddie MacDonald of Rowley, Mass. “If you have a problem that you have to get fixed, it won’t ruin your day [by putting you laps down].”
Joey Polewarczyk of Hudson, N.H., said he likes the fact it will make things easier for the pit crews.
“There’s a lot of pressure on them to be as quick as possible,” said Polewarczyk. “The crews do the best they can.”
And, as several drivers pointed out, a lot of the pit-crew members are friends or volunteers without a lot of experience.
“We’ll still want to beat the other crews but it won’t be as dangerous for the crews now,” said Frenchville’s Shawn Martin, who lives in Turner.
Weekly Late Model features at OPS and at the state’s other tracks range from 25 to 50 laps so a driver doesn’t require a tire change and can stay out on the track unless there is a problem with the car. That means a full pit crew isn’t needed.
Ryan said it is difficult for crews to complete a thorough service during a pit stop on Oxford’s short track without going a lap down.
Jeremie Whorff of West Bath, who won the 250 in 2006, doesn’t like the rule change, saying, “it takes a lot of pit strategy out of the race. Races have been won and lost on cautions.”
“But you can still gain positions in the pits,” countered Glen Luce of Turner.
“You can gain spots without losing a lap. I think that’s good,” said Dennis Spencer Jr. of Oxford.
Reducing the number of tires could help increase the number of entrants according to Polewarczyk.
“It will help keep the cost down so more teams will show up,” said Polewarczyk.
Racing tires range from $108-$120 apiece.
“We’re just trying to keep it more affordable,” said Ryan.
However, the drivers said the ones who qualify in the early heat races, rather than having to race in the consolation or last-chance races, will have a distinct advantage.
“If you have to go through a [consolation race] and the last-chance race, you aren’t going to have a lot of tire left,” said Martin.
Luce said it promotes parity.
“I don’t mind it at all,” said Luce. “You have four or five teams who could buy 24 tires if they allowed it [giving them an unfair advantage].”
“The [eight-tire rule] will help the smaller [and underfunded] teams,” said Whorff.
There are six, 20-lap heat races and the top four cars in each qualify. If a driver doesn’t qualify, he goes to one of three 20-lap consolation races in which the top four from each qualify.
Then there are three, 20-lap last-chance qualifying races in which only the winners get in the 250.
MacDonald ready to defend title
MacDonald has fond memories of last year’s triumph, which put $35,300 into his pocket.
“That was a huge win,” said MacDonald. “Between the payday and the history of the race, it was pretty cool.”
MacDonald is one of the favorites Sunday.
Not only is he the defending champ, he won both 150-lap American-Canadian Tour Late Model races at OPS this season.
He is running in ninth place in the K & N Pro Series East points standings, where he is running full time.
He has four top-10 finishes in six races but no top-fives.
He finished second in the points a year ago.
“We’ve had a decent year but we’ve struggled a little bit in the K & N Series,” said the 30-year-old MacDonald. “It’s nice that we have only 10 races in the K & N Series so we can run for a points championship in that series, although that’s not going to happen for us this year, and still be able to runraces like the Oxford 250.”
MacDonald doesn’t feel there will be any additional pressure on him to defend his triumph but would love to provide another one for his crew chief, Rollie Lachance, who is an Auburn native.
“I know his friends and family will be there,” said MacDonald, who will be driving a Pontiac Grand Prix. “We’re really focusing on this race.”
Two of the drivers ahead of MacDonald in the K & N standings are Darrell Wallace Jr., who is second, and Ryan Gifford, who is sixth. They drive for Revolution Racing and competition director Andy Santerre of Cherryfield.
Brett Moffitt is third in the points and he drove for Andy Santerre Motorsports a year ago, finishing third in points as a rookie.
“Andy can really put a car together and get his drivers up front,” MacDonald said.