Commentary

Kyle Busch shouldn’t get grief for dominating Maine races

Posted July 26, 2011, at 7:31 p.m.
Kyle Busch
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Kyle Busch

OXFORD — The race of a thousand subplots has become the race of a hundred tired analogies.

So let’s clarify a few things about Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Jocko Maggiacomo or any other current or former NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers and their past, present and future participation in the TD Bank 250 at Oxford Plains Speedway.

No, it isn’t the equivalent of Adrian Gonzalez returning to the Portland Sea Dogs for a weekend series.

There’s absolutely no parallel to Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson entering the Three Chicks and a Rooster Scramble at Poland Spring.

Any comparisons to Brett Favre actually suiting up for a game with the workout buddies from his old high school team are grossly exaggerated.

Those words and others like them are hatched in the nest of sore losers, or by casual-to-moderate auto racing enthusiasts who don’t truly understand the sport.

Racing will never answer to the same cut-and-dried, neat-and-clean hierarchy that governs baseball, basketball, football, hockey, golf, tennis or tiddlywinks.

It’s just … different. And it’s especially different now than it was when Oxford’s midsummer circus was born in 1974 and peaked in the mid-1980s.

Stack the world of racing now against its predecessor then, and the now is barely recognizable. The only common denominators are an engine, a chassis, four tires, a pit crew and a driver with the fortitude to give it a hundred spins.

I’ve worn the spectator, journalist and short track management hats in this whirlwind of a career, and it has taught me plenty.

Racing fans — and yes, I still am one and, despite my staunchest efforts, always will be one — rarely are completely satisfied with a result. If a driver wins too frequently, he must be cheating. If you’re furnishing a live web blog of an event, there ought to be streaming video. If a late model race was good, a pro stock race would have been better.

If the national hero the promoter flies in for a race wins, he’s swiping food from the table of the drivers who provide the track’s heartbeat. If the ringer runs in the middle of the pack, he didn’t take the race seriously and the promoter didn’t secure a big enough star.

We also see our sport territorially and through our prescription racing goggles. There are people out there who will swear on Dave Dion’s autobiography that there were 25,000 people on the OPS grounds in the Bob Bahre era and a fair-to-middlin’ 15,000 during the Michael Liberty days.

Will you believe me when I tell you those numbers are a joke, unless you were counting limbs instead of heads? The list of people who insist they rolled around in the mud at Woodstock is more reliable.

There has been one official “sellout” in the 38-year history of the Noyes-Cooper/Budweiser/True Value/TD Bank 250. Go ahead, guess.

It was in 2004. Yes, the first year current speedway owner Bill Ryan picked up his phone, cracked open his checkbook and figured out what it would take to get a TV star to camp out here on a rare off-weekend.

Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch competed that year. Kurt’s little brother answered the call the next two summers.

Ricky Craven. J.J. Yeley, Denny Hamlin, Terry Labonte, Kevin Harvick, Kenny and Steve Wallace and Brad Keselowski followed the trail of dead presidents. (Yup, sorry to dispel another myth, but these dudes don’t visit our recessed, remote neighborhood strictly out of their love of competition or the goodness of their hearts.)

It was all fun and games until Harvick won in 2008 and Busch took his victory lap Sunday night. Suddenly the rumbles of cherry picking and cheated-up cars and the hue and cry about the size of their bank accounts grew in volume.

My best advice: Get used to it.

The days of the Oxford 250 being a run-what-you-brung, NASCAR national series points race are gone and never coming back. This race will exist as a shadow of its Reagan Administration self with loose connections to a regional touring series until it dies.

Another aspect of those racing goggles we wear is seeing our local drivers as bigger stars than they are.

We love Mike and Ben Rowe and Johnny and Cassius Clark. We can’t get enough of Brad Leighton, Jeff Taylor and Eddie MacDonald. Closer to home, Shawn Martin, Tim Brackett and Ricky Rolfe demand our attention.

Rightfully so, in every case.

But our vantage point is like being a kid and having your parents cart you to Sunday School every week. Then you’re shocked to find out there are atheists and agnostics in the world.

For every person like you or I who will spend hundreds of dollars and endure three days of cold showers and porta-potties to watch those guys race, there are 50 casual car guys, and gals, who don’t give a damn about them.

They generally experience racing in high-definition. They want a chance to see Kyle Busch stand on the roof of his car with a checkered flag in his hand. An opportunity to thrust their thumbs or middle fingers into the air.

NASCAR drivers are not only an addition to the TD Bank 250 experience. They are a necessary evil.

Neither Ryan nor any other promoter could afford to pay this purse, in this era, for a PASS race, an ACT race, an open race or any other race.

Ask the men who tried to promote such copycat events at Wiscasset and Unity raceways and lost their shirts, pants and savings.

Major league drivers aren’t killing the 250. They saved it from certain extinction.

Your heart wants to jeer Kyle Busch. Your head might consider sending him a thank-you card.

Kalle Oakes of the Lewiston Sun Journal is a staff columnist. His email is koakes@sunjournal.com.

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