[Somewhat] WEEKLY COLUMN/BLOG PAGE
BILL’S BACK IN TIME
By Bill Ladabouche
ONE OF THE BEST SUPPORT DIVISIONS - ANYTIME ; ANYWHERE
To me, Oxford Plains Speedway was only a an entry in the old Cavalcade of Auto Racing until my first wife and I visited there on our honeymoon in August of 1969. Having only moved to Milton, Vermont a year before, I was still much more familiar with modified and sportsman coupes than with the late models featured at Oxford and at my new home track, Catamount Stadium. A recent email from former Oxford Plains charger and late model competitor Mark Bogue brought back a lot of memories.
Cavalcade of Auto Racing Photo
The pages of The Cavalcade of Auto Racing had led me to believe I would encounter the likes of Craig Goodwin
and Charlie “Choo CHoo” Huff at Oxford. Dick Mason [below] was one of the stars I did see in 1969.
Cavalcade of Racing Photo
I was interested to see that Mopars were a much more important and competitive part of the Oxford than they were at Catamount. Other than that, the car types in the track’s lead division were very comparable to those back in Milton, Vermont. The track layout at Oxford was certainly different than Catamount, a facility with a lot of mown lawns. As is true of most of that section of Maine, the grounds were mostly sand [and the rest was pavement]. The Bahres had used that sand to good measure in piling it around their light poles to protect drivers and poles.
Courtesy of Dan St. Pierre – Glines Facebook Page
Future ACT star and crew chief Dick Glines drives an early OPS late model. In the background
the sand and asphalt can be seen, as are the sand piles protecting Bob Bahre’s light poles.
The figure eight division was like nothing I had ever watched before [other than on Wide World of Sports] and Catamount Stadium did not have mini stocks either, as did Oxford. But neither the late models, the minis, nor the figure eights would leave the biggest impression on me after I saw the six cylinder charger class, which happened to be in its first official season.
The first thing to strike me was the fact that the make of the cars, having gone through the vast majority of a season, could only be ascertained by the roofline. The rest of the bodies were so wrinkled one could not make out what they once were. Secondly, the sheer number of these full – bodied six bangers made for huge heats [and a ridiculously – large feature].
Vin Hilliard Photo
As evidenced by this photo, the early Chargers were sometimes too wrinkled to have make and model distinguishable. Below – Stan Timberlake, who was better known to his townspeople as baseball star than an OPS champion.
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The track’s first Charger champion was also the points leader at the time of our visit – Stan Timberlake, of Turner with a white 1956 Ford simply numbered with a big red apple [in deference to the Turner Orchards which apparently sponsored him]. Timberlake managed the title with only two feature wins, while future legend Mike Rowe, of Auburn took three, along with Bill Birney, Cloyd [AJ] Martin, and John Welch. Also winning two that year was the man who would go on to win more Charger features  than any other – Steve Blood of Lovell.
West Paris’s Frankie Perham, winner of one race that year, would go on he next year to run a small six cylinder Valiant in the late models against overhead V-8’s. Rowe, too would move up to lead division. Blood would really break out in 1970 with nine features, but would lose the track title to Birney, who also took nine. Blood would win the championship in 1971 riding a thirteen win season], ironically the only title he won despite the 44 victories.
MVCRA Site Photo
George McKay, himself an important part of OPS lore, came from a natural racing background in the person of very early Oxford driver Charlie McKay, his father. Below – Alan Wilson [Car 53] also had a racing father at OPS, Willie Wilson. Alan went on to a good career in the late models after a legendary run in the Chargers.
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Timberlake seemed to disappear after his inaugural championship. Norway’s George McKay, who would chase Timberlake to that first title would stay in the mix for years to come, as did names like Carroll Noyes, Carlo “Buzzy” Bruno, Barry Belanger, Steve Bennett, T.W.Kirk, and many dozens more. The division had its stars who never had any aspirations beyond excellence on that level; but, the class was also a jumping off points for many of Maine’s biggest racing names. Obviously Rowe was the first and may be biggest of these. Others who came and went included the late Leland Kangas, Joey Tompkins, Dale Shaw, Ben Rowe, Ricky Rolfe, Glen Luce, and Tim Brackett – to name a few.
<![endif]> Lovell Historical Society Photo
No one deserves to be synonymous with the Oxford Chargers more that Steve Blood, who won almost 20 more features than anyone else. Below – Charlie Martin, with his old familiar Chevy #18, was one of the all – time Charger legends.
Maine Vintage race Cars Site Photo
The Chargers had their career legends, which were the most special to fans of that particular class. Besides Blood, who tried his hand at the late models before going back down to racing he could afford, the winners with long – lasting accomplishments are headed up by Windham’s Charlie Martin and Hebron’s Alan Wilson. Martin started with a big old black 1963 Chevy, and Wilson [like father, Willie] came to the track on a log truck. The division was characterized by back – to back champions. Oxford’s own Gene Smith did the feat in 1981 and 1982; and Charlie Martin did it in 1985 and 1986. But, Lisbon’s Blaine Chapman had the distinction of accomplishing this twice: 1987/88 and 1992/93. Chapman, a 15 feature winner, had wins in seven different seasons.
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Dennis Morgan [right], shown here with fellow stars Jim Field and Jody Duvall, shares a record for most seasons with a victory with Steve Blood. [Pretty good company]. Below – Duvall’s early 1980’s Charger, when the cars were becoming more respectable looking.
Steve Blood  and Dennis Morgan  hold the record for most wins in a season with 13 each. Understandably, each won the track title that particular year. Timberlake was the first Charger champion, while New Gloucester’s Buddy Leavitt [himself a 15 race career winner], was the track’s last – in 1994. Alan Wilson won 28 career features, 16 short of Blood. Wilson, like Blood, tried his hand at the late models at some point in his career – and he ran in the lead class longer than Steve.
Wayne Estes, a man who won at least one feature in 12 of the Charger seasons, who won 24 total features, and won at least one feature five seasons in a row in the late eighties and early nineties, curiously never won a track title. Estes won the fourth most features of all time and holds the record for the most years with at least one win; but he fell short while several drivers took a title with only two wins. Blood and Charlie Martin had wins in 11 seasons, and Wilson managed ten seasons. Cloyd “AJ” Martin of West Paris, was another frustrated title chaser, winning 17 total features and 10 in 1974 alone. In ’74 he went through one stretch where he almost unbeatable, but the title went to Buzzy Bruno, who took the title with the only two feature wins the Hebron driver ever got in the Chargers.
Charlie Huston won 5 Charger features in the early 1970’s. This Huston Charger was active in the early 1980’s. Below – Don Bowie, a fixture in the Chargers and the Figure Eights, spins out in the 1970’s with his P38.
Vin Hilliard Photo
Sudden Sam Sessions, a man who took 10 wins in 1981, won a fifth – best 19 features in his career; but he won them all in only three seasons. He failed to take the track title in 1981, losing the more consistent Gene Smith who was on his way to taking two titles in a row. The class did not always make much sense. Blood won 44 features and only one title, while Blaine Chapman had a comparatively puny 15 wins but won 4 track championships.
In those early days on 1969 and the early ‘70’s, consistency was what it was all about. With huge Charger feature fields and the top point men always in the rear, they would patiently pick their way through the monotonously – humming pack, trying only to finish as high as possible and keep up their points totals. Birney and Blood did pretty well at this in 1970, each winning 9; but, other years, the biggest winning total was three or four.
Lewiston Sun Journal Photo
David Smith, shown here in Victory Lane with his Figure Eight car, was also an accomplished
Charger driver, winning 7 features. Several men drove in both classes. Below - Mark Bogue, who
also won 7 chargers features, is shown here running a late model on the NASCAR North tour
at Catamount Stadium around 1984.
Denis LaChance Photo
The Chargers and the figure eight division had a working relationship. Mechanic Falls’ Jon “Captain America” Lizotte took one Charger title and three figure eight championships. Five figure eight champions were feature winners in the Chargers. Frequent Figure Eight champ David Smith won in the Chargers, as did Kevin Litchfield, Lizotte, Larry Emerson [10 wins], Joe Constantino [11 wins], and Don Bowie. Jim Field, who won 11 features, did manage a feature win in five straight years, as did the part – time figure eighter Larry Emerson and Jody Duval
This unidentified early 80’s Charger shows how the class had become a little more
expensive and nowhere near as physical. It looked this good in July.
The last name of Blood produced 44 feature wins and one championship in the Oxford Plains Speedway Charger division. The last name of Martin [Charlie and Cloyd] produced 42 wins and three championships. No one else came that close. The division was discontinued after the 1994 season, its cars barely resembling the inaugural class in 1969. But it left a legacy, both with the Steve Bloods, the Alan Wilsons, and the Charlie Martins, as well as the graduated stars like Rowe, Shaw, and Brackett. The huge winning Blood is only complimented by the one – feature winner like Peter Hodgdon.
Racing would be much poorer had we not watched Timberlake picking his way through what seemed like a thousand battered six bangers in 1969. Would OPS have been the same without the hot years of departed stars like Joey “The Jet” Tompkins or Leland Kangas ? Would I have wanted to miss Buzzy Bruno, or Everett Danforth ? Definitely not. Dan Ashley and his psychedelic Charger that had “Whast a long, strange trip it has been” emblazoned on the trunk. That made Stock Car Racing magazine. I miss those guys.
Lewiston Sun Journal Photo
These two proud early Chargers show how placing well meant just as much to them as
if they had won the late model feature. [They probably worked harder, actually].
Please email me if you have any photos to lend me or information and corrections I could benefit from. Please do not submit anything you are not willing to allow me to use on my website - and thanks. Email is: firstname.lastname@example.org . For those who still don’t like computers - my regular address is: Bill Ladabouche, 23 York Street, Swanton, Vermont 05488.
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