This was going to be an off-weekend for Rusty Poland, despite it being the biggest stock car racing weekend in Maine that will be capped off by the 47th running of the Oxford 250 on Sunday.
A year after qualifying for the 250 for the first time, the Windham driver was going to sit this one out. Then a combination of Mother Nature and his friends convinced him otherwise.
Poland’s first time making it into the Oxford 250 feature came during a season in which he finished fifth in the Super Late Model point standings at Oxford Plains Speedway. However, this year he decided to go back to what he considers his “home” race track, Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in Scarborough, and compete in that track’s Pro Series.
Last Saturday he was set to race at Beech Ridge, but then rain forced the track to cancel the day’s slate. So on a whim, Poland made a last-minute decision to head over to Oxford Plains Speedway to try and compete in a scheduled 100-lap Oxford 250 qualifying race.
“We showed up, missed practice and everything,” Poland said. “Had our friend Dalton Myers pick us out some tires and another friend Wyatt Alexander let us borrow some wheels, so when I got to the track we were ready to go.”
Poland started last in his qualifying heat but was still able to make it into the feature. After starting near the back he was able to grind his way to a 13th-place finish.
“Gave us a lot of confidence,” Poland said. “We had so many people say we should run (the Oxford 250) that I decided, what the heck, let’s see if anyone wants to help us out.”
Poland posted on his Facebook page Monday morning that all the posts he saw from other racing people getting ready for the 250 bummed him out because at that point he wasn’t planning on attempting to qualify.
“We had zero intentions of running it (going into the season),” Poland said. “This was going to be our ‘rebuild’ season. We made some changes to the car this winter and we were going to focus on just Beech Ridge and getting competitive there.”
After enough people had commented on his post wondering why he wouldn’t try to qualify, Poland put out another post that evening looking for sponsorship so he could afford tires ($180 per tire) for the weekend. It only took three hours and 20 minutes for Poland to follow up on that post and state that he had changed his mind, drummed up enough financial support and was going to enter the event.
“The amount of support I get from family, friends, sponsors and social media is overwhelming. I think within an hour-and-a-half we had the donations to be able to go race this weekend,” Poland said. “It’s like that little kid that wants their first bicycle and they walk out on Christmas morning and there it is under the tree. Absolutely amazing to me to feel the presence of all the positive attitudes surrounding us.”
Poland is going to Oxford feeling positive about his chances. He made it into the 250 last year thanks to a provisional, but, in his words, “we weren’t very good.”
He finished 31st out of 44 cars, five laps back of race winner Travis Benjamin.
Poland’s first attempt to qualify came in 2018, but he didn’t make it in through the qualifying process. Making it in last year calmed him down, in the sense that a dream of his came true.
Not having a good showing last year, combined with having a better car this year, “really lights a fire down inside,” Poland said.
“It won’t be easy, but I think we should have a good shot at making the race,” he said. “Overall, a top-15 finish would be awesome, and that’s what we’re hoping for. Anything better then that I’d be super happy.”