By Leslie H. Dixon
OXFORD — After decades of working together, Oxford Rescue will no longer be providing coverage for the Oxford Plains Speedway and the Oxford Plains Dragway, but owners of both race tracks say they have put in place an emergency personnel plan that will provide race drivers and fans with a safe experience.
The contract, that was dated March 24, 2016, between the town and the speedway was terminated by letter on July 7. The dragway terminated its services with the town in a June 8 letter.
The issue, the owners of racing facilities said, was the inability for Oxford Rescue to provide consistent personnel at the tracks during events.
“It came down to staffing,” Mike Mayberry, vice president of the Oxford Plains Speedway, said when asked why the decades old arrangement between the town and the local racing facility was terminated this summer.
Both he and Oxford Plains Dragway owner Jeff Shock said the inability for Oxford Rescue to provide consistent adequate staffing levels necessitated the move and in the case of the dragway, provided a cost savings for the business. The dragway abuts the speedway.
Mayberry said the cost of the coverage was not the issue.
“Really the cost of it wasn’t a bad charge at all with people and truck and for rescue coverage. It came down to staffing,” Mayberry said.
The three-eighths of a mile, paved, oval short track has seating for 14,000 spectators and is home to the Oxford 250 with a purse almost $200,000. It has been the scene of several racing-related deaths over the past three decades.
Although Mayberry said the speedway, like the dragway, is only required to staff the events with someone certified in first aid, they wanted to go beyond the minimum requirement to ensure the safety of racers and fans. Mayberry said the ambulance purchased by the speedway will be manned by at least two EMT-certified employees plus one in the grandstands – the same level as was provided in the contract with the town this year.
According to the terminated contract, dated March 24, the town billed the speedway for a rescue truck at $25 per hour, plus three personnel, including two in the rescue truck and one in the grandstands at the time and one-half hourly rate.
The dragway was to be covered by the town rescue at a rate of $25 per hour and payment for two Oxford Rescue personal at their time and one half hourly rate.
Shock agreed with Mayberry saying the move to sever the contract was based on staffing issues.
“They (Oxford Rescue) had called us this fall (2015) saying they had trouble getting coverage and we ought to be looking for alternative options,” said Shock.
The dragway, an one-eighth of a mile drag strip, operates 26 races a year and Shock said they have rarely had to use the services of the EMTs who stood by at the track.
“We were a little nervous that if we didn’t have coverage we wouldn’t run,” Shock said.
But after conferring with the state EMS, he said they were assured that as long as they had personnel certified in first aid as a minimum requirement, and certain other stipulations were met, such as having a rescue service within a certain distance of the track, they could continue operations.
With PACE less than 18 minutes away and Oxford Rescue only minutes down the street, the dragway felt confident it was well protected.
“This isn’t where I was looking to save money. It just happened that way,” Shock said.
“I want to thank Oxford Rescue for doing what they’ve done since we’ve been here but we’re moving forward and being more efficient and cost effective here,” Shock said.
Oxford Rescue Capt. Patty Hesse declined to comment on the issue except to say, “We have a heavy heart doing this. If they call 911 we will respond.”
Town Manager Derik Goodine said the decision by the track owners simply made good business sense.
“I have talked to the owners of the tracks and the decision to provide their rescue operation at their events was the result of them being told that the town may not be able to fill all the shifts at the events,” said Goodine.
Goodine said the contracts provided the “pass-through” for the town to be reimbursed for the money it pays out in payroll to the employees of the town that covered the racing events.
“The town will no longer be the pass-through in people getting paid that work these events,” he said.