Roger Oxee in his #39 Baretta back in the mid 90s, a car similar to one in
appearance that he will be bringing out in 2016. (photo courtesy of Roger Oxee)
by Mike Fields
December 31, 2015, Long Beach, NY— its New Year Eve, and I’ve just gotten off the phone with Roger ‘RJ’ Oxee, where we talked a bit about his team, accomplishments, and the state of Riverhead Raceway’s Late Model division.
RJ started (and ended) racing back in ’79 at Riverhead. That was back in the day when the track combined a Grand Am and Bomber division, which he described as a bit of a mess. For one thing, RJ, didn’t like the finish that he had, didn’t like the car he had, cut up the car after the race, and got rid of it. And that was the end of his abbreviated racing career. But then again, maybe not.
In 1980, after sitting around for a year, he started building another car, which he ran starting in ’81. It took until ’85 to take down his first checker, which led him to his current total of 64 wins. He’s had some good years and some lean years, including a dry spell for the last couple. In the coming final 2016 season, he would like to make every show at Riverhead, and drive off-island to Evergreen and New London-Waterford, then he’ll have the car up for sale. If it hasn’t sold by then, he’ll make the annual pilgrimage up to Thompson for the finale. The one thing left on his bucket list (well, his racing bucket list) is to win a race off of Long Island, which is the one thing on his resume that is missing.
Still, he sees a positive future for the division from the days when the division’s car counts were down to 7 or 8 in the mid 90’s to how it has picked up over the past few years to about 14 or so. “We’ll get more cars into the division as it’s more stable. Plus there are rising payoffs. Lately, you could win every race each week, and still come out on the losing end, because it didn’t cover the cost of tires and fuel. I think it’s a strong division.”
However, one thing that you won’t find at Riverhead in 2017 on any night the Late Models are scheduled, is Oxee hanging around the grandstands or in the pits. He admittedly wouldn’t be happy at all about seeing Late Models on the track without him being in on it himself. Maybe he’ll be out on his boat instead.
We’ll miss seeing the immaculate looking #39 both on the track and in the pits after next season. One thing that drivers, fans, and officials have noted over the years is the pristine condition of his equipment, and the fact that just about every blank space on the car has a sponsor listed, which is what most drivers try (and oft times fail) to accomplish.
“Appearance means a lot without duct tape,” he commented. “I try to do things so I don’t just take the money and run. I like to do it up as big and bold as you can. Some of them listed don’t give me money and I just put them on for sentimental reasons.” And how to keep a sponsor? “I try to do things right,” RJ stated. “A photo, a team sweatshirt, a plaque at the end of the season, appearances on a night off where we bring the car. I try to do my best for my sponsors.”
Regardless, he is insisting (once again) that this will be his final season. He has made this announcement numerous times before, and after the first one when he was still driving, many people got a little bit silly about it (including me). I’m just wondering if this season, we’ll see new sponsorship on his car from AARP, Doan’s Pills, Geritol, or Depend. Well, it just gives us all something to ponder.
“Me and the crew are getting older, and it’s not getting any easier,” he told me. “It’s an older division, although there’s a handful of talented younger guys. But it’s strong.” I mentioned that as of the other night when I looked at Riverhead’s website, there were 23 numbers registered to drivers. “That doesn’t mean anything,” he informed me. “Some of those guys will not come out. Some want to reserve their numbers for whenever they do come out. Some just want to see their name up on the roster.”
“I’d like to win again in 2016. I’d like to walk away a champion.” Whether or not he takes a checker of a championship his final year, he’ll already have walking away being a champion covered.
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