For the second straight year, Mother Nature is delaying the start of the harness racing season in Bangor.
The lessons learned from last season’s on-again, off-again early season schedule due to frost and a defective drainage system have Bangor Raceway officials playing it safe with Bangor Historic Track this time around.
“The track is experiencing some conditions sort of like last year, but not nearly to the same degree. The areas we’re having trouble with are smaller,” said Jon Johnson, Penn National Gaming Co. general manager for Bangor operations. “Rather than make promises we can’t keep and wait a week or two, we’ll have a hard opening day date of May 8 to let these areas fully thaw, dry, harden up and develop.”
And if those areas still haven’t improved in another couple weeks, Johnson said they’ll be dug up and replaced with dry clay.
“I don’t think we’ll have to replace the dirt,” said Corey Smith, Bangor Raceway’s director of operations. “We just decided [to postpone] today. It’s not like last year’s situation with the track surface and the drainage. We had the city come up on Friday to check the drainage and everything.”
Smith said this isn’t a track problem so much as it’s a weather issue.
“Our new track maintenance supervisor, Justin Mahar, has done a terrific job of upkeep on the track with his crew and this in no way reflects on the quality of his work,” said Johnson. “This is Mother Nature’s deal.”
And, as Johnson and Smith have learned, you can’t fight Mother Nature.
“We got ambitious and hoped we could open in April, but the weather is what it is,” Smith said.
“Next year, we won’t open until May. We’re just avoiding April,” Johnson said.
This year’s postponement of opening day means six race dates will have to be rescheduled. Johnson said those dates will be added in the fall after approval by the Maine State Harness Racing Commission.
“We might be able to race next week, but we’re just trying to be proactive,” Smith said. “We learned a lot from last year. We might have raced at this time with these conditions in the past, but we want to be sure it’s the way we want it. We don’t want to go through all that start-stop stuff like we did last year again.”
Ironically, Monday night’s forecasts for hard, steady rain and high winds should help the track.
“I think the deluge tonight could actually help in terms of melting the frost and drawing it out,” said Smith.
Track workers first noticed the frost problem areas last Thursday. There are a couple of soft areas that were a bit soggy and spongy, according to Johnson.
“It’s more we’re digging out wet spots as opposed to ice like we had last year,” Smith explained. “As far as drainage, everything is draining properly. It looks great and feels good.
“We even had a fully-loaded water truck on it and it didn’t sink at all, even in the ditch.”