With the state’s mild winter paving the way for an early spring, the men who own or lease the state’s six stock car tracks are cautiously optimistic about the upcoming season.
The reason the word “cautiously” is attached to the “optimism” is the concern another wet spring and summer could wreak havoc as they have the past few years.
Hermon’s Speedway 95 and Caribou’s Spud Speedway will probably see the most significant changes.
Speedway 95 co-owners Del Merritt and Alice Baker are hoping to repave the corners when the weather cooperates at a price tag in the $40,000 range, according to Merritt.
Spud Speedway owner Troy Haney said he is looking at renovation costs of at least $100,000.
Everyone is anxious to get started but, despite the favorable conditions, nobody is pushing their season-opening weekend up to try to capitalize on it.
“When you’re standing around on some of these [spring-like] days in Portland, you get the racing itch,” said Beech Ridge Motor Speedway owner Andy Cusack. “I’d love to [push up the starting date] and the drivers would, too.
“But I’ve learned over the years that when you procure a schedule and get it published, you have to stick with it,” said Cusack, who will have a Pro All-Stars Series Super Late Model race May 1 but won’t begin his weekly racing card until May 29.
Cusack explained that trying to change it would involve spending more money on a “major advertising campaign and that would be cost-prohibitive.”
However, Cusack also pointed out the spring-like weather has its advantages leading up to the season-opening races.
“When there’s snow on the back stretch and people are still shoveling snow at their homes, it’s hard to get people enthusiastic about racing,” said Cusack. “This year, we’re ahead of schedule so people can get their yard work done first. They won’t have to cram everything in. They won’t have to make a choice [between yard work and going to the races].”
“There’s a lot of excitement,” said George Fernald Jr., who leases Unity Raceway from Ralph and Nancy Nason. “People are tired of sitting home and saving money. They want to get out and spend some money.”
Haney said the mild winter enabled people to save money on fuel and plowing expenses which bodes well for the racing season.
Spud Speedway, Speedway 95 and Wiscasset Raceway will have a three-race Maine Racing Alliance series for their top class, the Late Models. There will be one race at each track.
Merritt and Baker will open first.
They will have a PASS Super Late Model race April 18 before kicking off their season April 25 at 2 p.m.
“We have to repave all four corners to try to get some side-by-side racing,” said Merritt. “We repaved corners two and four a few years ago. It helped some but not enough. We have to wait until it gets warmer [to do the paving] so the asphalt will hold. They can do it in about three days. We may have to take a week off to do it.”
Merritt said they will continue with the same classes they had last year in the weekend racing and the popular entry-level Wacky Wednesday racing which will start June 9.
Haney will host his first ever PASS North Super Late Model and Modified races on Aug. 21.
Former NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Sterling Marlin will be part of the weekend’s festivities.
“We have a lot of big changes,” said Haney. “We’ve installed a new sound system, new entryways, concession stands on both sides and we’re expanding the pits.”
A Mainely Modified Tour race, a memorial race for old-time Spud Speedway races honoring the Larry Cowett, a prominent car builder, tractor pulls and a concert will also be held at Spud Speedway in addition to regular racing for the same classes as a year ago.
Spud Speedway racing will begin May 30 at 1 p.m.
Fernald said this will be a “make or break year” for him and his aspirations to continue leasing the track after this year.
The inclement weather and the threat of inclement weather has proved costly the previous two years.
“Last year, we lost two months worth of racing,” said Fernald.
He has already seen a positive omen.
“As far as the land the track is on, it’s the driest I’ve seen it in the 25 years I’ve been here,” said Fernald, who bought a Farmer’s Almanac to help him with weather prognosticating.
The first annual Memorial 300, a 200-lap Late Model and 100-lap Wildcats race, will be held May 29.
They will open May 15 at 4 p.m. but will again race Friday nights at 6:30 with a Saturday night rain date. The same classes will be running.
For the fourth straight year, an American-Canadian Tour race will kick off the Oxford Plains Speedway schedule on May 16.
The 37th annual TD Bank Oxford 250 will be held July 18.
“We’ll have the same divisions,” said OPS owner Bill Ryan. “The Late Model division has been going great. It is affordable and that has kept a lot of guys in racing who, otherwise, wouldn’t be able to do it.”
Ryan has had a stable of Sprint Cup drivers involved in the 250s in recent years but nobody has signed up as yet.
“We’ve been talking to a bunch of people interested in coming up but it’s harder and harder for Cup guys to fit it into their schedules,” said Ryan. “But whether we have Cup racers or not, there’s a ton of interest and there will be a ton of racers. It will be a good event.”
Doug White has dropped his Pro Stock class “because there wasn’t enough interest to keep it going” but he is looking forward to having the rest of his classes on Sundays at 2 p.m.
He will open May 23.
They will have three entry-level classes which will alternate from week to week on the race cards: 6-cylinder cars, 4-cylinder cars and minivans.
“We’re super pleased with the Maine Racing Alliance series [with Speedway 95 and Spud Speedway],” said White. We’re trying to unify our rules in the other classes as well.”
Beech Ridge Motor Speedway will have a PASS SLM race May 1 but won’t open for its classes until May 29.
“We’ve streamlined our schedule so we’re not as overrun with early-season races as we used to be,” said Cusack. “That’s the worst time to put on a show.”
Beech Ridge is the only track with Pro Stock cars.
“We’ve got a healthy field, surprisingly, the way the economy is,” said Cusack. “Entries are rebounding in all classes. We’ll have 100-plus cars every night.”
There will be two other PASS races (July 10, Sept. 12), an ACT race (July 24) and Thursday Night Thunder racing beginning June 17 and three Day of Destruction events beginning May 30.