Del Merritt has been affiliated with Hermon’s Speedway 95 since 1968.
Merritt and Alice Baker co-own the track.
The track will kick off the auto racing season Sunday at 2 p.m. with races in four classes plus the Wicked Good Vintage Cars, which are composed of race cars from the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s.
Merritt said he still gets excited over opening day because “I enjoy racing.
“Sometimes it gets kind of hectic but it’s good to get everything going,” he added.
Town Hill’s John Phippen Jr. is the defending points champion in the Late Model class, Hermon’s Kris Watson was the Super Street titlist, Ellsworth’s Bradley Norris triumphed in the Strictly Streets and David Green of Hampden was the Sport-Four winner.
Phippen won’t defend his title because he said he isn’t going to run a full schedule at Speedway 95.
“I’m cutting back. I’m going to do more of the longer races,” said the 57-year-old Phippen. “I think I’m going to run four races at Speedway, two at Unity [Raceway] and a couple at Wiscasset [Raceway] and Spud Speedway [in Caribou].”
Most Late Model races are 35 laps but there are also special races that go 50, 100 and 150 laps.
That means Phippen will be racing for one thing: Wins.
“I only won three times last year. I ought to win more than that,” said Phippen.
Merritt is hoping for a bounce-back year after a difficult 2009 season marred by poor weather and the economy.
“We had seven events rained out,” said Merritt. “Car counts were down and attendance was down.”
He is optimistic about the season if the weather cooperates.
“I think we’ll have a good field in the Late Models, Strictly Streets and the Sport-Fours,” said Merritt. “We’ll have to wait and see on the Super Streets.”
Merritt said it is important to get off to a good start so race fans can get into a race mentality.
The Pro All-Stars Series tour was supposed to race at Speedway 95 last Sunday but the threat of inclement weather postponed the racing.
“I hope they reschedule it. I haven’t talked to [PASS president] Tom Mayberry yet. It’s his call,” said Merritt.
He said admission prices will go up this year from $6 to $8 to help cover expenses.
He said the track is in “pretty decent condition” but he is having second thoughts about re-paving it to try to create a second racing groove. The outside groove is faster than the inside groove making it difficult to pass and limiting the side-by-side racing.
“I don’t want to spend $40,000 to re-pave it and make a mistake like I did six years ago,” he said. “We could re-pave it and have the inside groove become faster than the outside groove [which would leave us in the same predicament].”
They have spent more than $10,000 so far on a new utility pole and re-paving the road from the track to the pits, Merritt said.
Merritt added if car counts continue to struggle, he may stop having the Wacky Wednesday shows for entry-level classes and move them to the weekend where they would join the weekend classes for one long race night.
They have five classes on Wacky Wednesday, so when you add those to the Saturday night/Sunday afternoon cards, you’d have nine classes.
Wacky Wednesday racing begins June 9.