It was 43 years ago.
The inaugural race card at Winterport Dragway was going to be held.
Cappy Holt, one of the co-owners along with the late Gary Sargent, felt somebody should christen the track by taking a pass down the quarter mile before the racing began.
“And he said it might as well be you,” said Lamoine’s Carl Crowley who, along with the late Gary Jenkins, helped Holt and Sargent get it opened.
Crowley climbed into his 1964 Pontiac GTO and gladly did the honors.
Holt, Jenkins, Crowley and Sargent had been drag racing in Sanford and wanted to reduce the travel so they approached the town of Winterport about using the old abandoned airfield for racing.
“They were a little tentative but they let us give it a try and here we are 43 years later,” said Crowley.
Crowley spent three years reviving the GTO for the 40th anniversary celebration three years ago and he still has it.
It is now a one-eighth mile track.
There is no shortage of cars from that era when the Gassah Guys Nostalgia Reunion events are held at the Dragway.
They held the first of five events last weekend.
It is the fourth year of the series, which is the brainchild of Augusta’s Vaughan Stevens.
Stevens, who promotes the series, said they had a “great show” last weekend and admits he has been surprised by the growth of the series.
“This is exactly what I hoped would happen but I never expected to have such [good] car counts and so many spectators,” said Stevens.
Bob Reynolds, president of the Winterport Dragway Association that owns and operates the facility, said there were approximately 80 vintage dragsters and more than 800 fans on hand for the Gassah Guys.
“On a normal Sunday [without the Gassah Guys series], we’ll get 200-300 spectators,” said Reynolds.
Stevens and Crowley said one of the primary reasons for the series’ popularity is the return of racers from that era.
“A lot of guys who gave up on racing 35 years ago are back at it. They’re building new cars, facsimiles of the ’60s and ’70s cars,” said Stevens.
“Their houses are paid for, the kids are out of the house and their educations are paid for so the guys are saying to their wives that they want to go back drag racing,” said Crowley, who is a member of the Winterport Dragway Association.
While the sagging economy has hurt the car counts and attendance at some of the state’s stock car tracks, Reynolds said the economic downturn is a plus for them.
“I think it helps us a little bit because people are staying local,” said Reynolds.
Crowley hasn’t been surprised by the growth of drag racing.
“It’s an automotive sport and Americans love their automobiles. They always have,” said Crowley. “When we started the drag strip, we were right in the middle of the muscle car era. Everybody was buying muscle cars with high horsepower.
“And they needed a place to race to show how fast they could go. They couldn’t race in the streets,” said Crowley.
He said one of the other attractions to the sport is the fact “you don’t beat the car up like you do in stock car racing. When you wreck your car, it’s a big expense.”
He also noted that stock car drivers have to spend more money on tires because they wear out.
Crowley, Stevens and Reynolds said the fact the National Hot Rod Association’s drag races receive a lot of national television coverage has also helped the sport.
Crowley, who is 68, doesn’t race much any more because his son, Kevin, is a drag racer and he prefers to watch his son compete.
He has attended several of the Gassah Guy Reunion races and thoroughly enjoys them.
“I got a chance to see some buddies I haven’t seen in 25-35 years,” said Crowley.
Stevens said the interest in the Gassah Guys events has reached the point where it has gained a level of regional status.
“I was at New England Dragway [Epping, N.H.] on Memorial Day weekend trying to drum up interest and people were actually coming up to me [and asking about it],” said Stevens.
Stevens said nostalgia drag racing, complete with flag starts like the old days rather than the current electronic starts, is “really growing all over the country.”
The other four Gassah Guys Reunion events will be held on July 10, Aug. 6-7, Sept. 11 and Oct. 2.
Winterport Dragway’s regular race card will return on Sunday beginning at 9 a.m. There will be four classes.
Reynolds said they have improved the track by re-paving 500 feet of it at an approximate expense of $20,000.
PASS races at Unity Sunday
The Pro All-Stars Series will return to Unity Raceway on Sunday with the Father’s Day 150 in the PASS Super Late Model North series highlighting the card.
Racing begins at 3:00.
The PASS Sportman and PASS Modified series will also hold feature races.
Freedom native Randy Turner won the last PASS North SLM at Unity Raceway last August. It was his first PASS North SLM victory and he will be back in the field.
Hallowell’s Johnny Clark leads the points with 655 thanks to wins in two of the three races held so far. He is the defending two-time points champ.
Turner’s Ben Rowe trails him by five points and Farmington’s Cassius Clark is third with 630 points.