Liberty’s Dave St. Clair admitted he was “surprised” and “disappointed” when Speedway 95 co-owner Del Merritt called off the sale of the track to him.
Merritt had agreed to sell the Hermon-based track to St. Clair and the former Wiscasset Raceway owner issued him a check.
But Merritt had a change of heart after several sleepless nights.
“When he called me [to tell me he didn’t want to sell it], I thought he was joking,” said St. Clair. “But I went up there [last] Saturday and he gave me my check back.
“Del has been a friend for a long time,” added St. Clair. “I told him I’d do anything I could to help him out.”
St. Clair feels Speedway 95 has a lot of positives going for it like its location and accessibility right off the interstate and he was confident he could have improved the car counts.
He said a lot of people who have worked for him in the past at Wiscasset Raceway had inquired about working for him at Speedway 95.
St. Clair owned Wiscasset Raceway from 1991-2007 before selling it to Doug White.
Speedway 95 concluded its race season tragically Saturday night as popular driver and seven-time points champion John Phippen Jr. of Town Hill collapsed and died of an apparent heart attack after the 100-lap Maine Racing Alliance Late Model race. Phippen won titles at Speedway 95 (four), Unity Raceway (two) and Wiscasset (one).
Merritt, who has owned the track with Alice Baker since 1984, has already begun thinking about ways to “put people in the grandstands” next season.
Merritt said he has been energized after learning how much the track meant to him and his list of changes will begin with an attitude readjustment.
“We’ve got to get away from the negative attitudes. We need to redirect it into positive stuff. I want to partner with the drivers. I need them and they need me,” said Merritt.
He said his “phone lines are always open” and he hopes to get suggestions from drivers and fans.
“It doesn’t mean I’ll always agree with their ideas but I’m open to suggestions,” he said.
One of the changes he intends to make is to sort out the situation in the tech garage.
Three drivers were recently disqualified after a Late Model race by Scott Modery, who is number two in command behind Wayne Parritt. Parritt wasn’t at the race but agreed with the third member of the tech team, Bob Seger, that the technical inspection was flawed.
Merritt agreed and overturned the disqualifications.
“We have an on-going situation there,” said Merritt. “All three tech men are involved in a certain amount of cars and I’ve got to eliminate that.”
He said he may form a committee of Late Model drivers or even let all of them “decide what they want to change” and to allow them to police themselves when it comes to post-race tech inspections.
He also said they may not disqualify drivers next year. Instead, if a violation is detected in the postrace technical inspection, the driver might not be able to race the following week unless the violation is rectified.
“We need people to be happier when they come to the track next year,” said Merritt. “We don’t need them being upset and ticked off when they leave.”
He will make several cosmetic changes to the track including the removal of a rest room facility they no longer use; improving the tire wall that absorbs cars when they spin out of control and making the grandstands safer for the fans.
Merritt will stick with “Wacky Wednesdays” for entry-level classes and he intends to upgrade the rule book, consulting drivers in doing so.
“I want to see more people in the grandstands, even if I have to give away tickets,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of local drivers who have a lot of talent. They deserve to have people watch them race.”
He reiterated his earlier intentions to have some Thursday night races to avoid competing against the two NASCAR Sprint Cup weekends at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and the TD Bank 250 at Oxford Plains Speedway. He also wants to start racing after Mother’s Day weekend which is later than usual and he will probably begin the season racing Saturday nights instead of Sunday afternoons.
He noted Thursday night racing gives people an opportunity to race before going to NHMS or Oxford Plains Speedway “or it can also give them a weekend just to spend doing something else with their families.”
He also intends to find ways to improve his car counts.