Auto racing is facing a crossroads at two tracks.
Unity Raceway and Spud Speedway in Caribou have been losing money and the men in charge are facing an important stretch beginning this weekend.
Ralph Nason, who owns Unity Raceway, applauded the decision by George Fernald Jr., who is leasing the track, to dramatically lower the pit and grandstand prices for this Saturday night’s race card.
This came in the wake of Fernald’s decision to halt the purse payments to the drivers due to financial constraints. Purse payments are $5,000-$6,000 per week.
Fernald said he has already lost $20,000 this season.
He will still hand out trophies to the top three finishers in each class, however.
Meanwhile, Spud Speedway owner Troy Haney has said that Sunday afternoon’s purse allotment will be part of a revenue sharing agreement between him and the drivers.
The revenue will be based on fan attendance since drivers do not have to pay an entry fee.
Spud Speedway will finish its race season, according to Haney, but Unity’s future is very much in doubt.
The prices at Unity Raceway will drop from $25 in the pits and $10 in the grandstands to $10 and $5, respectively.
Race car drivers will simply have to pay $10 for the pit fee. There won’t be an entry fee.
Nason said the local drivers should recognize that even though there won’t be purse money, it is still significantly cheaper to race at Unity than go to another track and pay the expenses to transport their race car to that track.
“The whole idea is how much does it cost you to run your race car? If they are honest with themselves and they put everything down on paper, this is the place to go to save money and race. And if they want to throw some money in a pot, they can still race for a purse if they want to,” said Nason who added that he will do “whatever I can to help [Fernald] him make that work.”
Fernald said Nason has been helpful throughout his time leasing the track.
Nason said he had a “blast” when he first started racing and would run inexpensive junk cars.
He feels low-cost racing is the way to go these days and the former success of Wacky Wednesday racing at Speedway 95 in Hermon is a healthy model to follow.
Wacky Wednesday is for entry level racers and Nason recalled seeing packed stands in the early years of it.
The admission prices are cheaper for Wacky Wednesday’s racing than Saturday night’s race card which is for more experienced drivers at Speedway 95. It is $10 for the pits and $6 for fans 11 and over at Wacky Wednesday compared to Saturday night’s $25 and $10, respectively.
Fernald said if Unity doesn’t get many cars on Saturday night, “we’ll shut it down for a little while. We’ll open for one or two more events.”
The annual Long John Late Model feature will be still held the weekend of Oct. 12-14, according to Fernald.
He also has a first ever 112-lap Maine State Enduro Championship scheduled for Dec. 1 but he said that race is up in the air.
Nason said Fernald has done a good job leasing the track and said he cares deeply for it.
“He has a big heart,” said Nason. “The number one problem has been the economy. It stinks.”
He said Fernald has been hurt by the fact his business, which involves transporting mobile homes all over New England, has forced him to travel a lot; he hasn’t had a promoter which has put too much of the workload on Fernald and he hasn’t advertised enough.
“He is also too good-hearted. He would give you the shirt off his back. But sometimes it gets cold and he needs that shirt,” said Nason.
“There have been some bright spots. He has some really good ideas,” said Nason. “Hopefully, this will work on Saturday night. I’m behind him.”
Nason, who charges Fernald $35,000 a year to lease Unity Raceway, said he is hopeful somebody will lease it next year.
“But if I don’t get the right person, I don’t care if it does get leased. I may just put on two or three [racing] shows next year,” said Nason, who has owned the track since 1980.
He said the track isn’t for sale although he will listen if someone offers to buy it.
In Caribou, Haney said the rest of the season is “critical” for him.
“We have to get things righted,” said Haney. “Our car counts are down around 20 percent and, because of the low car counts, our attendance is down around 50 percent.”
He said they average 25-30 cars per week and that’s for five classes.
Haney said he has lost well over $20,000 this year and, after finishing this year’s schedule, he will look to “revamp” the race program for next season.
“We’re struggling to get [new] people involved in the sport,” said Haney. “And we’ve had trouble landing [national] sponsors because we’re in a small market.”
He has met with the drivers and they have decided to band together to help keep the track open.
This is the second year Haney has struggled at the track but not for the same reason.
“Last year we lost half of our events due to rain,” he said.
Racing will be begin at 7 p.m. at Unity Raceway on Saturday and at 1 p.m. on Sunday at Spud Speedway.
To try to boost attendance, Haney will have a two-for-one admission deal on Sunday.