UNITY, Maine — Unity Raceway has closed for the season for financial reasons, although the annual Long John Late Model race scheduled for Oct. 14 is still on.
George Fernald Jr., who leased the track from Ralph and Nancy Nason for five years before announcing that he would step down after this season, also said the Dec. 1 Maine State Enduro Championship 112-lap race has been canceled.
Fernald said the Nasons have been extremely supportive.
“They helped me out financially more than anyone knows. I’ll never be able to repay it. They believed in me and I feel like I failed them,” said Fernald.
Fernald said he isn’t sure who will be in charge of overseeing the Long John and other auxiliary races that weekend, but it will be held.
Racing had been scheduled to be held every weekend, except Sept. 29, leading up to the Long John weekend. There was also a race weekend in November and one in December.
Fernald had to stop paying purse money to the drivers earlier this month due to financial constraints.
The Aug. 4 race card was the last one in which he paid out purse money.
But he scheduled one more race card to see if the drivers would turn out and race just for trophies and that happened Saturday night after the Aug. 11 card was rained out.
Just 28 cars turned out for seven classes, he said.
He was willing to extend the season if a healthy number of drivers and fans turned out.
“We had 81 people in the pits and 100 or so in the grandstands. We didn’t make enough money to pay the insurance and stuff. It cost me money again. I lost about $1,500,” said Fernald.
“I can understand the guys trying other avenues like [Hermon’s] Speedway 95 or something else. They don’t realize I put my heart and soul into this and just about every penny we had,” said Fernald. “I figured they would come and support us for one more race.
“But it didn’t happen.”
Speedway 95 office manager and head scorer Kim Baker Allen said they had “six to eight cars” from Unity race with them in Hermon on Saturday night and they expect more in future weeks now that Unity has closed.
Speedway 95 is paying purse money.
Fernald said he doesn’t hold it against the drivers who didn’t race at Unity on Saturday.
“You learn who your friends are,” he said.
Fernald said he did meet a lot of nice people during his tenure but estimated he and his family have lost more than $30,000 the past five years.
“People forget that Ralph closed it down due to the economy,” said Fernald, who rescued it by leasing it for $35,000 a year. “I feel that we ran it in the toughest of [economic] times.”
Fernald said he made some enemies by disqualifying drivers for failing to pass post-race inspection or throwing drivers out for misbehaving.
“And they’d get mad at you and go race somewhere else or not race at all,” said Fernald. “It’s just time for me to step aside.”
Fernald said he will be willing to help whoever takes over the track “the best I can” and he is considering stepping back into a race car next season if his health improves.
Fernald is diabetic and said his doctors told him the stress of running the track has taken its toll on him.
His sons, George III, Alex and Adam, all raced at Unity Raceway this season and Alex won the Pro-4’s points championship.
“I’d like to get out there and show the young guys how to get around the track,” quipped the Benton native, who used to race at Unity.
Fernald said Saturday night’s racing enabled him to leave on a good note.
“It was a good night to end it. All the kids had fun,” said Fernald.
Fernald mixed things up. In one race, the cars had to go in reverse.
In another, he put a big skidder tire in the middle of the track so cars had to avoid it while racing.
In addition to Benton’s Alex Fernald in the Pro-4’s, the other points champions were Burnham’s Brent Chase (Wildcats), Oakland’s Cody Robbins (Flyin’ Fours), Farmingdale’s Tim Collins (Monsta’ Minis), Palmyra’s Ajay Picard (Late Models), Waterville’s Ken Lord (6-cylinder Challengers) and Waterville’s Kyle Jackson (Teen Thunder).
Speedway 95 extending schedule
While Unity Raceway is closing down, Speedway 95 has extended its race schedule by two weeks and maybe more.
Baker Allen said they have extended the race schedule to Sept. 29 and Oct. 6, although the final points races will be held on Sept. 22.
“And there may be even more races, too,” said Baker Allen. “The Farmers’ Almanac said we’re going to have a mild fall and we want to bring the public to us.”
She added that the closing of Unity Raceway is one of the primary reasons they have extended their season.
“Unity used to race longer than we did,” said Baker Allen. “We want to give their drivers a chance to race with us. We want to boost morale.”
The races on Sept. 29 and Oct. 6 will be moved up to begin at 5 p.m. The races normally begin at 7.
She said there will be racing in all five classes on Sept. 29 and Oct. 6 and some of the races could be special events.
This coming Saturday night, there will be a special 75-lap Team Morgan Racing Late Model race that will pay $1,500 to the winner. Late Model feature winners normally pocket $700.
The other finishers will also receive more money.
And there will be a fireworks display after the race.
The race is in honor of Morgan Parritt, who died in a car accident.
She was the daughter of Michael Parritt and niece of Brenton and Wayne Parritt, who have all raced at Speedway 95.