HERMON, Maine — The snow may be flying but the state’s six auto racetracks are gearing up for the new season.
Del Merritt, owner of Hermon’s Speedway 95, will have several new wrinkles this season, including expanded-lap races in the Late Model Sportsmen and Sport-Four classes; an hour earlier starting time on Saturday nights and more purse money.
Merritt explained that the weekly Late Model features will expand from 35 to 40 laps and the Sport-Four features will go from 20 to 25 laps.
He said those are two of his most populated classes “so we want to give them more time to race and get through the field. Hopefully, they’ll be able to weave their way through the field without pushing and shoving.”
He said Speedway 95 had 18-22 Late Models a year ago and 20-26 Sport-Fours.
The season will open on Saturday, April 20 at 5 p.m.
Drivers can practice at Speedway 95 on Saturday, April 13 from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
The Saturday night race cards will begin at 5 p.m. until June 15 when they start at 6 p.m. That is earlier than in past years, when the June-September Saturday night racing kicked off at 7 p.m.
“When we raced at 5 [p.m.] last year, we got a lot of good comments on it,” said Merritt. “So we thought we’d split the difference between 5 and 7. Six o’clock is more family-friendly. A lot of the drivers said their kids fell asleep before the races were over.
“And this will give people time to do something else on Saturday night [after racing],” said Merritt, whose Saturday night shows usually last three-plus hours.
The popular Wacky Wednesday midweek series for entry level drivers will start on June 5 at 7 p.m. He said he is keeping that starting time because Wacky Wednesday shows only last two hours.
Merritt will try to improve the car counts in the Big and Little Enduro classes on Wacky Wednesday by paying out to the top 20 finishers instead of the top five like he did a year ago.
He said one of the reasons there has been a dropoff in those classes is because the car owners can make decent money selling their cars to junkyards.
“Hopefully, they won’t crush all the cars. Time will tell,” he said.
Big Enduro and Little Enduro payouts are $100-$75-$50-$40-$30 for the top five; $20 apiece for finishers 6-thru-10 and $15 each for 11-through-20.
The Wacky Wednesday Truck class, thanks to some sponsorship dollars, will pay $200 to win, which is a $75 jump from last year. The top 10 will earn money on a descending scale with the 10th place truck taking home $35.
Merritt is optimistic about the season.
“There’s no reason to think anything but positive,” said Merritt. “We’ve gained quite a few sponsors.”
He also likes the fact Jere Humphrey is leasing Unity Raceway from Ralph and Nancy Nason and that Wiscasset Raceway will be back in business after sitting idle for two years. Richard Jordan bought the track last summer.
“Maybe racing is coming back to life,” said Merritt. “This will help more people stay interested in the sport and, hopefully, more people will build cars.”
Unity Raceway closed early last season due to financial constraints incurred by George Fernald Jr., who used to lease the track.
“We got a few cars from Unity [after it closed] but most of the cars dried up,” said Merritt.
Humphrey intends to race on Friday nights and Merritt said the rules packages are similar at the two tracks, so Unity drivers can also race at Speedway 95.
“The only difference is we require the Koni shocks in our Late Models and they can run three different shocks, including the Konis, at Unity,” said Merritt.
Race cars from Speedway 95 and Unity Raceway will be featured at the Bangor Mall Car Show on April 5-7.
Wiscasset Raceway will kick off the racing season on Saturday, April 6, at 1 p.m.
Oxford Plains Speedway, under new owner Tom Mayberry, will have a Pro All-Stars Series opener, including a Super Late Model 150-lapper and Modified and Sportsman races, on April 21 at 2 p.m. and its Oxford Championship Series will kick off the following Sunday at 2 p.m.
Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in Scarborough will start with three PASS races on May 4 at 3 p.m. before having its Saturday night racing begin on May 25 at 6:30 p.m.
Spud Speedway in Caribou will kick off on Saturday, May 25 at 1 p.m. with a 75-lap Outlaw Sportsman race highlighting the card.