Auto racing commission in Maine could help track owners stay afloat

Posted July 18, 2012, at 6:36 p.m.
Last modified Aug. 14, 2012, at 10:03 p.m.

These are challenging economic times and the racing industry in the state is a prime example.

Wiscasset Raceway had been closed down for a year after owner Doug White ran into financial difficulties.

Richard and Vanessa Jordan recently purchased the track at auction for $130,000 and are hoping to get it up and running soon.

George Fernald Jr., who is in his fifth season leasing Unity Raceway from Ralph and Nancy Nason, has announced that he will end his tenure after this season after losing approximately $30,000 over the last season and a half.

There are six racetracks in Maine. Besides the tracks in Unity and Wiscasset, there’s Speedway 95 in Hermon, Spud Speedway in Caribou, Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in Scarborough and Oxford Plains Speedway.

It makes sense to establish a commission to oversee auto racing in the state.

The commission would include the six owners, a handful of well-respected drivers and knowledgeable personnel with a history of involvement in auto racing. Some possible members could be Mainely Motorsports TV host Steve Perry; former Wiscasset Raceway owner Dave St. Clair and Johnny Crawford, who used to lease Unity Raceway.

Owners are dealing with the same problems: high gas prices, illegally doctored race cars, weather problems, rules packages, ways to keep costs down so more drivers will race, and ideas to attract more fans and new drivers.

It is understood that these tracks are in competition against each other but they have their own geographic areas.

Unity Raceway and Speedway 95 are 30 miles apart and they are the closest two. Wiscasset Raceway and Unity are 53 miles apart.

There have been alliances between track owners before and it has produced some neat series involving the tracks.

For example, in the mid-1990s, there was an eight-race Summer Sizzler Series involving races at Speedway 95, Unity, Wiscasset and Spud Speedway. There was a points champion based on the series results.

With the gas prices, it may not be feasible to have a series that involves tracks that are too far apart unless sponsorship or purse money makes it worthwhile.

Del Merritt, owner of Speedway 95, said they are at a point now where “each track has to take care of its own [drivers and fans].

“You’ve got to get your own set of rules and hope people will build cars and race at your track,” said Merritt. “The local drivers attract the fans. That’s who they follow. If we closed down tomorrow, Unity would get an influx of our cars for a year but then it would dry up. People won’t continue to haul their cars that far.”

But having a commission of knowledgeable auto racing people, even if they only meet once or twice a year, could produce ideas that would help all the tracks and their owners.

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