UNITY – Ralph “Sammy” Reynolds leaned on his crutch and slowly made his way around Unity Raceway on Friday night.
The 85-year-old Burnham resident doesn’t move like he used to these days but he wasn’t missing this night for anything.
“I was fast here,” he said softly, “but that was a long time ago. A long, long time ago.”
About a dozen past track champions showed up at Unity Raceway on Friday night to swap stories, sign autographs, but mostly swap stories.
Reynolds, who won a championship in 1951, had plenty of them.
“One year, I think it was in the mid-1950s, I had won twice in three weeks here,” he said. “The next week I came out and they sent me into the woods. I took a ride right out of the backstretch. Back then, of course, it was a half-mile track.
“They needed to cut some trees down to get to me.”
Unity Raceway hosted its first race in 1948.
Reynolds was born and raised in Burnham, although he lived on a farm in Pittsfield for some time. He was one of 11 children.
“There are only two of us left now,” he said.
When Reynolds was 9, he was diagnosed with a crippling bone disease that threatened to take his life.
He didn’t walk for five years but doctors were able to spare the leg and, ultimately, his life.
“There are days I still can’t believe I’m here,” he said with a laugh. “I never thought I’d live to 16, but I did.”
A few years later, Reynolds got in a Ford and started racing at Unity.
“I was 120 pounds,” he said, “but I got around.”
Reynolds was one of about a dozen past champions on hand Friday who covered different eras at the track.
Dana Graves, 72, of Hermon, won four titles in what is now called a Pro Stock class at Unity. He won three championships from 1967-1969 and then another one in the mid-1970s.
Graves raced with the likes of Ralph Nason and Stan Meserve.
“It was a lot of fun,” he said. “Those guys could race. We raced hard. We were aggressive. I started out on the top class and it was the only one I raced in. I started out in a 1956 Ford and then moved to a Mustang and later a Camaro.
“We did a lot of hard racing, I guess you could call it.”
Did he ever anger the competition?
“Oh, probably,” he added. “Yeah, I think I did.”
Mike Wilson won three Monsta Mini points titles at Unity from 2008-2010.
He first started racing in 1997 and doesn’t plan to retire just yet.
“We’re close to getting the car back out now,” he said. “We were close this week. Maybe next week. We’ll go off and on this year and return to full-time racing next year.”
Wilson, who is driving a Strictly Street car, said he’s seen plenty of changes at the track in the last decade.
“There aren’t as many cars,” he said. “It’s too bad, but hopefully they’ll start coming back under new ownership. We’ll see. But this night is pretty nice. It’s cool to see all the older guys come back.”
Bill Stewart — 621-5640