For George Fernald, what started as a joke between friends turned serious very quickly.

“I came home from a four-day trip to Connecticut, and I said to my wife, ‘There’s something I need to talk to you about,'” Fernald said Friday afternoon. “I’m not sure she talked to me for the next two days.”

On that trip home, Fernald had spoken with longtime friend Ralph Nason, the owner of Unity Raceway. They were discussing recent offers Nason had entertained from other people with interest in buying the speedway, when Fernald himself made a proposition.

Ultimately, Fernald made an offer that included a 10-year plan for purchasing Unity, the state’s oldest stock car facility.

Nason, of Unity, owned the track and accompanying 35 acres of land since 1980.

“Georgie has wanted this thing ever since… well, ever,” Nason said. “He started racing there as a kid. He’s always wanted it, and he leased it (from 2008-2012) and ran it then, I think he learned a lot from that.

“He walked away from it (four) years ago, and his kids grew up and got married and his business is pretty good right now. He called me up and said I got a proposition for you.”

On Thursday, news broke that Fernald, of Benton, and his wife, Sherry, purchased the property from Nason. The couple will assume control effective January 1.

Currently, Nason has a lease deal in place with Nick Huff, who runs race events at the track this season. He will continue to do so through October.

“I was surprised about it,” Huff said of the sale. “I was surprised due to the fact that I didn’t think anyone was really interested in it. Maybe Ralph finally lowered his price enough to make it appealing, or maybe he didn’t, I don’t really know or need to know, because it’s none of my business.”

Huff ran a couple of events at the track late in 2014 and continued to run the track both last season and this season. He was happy, though, to know that the property will remain a race track.

“I’m glad that Ralph was on the same page, too,” Huff said. “He gets a bad rap for being greedy sometimes, and I know people were afraid that he was going to sell the place to the first person that came in and dropped a big bag of cash. But he didn’t do that, obviously, so I’m glad about that.”

Fernald echoed Huff’s sentiments, offering that Nason had, indeed, fielded offers that would have landed him a lot more money.

“We couldn’t have done this without Ralph and (his wife) Nancy,” said Fernald, who owns Geo & Sons, a company specializing in moving mobile homes. “We’re honored that he chose us to continue the track’s legacy.”

Fernald’s history with Unity is a long one. He began racing there in the entry-level Street Stock division in the 1980s, eventually moving up to the Pro Stock class for late model cars in 1994. He met his wife through the race track, and all three of his sons — George Jr., Alex and Adam — raced there through the years.

Alex Fernald became the youngest feature winner in track history at 11 years old in a Teen division more than a decade ago.

“It was always a pipe dream of mine to own the track. I always joked that if I won (the lottery), I’d buy it,” Fernald said. “It’s our home. It’s been a huge part of our lives.”

The first goal for Fernald is to give the old home a facelift. He said he plans on capital improvements first and foremost, with repairs to fences and bleachers and remodeling of bathrooms and electrical rooms.

He also plans on replacing rotting woodwork beneath the signature covered grandstand that has stood since the track was first turned into a stock car facility in 1948.

“I know we have to have a couple of races to keep people interested (next year), but it’s more important to have a whole new fresh look,” Fernald said. “We have to show that we’re making improvements and show them that this is a long-haul thing for us.”

Fernald first tested the waters of running Unity when he leased it previously. By his own admission, he made mistakes.

He’s hopeful that he learned from those mistakes, many of which came from trying to make too many people happy.

“There’s a lot of BS that goes with anything like that,” Nason said. “When you’ve got 600 in your pits, you can’t keep them happy. Every time you make a call, it’s good for some and not good for others, no matter what. It’s an ongoing battle (for an owner).”

“We learned a lot when we ran it before. I made a lot of mistakes,” said Fernald, who also plans on leaning on Nason for advice in the future. “I know we’ll make more mistakes, but I’ve always felt like we learned a lot from the mistakes we made. I’m going into it much better this time around.

“Owning the place, I’ve got to make it work. Failure is not an option.”

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

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Twitter: @TBarrettGWC