UNITY — “It was a blast to watch,” Unity Raceway owner George Fernald recalled this week. “Halfway through the race, the ice started melting on the track, and it looked like a Baja race out there.”
Fernald, of Benton, was talking about a 100-lap Enduro race held at his speedway on March 5. Most races held over Unity’s historic one-third of a mile oval during the typical racing season are contested on the worn-out asphalt. But this Enduro, dubbed the Austin Grant Snowbowl, took place over equal parts asphalt, snow and ice. Though the Baja 100 is a popular desert race in Mexico, the Snowbowl 100 offered similarly striking optics as the cars churned through winter conditions.
A total of 45 cars entered the race, which was won by Skowhegan’s Zach Audet — the reigning Outlaw Mini Stock champion at Wiscasset Speedway. The race was so popular that Fernald, who bought the track from longtime owner Ralph Nason of Unity last summer, is holding a second Enduro on Sunday, March 26.
Enduro cars are what you would typically all “junkers,” entry level, four-cylinder cars which are only the slightly higher-class cousins of demolition derby cars. They are inexpensive to run and need very little in the way of modifications.
“We’ve already got 47 cars signed up for this one,” Fernald said. “I figured we’d only have around 30 cars for the first one, and we had those 45 plus eight others that signed up but didn’t show. I’m thinking we might have as many as 60 cars for this one.”
The idea came from Speedway 51 in Groveton, New Hampshire. Several years ago, the track made it a habit to hold a race on the quarter-mile track that coincided with New Year’s Day. It became an annual event, no matter the conditions.
“Everyone just got on Facebook and started saying it would be nice to have something like that around here,” said Fernald, who was never shy about trying new ideas to entice racers and fans when he was the track promoter while leasing it from 2004-2009 — whether it was ramp races, taking his wife’s car out on the track for an Enduro race or jumping cars through mobile homes on the frontstretch. “It was a big success.”
The Snowbowl 100 was named in honor of Austin Grant, a Freedom resident who died in a car accident in 2012 who had ties to the local racing community through is mother, Lori Grant.
The event has given Fernald a jumpstart on a racing season that was scheduled to begin in late May. He still plans a modest once-a-month schedule that will feature five divisions this summer, including Late Models, Flying Fours, Wildcats, Enduros and a new six-cylinder entry-level class.
In the meantime, he still plans on making improvements to the grounds, including updated fencing and restrooms. One unforeseen benefit to the late winter Enduro events: Fernald has uncovered other issues that need to be addressed before opening day.
“From when I was there five years ago, I could not believe how much it was run down,” Fernald said. “I’m not saying that anyone did anything to run it down, it’s just that there’s a lot wrong… I knew the fencing, the restrooms (needed renovations) and that was planned. But we unlocked the concession in the pits the other day, and the whole wall moved. I got up in the scorer’s tower last week, and I could look out through the wall. It pulled away from the building so bad that I’ve got to do something before next week before I could even have anybody up there to score the races.”
Even with new issues uncovered, Fernald remains excited about what 2017 has in store for Maine’s longest continually-operated stock car racing facility. The track first hosted racing in 1948.
“We’re racing once a month, not every week, and we seem to have a good core excited about it,” Fernald said. “I think in the past there were way too many four-cylinder classes, and the Super Streets — you just don’t have enough of those cars to have those divisions. You can’t have races with three to six cars in them. We’re going back to cheaper stuff when we can.”
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Wiscasset Speedway opens its season on April 22 for its Group 1 divisions (with Pro Stocks and NELCAR Legends) and April 29 for Group 2 (Late Models and Vintage racers). The Coastal 200 is on Sunday, May 28, while the Boss Hogg 150 is slated for a Sunday (July 30) this year instead of a Saturday night. … The Pro All Stars Series opens its season April 22 at Oxford Plains Speedway. … Speedway 95 in Hermon begins racing on May 13.
Travis Barrett — 621-5621