Maybe you’ve seen the black and white photographs taken of Maine drivers at Unity Raceway from a glorious, yet forgotten era.

Perhaps you’ve seen some pictures from the good ‘ol days at Wiscasset Raceway, which at one time was a destination and not the eyesore it is today.

Auto racing in Maine just isn’t what it used to be, is it?

No one tells better stories than chiseled racing enthusiasts.

If you don’t believe me, pick Ralph Nason’s brain for awhile and check back.

There was a time, he’ll tell you, when racing was king in Maine. When attendance was measured in the thousands. When drivers solidified reputations and legacies.

Sadly, those days are dwindling, if not gone already.

Just take a look around.

Unity is struggling. Car counts, particularly in the renowned Late Model division, are way down. So is attendance.

The track manager, George Fernald, says he is stepping aside at season’s end, saying he just can’t afford to lose money anymore. It’s tough to blame him.

Fernald, of Benton, hauls mobile homes across New England during the week. The money he makes, most of it anyway, is pumped back in the track. All he gets in return are headaches.

“I’m out making money to make the payments,” he said. “I love the place right to death. I raced there for 26 years and this is my fifth year running it. I’m sort of heartbroken. But I just can’t continue to take money away from my family.”

Only six Late Models — six ! — showed at the track for a recent points race.

Not good.

“Racing is in rough shape,” said Nason, who owns Unity Raceway. “Businesses in Maine, or a lot of businesses, are in rough shape. They are hanging on by a fingernail, and auto racing is no different. The whole outlook to me is pretty bleak. I don’t have the answers.”

Added Late Model driver and Burnham resident Frank Moulton: “It’s hard money-wise for people to do. People just can’t afford it. There are not many cars (at Unity). People don’t want to race if just a few cars are showing and then the track has a hard time that way. It’s tough.”

Maybe the economy is taking a toll, as Fernald, Nason and Moulton suggest. Maybe it’s poor marketing, or maybe there just aren’t enough avenues for younger generation drivers to pursue.

Whatever the reason, auto racing is far from what it used to be in this state.

Unity and Wiscasset Raceway face uncertain futures, even as the latter finally has a new owner. Kingfield couple Vanessa and Richard Jordan bought the track — which opened in 1969 — for $130,000 on Thursday.

Stef Keenan, who spearheaded the auction, said the buyers could face as much as $400,000 more in cleanup costs, back taxes and other expenses. Keenan added the buyers intend to re-open Wiscasset Raceway as a race track.

Should they do so, they’ll face the same question other track owners face: Can it be a viable business?

“I hope so, for their sake,” Nason said. “I think he has a genuine love of auto racing. We’ll see what will become of it. I don’t know really know, but I don’t envy his job because of where that place is.”

Oxford Plains Speedway owner Bill Ryan says his track is doing well. Certainly, the annual TD Bank 250 is a boost to the track, whose car counts seem consistent and strong this season.

Speedway 95 in Hermon and Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in Scarborough stay afloat, in part, because they draw from metropolitan areas, Nason says.

“Beech Ridge and Speedway 95, the population is there,” he said. “It’s way easier to get someone to drive two miles across town then it is for someone to go 25 miles somewhere. The bottom line is, race tracks have to get creative. You have to offer something more than just racing. They need to have something else to offer. You have to do whatever it will take for them to survive. We’ll see what the future holds.”

Hopefully, it’s better than what the present shows.

Bill Stewart — 621-5640

[email protected]

 

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