Lawrence Reno, center, stands in front of the Wiscasset Speedway Hall of Fame display on Saturday at the track. Kennebec Journal photo by Travis Barrett

WISCASSET — Ted Palino was big-time before it was fashionable to be big-time in auto racing circles.

When NASCAR star Bobby Allison came to Unity Raceway in the summer of 1982, he didn’t find Maine’s best stock car drivers to be mere cannon fodder. In fact, after Ralph Nason paid Allison — who was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2011 — $10,000 to leave Pocono, Pennsylvania for a Saturday night show in Unity, it was Palino who showed Allison a thing or two about getting around the central Maine track.

Palino won the 100-lap event. Allison crashed out. Allison went on to win his only NASCAR Cup Series championship the next year, while Palino was inducted as a member of Wiscasset Speedway’s inaugural Hall of Fame class Saturday afternoon at a track where he won more than 70 races and three championships.

“I was a cocky little devil then, and there was a whole gang standing around Bobby Allison after the race,” said Palino, of Bremen, now 72. “Somebody asked me if I was going to go over and talk to Bobby, and I said, ‘I won the race. If Bobby Allison wants to talk, he can come over to me.’”

Palino was one of 13 members of Wiscasset Speedway’s inaugural Hall of Fame class, inducted in the track’s concourse under the main grandstands. The ceremony was part of a weekend-long celebration of the 50-year anniversary of the seacoast oval opening its gates for the first time in July of 1969.

Palino competed at Wiscasset Speedway that first summer it opened under original owner Wilford Cronk, who passed away in 2013.

“It means a lot. It’s quite an honor to be recognized for something you’ve done,” said Palino, who holds the track record with 18 consecutive wins spanning the 1973-74 seasons. “I never thought it would come to this when I started racing. I wish I’d kept track of races we won and stuff, but I didn’t think about it back then. I was young. I’d come over here and race, go home and forget about it.”

Adam Chadbourne looks at the photo Wall of Fame at Wiscasset Speedway on Saturday afternoon. Chadbourne’s father, Dale Chadbourne, was among the 13 people inducted into the track’s inaugural Hall of Fame class. Kennebec Journal photo by Travis Barrett

Bill Cost was also an integral part of that first season at Wiscasset. He was the track’s public address announcer, a role that soon expanded to include public relations, promotions and writing roles.

Cost, 78 and now splitting his yearly residence between Bangor and Moosehead Lake, remembered what it was like when the speedway opened.

“It was booming. It was a booming time, and we did better than expected the first four or five years,” Cost said. “It became a family thing. It got into the blood. It was just what we lived for in the summertime. I knew everybody here. We played together as well as worked together. It was a great experience for a young guy to be involved in. It was new to me — and being that much involved in it, it was very rewarding and very challenging. I’d never done anything like that before.”

Guests listen as Ken Minott speaks during Saturday afternoon’s Wiscasset Speedway Hall of Fame induction in the track’s concourse area. Kennebec Journal photo by Travis Barrett

Along with Palino, former track owner Dave St. Clair of Liberty and multi-time championship car owners Dale Chadbourne and Harold Hinkley were also inducted in the inaugural Hall of Fame class. Buster Grover and his wife Elaine Grover, the first woman ever to compete at the speedway, Doug Ripley, Vern Hodgkins, Lawrence Reno, and Ken Siegers were all inducted. Willis Alexander, Bill Bailey and Leo Tanger were also inducted posthumously.

The Hall of Fame was the brainchild of longtime track announcer Ken Minott, who has served in that role as well as the role of promoter since Richard and Vanessa Jordan bought the track in 2012.

“When I started here, I was 27 years old and had a 3-year-old daughter,” said Minott, 54, of Georgetown. “Fast-forward to today, I’ve got three grown daughters and three grandsons. I’ve spent half my life here.”

Three-time champion Teddy Palino of Bremen talks with the media during the Wiscasset Speedway Hall of Fame induction on Saturday at the track. Kennebec Journal photo by Travis Barrett

Though the track has had only four owners over its five decades, several others — including Al Craven, father of former NASCAR driver Ricky Craven, and Tom Mayberry, the owner of Oxford Plains Speedway — leased the track from either Cronk or St. Clair to run it on and off over the years. On more than one occasion, the track lie dormant for years at a time with nobody to run it.

Somehow, it has managed not only to survive, but to thrive.

“Truthfully, it’s the people who believe in it,” Minott said. “It doesn’t have the prestige of a Beech Ridge or an Oxford, but there are plenty of people who believe in this place and that it can succeed. I like to count myself as one of them. If you believe in it, give them a good product to come race and to come watch, it will work — and having the right people in place makes a big difference.”

“This place kept me alive,” said Chadbourne, of Woolwich, who first raced at Wiscasset in its opening season and whose son Adam is a three-time champion at the track. “1969 was a rough time. Vietnam was going on. There was a lot of drugs. There was a lot of stuff going on. We had cars with big motors that didn’t have any brakes or steering. If I hadn’t been able to get it out of my system here, I might not have fared so well.”

Scott Chubbuck of Bowdoin is a six-time Wiscasset champion, including five titles in its top division. He won each of those driving for Hinkley, whose son Nick was the track champion last season in the Pro Stock class.

Hinkley and Chadbourne have 20 championships between them as car owners and nearly 300 feature wins. Chubbuck knows that tracks won’t succeed without men dedicated to the sport of auto racing within their ranks.

Dale Chadbourne stands on the roof of his car to celebrate his 1986 Wiscasset Speedway championship in this photo on the track’s concourse wall. Kennebec Journal photo by Travis Barrett

“Not at all, never will. You need those guys,” Chubbuck said. “They’ve always been here. They love the sport. When I was driving for Hink, that was all we did. He just loves it. It’s part of his life. It’s really hard to explain.”

A brand new Hall of Fame display was unveiled for the event, as well as a timeline honoring each of the track’s owners through various newspaper clippings. Fans met with former track champions during Saturday night’s racing card at the speedway, and fireworks followed the feature racing. On Sunday at the speedway, the Maine Vintage Race Car Association will hold its annual Summerfest program to honor the state’s racing history, with a barbecue competition, on-track activity, spectator ride-alongs and Maine’s mobile racing museum.


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