UNITY — She only recently received her learner’s permit, but 16-year-old Aryahna Pagliaroli of Winterport is a racing veteran whose “rivals” include her own mother.

“I’ve been driving motorized vehicles my whole life,” Pagliaroli, who is in her first year on the ladies’ circuit at Unity Raceway, said last Friday.

Now in its second season since reopening after a four-year hiatus, the track has attracted drivers young and old from throughout Maine and beyond, many in search of a new option for their racing thrills.

The biggest difference has been the track itself, which opened in 1948 as a dirt oval and used an asphalt surface from 1965 until it closed in 2017. Once track manager Joey Doyon leased the facility from longtime owner Ralph Nason last year, he restored the dirt track for a new generation of drivers. After racing on Sundays last year, Doyon switched to a Friday slate for 2023. Ninety-seven cars turned out for the June 23 season opener, Doyon said.

Two weeks into year two, the drivers are thrilled with the idea of getting dirty.

“I gotta turn right to turn left, unlike anything else I’ve raced,” said Jeremy Guptill of Cornish, who races a 2008 Honda Fit Sport in the 4-cylinder Enduros. “I’ve usually raced on asphalt, so this is a whole different monster to us. It’s a new learning curve for me.”


A 17-year racing veteran, Guptill liked the idea of dirt driving, but his next-closest option was Bear Ridge Speedway in eastern Vermont, near the New Hampshire border. He dipped his toe at Unity last year and earned a win and a third-place finish in four races, making the decision to return an easy one.

“We liked it so much we built a car to come up here for this year,” Guptill said from the pit area before Friday’s races.

Guptill’s Enduros represent one of eight circuits Unity offers, along with V6-V8 Enduros, bombers (small, lightweight cars), Modifieds, fast 4s, teens, dirt stocks and ladies.

Which brings us back to Pagliaroli, who drives a Pontiac G5. She said she won most of the teen events last year and decided to upgrade to the ladies for 2023. Among the other drivers on the circuit? Her mother, Wendy Bolduc, who drives a black 2004 Saturn Ion with “Wicked Twisted” on each side in neon lettering.

Bolduc — whose grandfather, Harold Burgess, and uncle, Larry Burgess, were longtime Unity stars — raced against her daughter for the first time June 23. While Pagliaroli won the heat over her mom by 5 inches, the daughter had to settle for third in the feature after a part in the wheel broke, according to Bolduc.

Is there any jealousy from the older generation? “No, absolutely not,” Bolduc said. “I’m so proud of her, and I’m glad that I’m racing with her.”


Pagliaroli, meanwhile, enjoys the thrills of racing on dirt — and defeating more seasoned veterans.

“It’s awesome,” she said. “It’s something that like once you’re out there you’ll never get that feeling again.

“It’s really fun and it’s amazing to be out there and actually do good and especially against a bunch of older people and people that have raced longer than you.”

Mark Collins, of Appleton, drives one of his two race cars before the races at Unity Raceway on Friday. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Speaking of longtime racers, Mark Collins of Appleton, who said he has raced at Unity since the 1970s, showed up Friday with a red 1936 Ford coupe, while his friend Gary Seekins of South Thomaston brought a bright toothpaste-green 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air, complete with retro touches such as Deadhead and Esso stickers. (Collins: “Well, his father owned an Esso station in Thomaston, so we put that on there.”) The Ford is used in the bomber races; the Chevy runs in the Modifieds.

“It’s just like home,” Collins said of the track. “It’s just as rough as it ever was. Am I right?” he shouted to a friend. (“You’re right!” the friend replied.)

“I like it (the dirt) because it’s more like driving on snow,” Collins added. “You can slide, you can drift, and it’s very forgiving. It’s a lot of fun.”


Amid all the excitement is Doyon, the energetic track manager who makes sure everything is running smoothly. Before the races, he smooths and waters the track with a sprayer farm vehicle and repeats the practice during intermission. Just before Friday’s opening heats, he gathered all the drivers for a big pregame pep talk in the manner of a football coach, thanking them for their effort and patience. They may be rivals once the races start, but in this moment they are teammates.

“We’re building this track together,” Doyon said. “They’ve been great, because this is a learning curve with the dirt, and I’ve never ran a track before, so I’m learning the running the track side of things and the dirt, but with a group of drivers like this … They’re the reason we‘re where we are right now.”

Doyon hopes to add a late-model series and and an event from the Sprint Cars of New England series as work on the track progresses.

Doyon, a Frankfort resident who started driving at Unity in 1996 at age 15, has devoted countless hours at the track, which gives him precious little time to race on it. But he has given the dirt a whirl during the rare free moment.

“I’ve tried a few laps, and it’s pretty wild,” he said. “I have a lot of respect for the guys who go out there when they’re fast. … They make it look really easy, they really do.”

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