Riverside Speedway experienced...
Riverside Speedway experienced a flood caused by the overflow of the Connecticut River in the spring of 2011. This puddle might be all that remains of that flood. The track workers busted their humps to pump out the infield which was under several feet of water, clean up the debris left behind, and get ready for the season. It all worked out and the season was a success.
Due to our limited time schedule, we were only able to visit one track in New Hampshire--Riverside Speedway--before relocating to Maine. There we took in the interior of the most northern of the lower 48 states where Unity Raceway is located, just southwest of Bangor.
The whole of the landscape is changing for us as we leave Vermont. We see more and more indication of being way far north from our home in Florida. The nights are getting colder, the vegetation is looking more rugged and in a few more weeks the leaves are going to start changing.
Bond Auto Parts has a huge...
Bond Auto Parts has a huge presence in Vermont and New Hampshire racing, sponsoring several events. They were there in big numbers at the event we covered at Thunder Road and on this night at Riverside. It somewhat resembles a symbiotic relationship where they support the racing and the racers and fans support the business. In mostly rural areas like these in upper Vermont and New Hampshire, one of the few things that bring people together is the racing.
Fall is in the air and these tracks up here are starting to wind down from a summer of hot action. The timing couldn't be better for the Tour this year because we will begin to see end of the year racing events that draw huge numbers and race teams, even from way south, coming up to compete.
In the spring, we were fortunate to be able to attend many "first race of the year" events where the teams had been looking forward to those races for months over the past winter. It's equally cool to see gala end of the year events where competitors know this is the last chance to experience racing before the hard winter sets in.
Riverside supports many classes...
Riverside supports many classes of compact race cars. The racing is very competitive and we saw a unique way to run a race in the Cyclone Enduro race. And the special division for girls was big and very exciting to watch.
And after doing four and a half months on the road this year, it's fitting for us to wrap this trip up and head south for the winter, like so many others here do. But before we coast downhill to Florida, we've still got lots of great racing to tell you about.
Here is the obligatory HANS...
Here is the obligatory HANS shot. I'm not a bit shy or embarrassed by my insistence on racers being safe. I like to show that everywhere I go I see head-and-neck restraints being used in all divisions, even the compacts and scaled car divisions. I smile every time I see Dad helping his kid put on the device, or seeing the helmet/H&N device laying on the roof of the car. Maybe next I'll show photos of those who don't wear these life saving devices. Those that don't are now in the minority.
This asphalt racetrack is tucked away back beside a pasture near Groveton, New Hampshire, and alongside the Connecticut River. It was just last spring when the waters of that river overflowed and flooded Riverside. It took a lot of work and a combined effort to clear away the debris, pump out the track that had become a lake of sorts, and clean the facilities so that racing could resume.
The manager, Jean LeBlanc, told me how difficult that was and with the tropical storm that passed through only weeks before we arrived, the fear was that the trouble they had been through would be coming again. But as luck would have it, the rains that Torpical Storm Irene produced were not sufficient to cause the flooding in northern New Hampshire that areas south of the track saw.
The Legends cars put on quite...
The Legends cars put on quite a show at Riverside with numerous lead changes and a winner who flat out earned it. Several of these cars had drivers who also ran Late Model cars at several tracks we visited. This guy wears a neck collar which is a nice start, but inadequate, for the speeds these cars reach and the impact g's they might experience, in reducing injury from basilar skull fracture.
As we arrived at Riverside, it was immediately apparent that this was a well maintained and organized track. It's a quarter-mile in length, medium banked, and had race sponsorship from Bond Auto Parts, the same company that supported the races at Thunder Road.
There was VIP seating for the race sponsors and their friends where they were provided with free food and drinks. And a good number of fans were in attendance. There was also a police presence that was ultimately needed for a pit altercation. As we have stated in the past, police presence is a good thing. As for the racing, we saw several interesting things, some that were familiar and some that were new to us.
Our friends at AMSOIL send...
Our friends at AMSOIL send a representative to the races to show off products that are available for race cars as well as street cars. Lee Mortenson, a dealer in Maine, explains the benefits of synthetic oils and lubricants to one of the guys in the pits. Did you know that AMSOIL was the very first company to offer synthetic oil to the public and leads the industry in development and quality? I know because I visited its facility before I ever started this U.S. Tour.
The track, like some we'd seen before, had no guardrails or walls except along the front and back stretch. Several cars went off of Turns 1-2 and 3-4, gathered it back up and returned to action none the worse for wear. There were a few damaging wrecks coming off of Turn 2 where cars ended up in the backstretch wall, but all in all, the lack of walls in the turns was a blessing for many.
The makeup of the classes included all stocker type of cars. There were no purpose-built race cars running on this weekend. The "upper" class were highly modified stock cars, but retained the stock frames and bodies.
This is what I like to see....
This is what I like to see. Grandpa, Dad, and Son all gathered around the race car at Unity. One of the real benefits of racing for the families is that it can, and often does, strengthen the bonds between the generations. This Tour proved that out time and time again.
One interesting feature of the 100-lap Cyclone Enduro race was the way they handled cautions. Instead of waving a yellow flag and allowing cars to continue to drive around the track, a red flag was waved by not only by the flagman, but by corner workers in Turns 1-2, and 3-4.
We saw Mini Modifieds run...
We saw Mini Modifieds run at Unity and put on a good show. This class prepares the younger drivers for the high-powered and difficult-to-drive SK and Tour-type Modifieds.
All of the cars were required to stop immediately where they were on the track until the track could be cleared. Then, the announcer called out, "...five, four, three, two, one, go!" and all of the cars resumed racing. I thought this was a very unique plan and I wondered if it was possible to enact for other classes.
There are advantages and disadvantages for the drivers with this plan. All of the cars are allowed to maintain their separation from the cars they are competing against, the racing action resumes much faster than if everyone continued to roll around the track, and it's much safer for the safety crews to not have cars driving past them while they work to clear a wreck.
In the more rural racing scene,...
In the more rural racing scene, we see many more open trailers. The roll back truck among these trailers might come in handy should any of these guys end up destroying a car. Just drag it up and drive it off. Low budget is the key to strong numbers of racers and whatever helps them get to the racetrack we are all in favor of.
The downside, if you will, is that we don't get to see close racing that results from bringing the field together for the restart. Anyone who did have trouble and might have had to go to the rear (if it could even be determined where the rear was) would be at a disadvantage in moving to the front.
Nonetheless, we did see lots of side-by-side racing which attests to the design of the track where multiple grooves enable equal speeds in the turns. We never like to see a one-groove track.
There were plenty of lady racers competing at Riverside and one whole class of girls raced in the Angels division, 13 in all. This was one of the most exciting races of the night. It's nice to see when a father or husband can race in one division and also help their daughter or wife race their own cars in another division. Talk about a family race team; it doesn't get better than that.
We really enjoyed the Vintage...
We really enjoyed the Vintage racing and the cars were well prepared and the restoration top notch. I'm sure many of the older crowd had flashbacks seeing these cars go at it. In a surprising dash to the front for the feature winner, we noticed something a little familiar in the winning car.
Looking back, I get a sense that racetracks like Riverside are a community gathering place where little else exists for that purpose. In many more rural settings, the racetrack is where families go to get out of the house, give the kids some entertainment and just plain have fun. The owners are aware of their responsibility to that cause and this track provided well for the many fans who support it.
After we relocated to the Wild Duck Campground in Scarborough, Maine, we had a great lobster dinner at a quaint diner located right on the coast, before heading up to the back woods of Maine to Unity and the local asphalt track.
The people here are the best. We were greeted like old friends and we could see this was a hot area for hot rods and race cars. It must be the long winters that have people up this far north so interested in cars.
Despite the rural setting...
Despite the rural setting and numerous stock class cars, there were some serious late models present that were very fast. This track is tricky to negotiate traffic on and it took a very good setup to advance in the race. Once again, the superior setup dominated.
Example: I visited with my friend, Jay Fogleman, at a shop down a dirt road and hidden from the paved road. Inside was a real, original Ford GT race car, like the ones that raced in the mid-'60's in the 24 Hours of Daytona and LeMans. It was being restored to take to England for a car show. There was also a collection of vintage engines, Offenhauser parts, transmissions, and so on all of which are becoming more valuable with the trend toward collecting and restoring vintage production and racing cars.
But I digress. Unity the racetrack was a unique collection of compact cars, fullsize stockers, four-cylinder Modifieds, Late Models, and vintage cars. The facilities are what you might expect of the area that is heavily involved in logging and other agricultural activities.
The teams had that family flavor I like so much. We saw Grandpa, Dad, and youngsters all working on the cars. The classes that run at Unity are the Mini Stock, Late Model, Wildcat, Super Street, Pro Four, Teen Thunder, Challenger, and Flyin' Four. On the night we visited, the Wicked Good Vintage Racing Association held its first race of the season. Vintage classes included Bombers, Early Modifieds, Early Late Models, and Outlaws.
The interest in the vintage racing was huge and drew more than 20 cars. The feature race for these guys started out mild and ended up wild. The overall winner of the combined class race of vintage cars stood out. As he completed the last few laps, coming on hard from third place to the lead, I could see blue flames coming from the downturned exhaust under the car. For those who've seen this before like I have, it indicates the use of nitrous oxide. How ingenious. Is that old-school or what?
How do I know about that? Way back at Speedweeks at New Smyrna in 1980, Gary Ballough was caught by the tech officials, after winning the fourth night, with nitrous in his fire extinguisher bottle. This was after also winning the first three races in the series. I was there and saw the telltale blue flames just before he was nabbed. Race fuel does not burn blue.
The vintage racing was great to see from several different perspectives. First off, I like to see old race cars that have been restored and are in racing condition. It's also nice to see them race. I'm sure that brings back fond memories to the older racers and fans.
This could be one more avenue for increasing racing interest for the future. Tracks could create vintage classes and encourage hot rodders to restore older race cars and have a chance to race them. Hot rodding is a fast growing hobby in the U.S. right now and I can think of nothing better than restoring old race cars.
This first trip to Maine was wonderful and I could see the difference in the people and mannerisms between the coasties and the inland Mainers. It's a lot like it's in Florida where I have lived since 1952. The "upscale" inhabitants and transplants from up north mostly live along the coastal areas and the Crackers live inland. I, myself, always connected with the Crackers and have enjoyed the backwoods of Florida more so than the beaches. So I was quite at home in rural Maine.
Next up for the 2011 Tour is a trip to another Maine track--Beech Ridge Motor Speedway--and a break in the action for a trip to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park along the upper coast of Maine. Then we travel south to Connecticut and Massachusetts where we take in a good sampling of New England modified racing as well as the food. There's a lot more to tell about, so stay tuned.