Unity Raceway Suspends Operations by Mike Twist
Maine Short Track Was Known For Close Racing and Its Infamous Dirt Banks
A tough economy has claimed another victim in racing. Unity Raceway in Unity, Maine announced on Tuesday that it will suspend its 2008 racing season and that the track is now available for lease or purchase.
“The 2008 racing season at Unity Raceway has been suspended,” read a statement from the track's management. “The many current issues that have a direct impact on racing and on the track itself were considered and led to this difficult business decision.
“The track is available for rent, lease or purchase this summer. Race teams will still be able to rent the track for testing and tuning.”
2008 was supposed to be Unity's 60th anniversary year. In recent years, the track struggled
with poor car counts and attendance and had tried a few different approaches to combat those
problems. In 2005, they ended their season early. More recently, the track made the switch
from Saturday nights to Friday nights to try and attract more teams and fans.
A number of big races have been held at Unity throughout the years. The track's Longjohn
150/Longjohn 100 was an annual event. Even though that particular Pro Stock (Super Late
Model) race was not part of any touring series, it still attracted plenty of big name drivers like
Johnny Clark, Travis Benjamin, Scott Chubbuck and Scott Mulkern.
The Pro All Stars Series had a presence at Unity as well. The 2004 DNK Select 250 was a
PASS North race that featured a winner's purse of $25,000 claimed by Johnny Clark.
Canadian Patrick Laperle won a 250-lap event there the following season. Mike Rowe, Ben
Rowe, Sam Sessions and Kenny Wright also scored PASS North Super Late Model victories
In 2007, the track hosted all three Northern divisions of the Pro All Stars Series, but the
organization did not schedule any races there for this coming season.
The track is also infamous for some of the spectacular crashes that have occurred there. The track is lined by dirt banking and several Super Late Models would often climb those dirt banks and head for the sky amid a cloud of dust. In fact, Speed51.com fans voted Norm Marx's shot of Walt Hammond climbing the dirt banking at Unity a 2004 51 Award as “Photo of the Year”.
Ricky Craven, Johnny Clark and Travis Benjamin are all among the drivers who raced regularly at the track early in their careers.
“It's a good track,” said Benjamin, whose father Ron also raced at Unity during his driving career. “It's one of my favorite tracks…maybe my favorite track. I've had some good races there. You can really race there and the fans saw some good shows. It's also my hometown track, so that's a shame.”
Johnny Clark also sang the praises of Unity to Speed51.com last season. He overlooked the primative pit area and facilties, focusing instead on the racing surface of the oval.
Norm Marx captured Walt Hammond's #97 PASS North car climbing the dirt banks at Unity in 2004 and 51 fans voted it as "Photo of the Year." (Norm Marx Photo)
“It’s my favorite place to race,” said Clark shortly before the June PASS North event there. “You can say what you want about the track – it is what it is, but there is some great racing there. You can really get up on the wheel and drive that place. That is what’s so much fun. If the car breaks a little bit sideways in the middle of the turn, you just turn right and give it some gas. It’s almost like racing 12 or 15 years ago, but instead of driving an old street stock, we’re driving $40,000 or $50,000 racecars. It is a really good time to race at Unity.”
Benjamin whose family operates several grocery stores in the Midcoast Maine region can attest to the tough economic times in the area.
“It's definitely bad,” Benjamin said. “The economy is so bad right now that everyone is struggling.”
Unity Raceway is owned by Maine racing legend Ralph Nason, who often would come
out of semi-retirement to compete in recent PASS North and PASS Outlaw events held at the track. Nason, a three-time winner of the Oxford 250, also owns Autodrome Montmagny Speedway in Quebec.
The past 18 months have been very transitional in Northeastern short track racing. New Jersey's Wall Township Speedway announced last month that it would close its gates for the 2008 season.
Meanwhile, New Hampshire's All-Star Speedway, Connecticut's Waterford Speedbowl and Maine's Wiscasset Raceway have all been able to stay in business and be revitalized by new ownership teams in the past season. Since Wiscasset, which is now owned by former DNK Select Used Cars partner Doug White, is located only 50 miles from Unity, it is expected to fill a void left behind by the track's closure.
“They are really doing a lot of things right for this year [at Wiscasset],” said Benjamin. “So I guess that is my home track now.”
Johnny Clark won the 2007 PASS North race at Unity. (Jamie Williams Photo)