SCARBOROUGH — When former Beech Ridge Motor Speedway champion Dan McKeage isn’t racing his own car, he’s often at a track watching anything from kids in go-karts to the top Sprint Cup stars.
So he finds it hard to believe he has neighbors in Gorham who have never been to Beech Ridge to see a race.
“I tell them, ‘If you’ve never smelled racing fuels and burning tires, you’re living a deprived life,’” McKeage said. “Who doesn’t love the sound of squealing tires?”
Saturday night, McKeage, roughly 70 other drivers and an expected large crowd will be getting their sensory kicks at the 2014 season opener of Beech Ridge’s NASCAR Whelan All-American Series, featuring action in the top Pro Series, the competitive Sport Series and the Wildcats.
Racing begins at 7 p.m. Admission is $10.
It will be the first of 15 scheduled points races in the 66th season of racing at Beech Ridge.
“You’ve got to run good every week to win a championship,” said McKeage, who was the runner-up to Mike Rowe in 2013. “You have to run consistently in the top five or at least the top 10 without any DNFs. Especially this year with what looks like 25 to 30 cars.”
The short list of top contenders for the Pro Series title includes McKeage, 2011 champion Bill Rodgers of Old Orchard Beach, former Sport Series champs Mike Landry of Oakland and Corey Bubar of Windham, 2001 champ Steve Berry of Gorham, Charlie Colby of Newcastle and former NASCAR Busch North champion Kelly Moore of Scarborough.
Bubar, 22, started driving at Beech Ridge in go-karts when he was 12. After winning the Sport Series class in 2011, he moved up to the Pro Series. Last year he competed on the PASS tour.
“Last year doing longer races we learned a lot,” Bubar said. “I learned to have more patience than anything and we learned a lot about our car.”
Rodgers said he’s excited about this season for a couple reasons. He is not the car owner, meaning less financial worry. Plus he’s driving the car he won the title with in 2011 and subsequently sold.
“Last year we started with a new car and we struggled a bit,” Rodgers said. “This car, it’s like an old pair of shoes. It feels the same way it did when we won in 2011.”
Rowe is not returning to defend his title. The 63-year-old from Turner, who was inducted into the Maine Motorsports Hall of Fame this winter, has returned to the PASS tour this year. He won the 150-lap race at Beech Ridge earlier this month.
Rowe’s 2013 championship car is back, however. Former crew chief Mike Fowler takes over in the now No. 66 as the driver for his father and owner Dick Fowler, who can claim 13 track titles as an owner.
“I’ll bet there will be at least 12 different winners this year,” Dick Fowler said. “It’s tough down here to win a race. We won the championship and we only won two races and that was with Mike Rowe, the best driver in the state of Maine. That shows how tough it is.”
Two newcomers to watch are Reid Lanpher of Manchester and Jacob Dore of Sanford.
Lanpher, 16, drove a Late Model last season in Virginia for JR Motorsports, owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his sister Kelly Earnhardt.
Dore, 24, was open-wheeled modified track champion at Star Speedway in Epping, New Hampshire, in 2012 and 2013. This will be his first year driving a full-body, full-fendered car.
In the Sport Series, Don Morse of Windham is the two-time defending champion and is again the man to beat. Gorham High physics teacher Sally Gherardi, 2013 runner-up Garrett Hall of Scarborough, Russell Morse of Buxton and Clyde Hennessey of Windham will be top threats to unseat Don Morse.
Gherardi won the Sport Series title in 2008 and remains the only woman to win a top-tier title in Maine, according to Beech Ridge publicist Dan Walker.
Defending Wildcat champion Cole Watson of Naples is tied with Bobby Babb for the most track championships among active drivers with five.
NOTES: On Sunday, the first of three “Day of Destruction” events will be held. The night features spectator drag races, backward racing and ramp races. … The Thursday Thunder cards for entry-level and low-budget racing begin June 12 and runs through Aug. 14. … Pro Series features are scheduled for 40 laps. If 21 or more cars are entered, the distance is bumped to 50 laps. “Our championships have come down to single points in recent years,” track owner Andy Cusack said. “Those extra laps can help a driver move up one or two spots and that can make a difference.”
Steve Craig can be reached at 791-6413 or at: