Thursday, December 12, 2013
WISCASSET - Richard and Vanessa Jordan left their home in Kingfield and came early, maybe 90 minutes before the foreclosure auction that would decide the fate of Wiscasset Raceway. They walked through knee-high grass. They noticed the sagging and sun-bleached red, white and blue wooden planks in the empty bleachers.
What price does one put on memories of a track that hasn't featured regular racing since 2010? How many dollars would they risk when the bidding started?
This small, country racetrack once was known for its boisterous fans, whose cheers or boos could be heard over the roar of racing engines. In Thursday's silence, Richard Jordan paused and said a prayer to his mother.
"She enjoyed watching me race here. She died three years ago today. Who knows, I told her, I might walk away owning this place."
Two hours later, Jordan was accepting congratulations. His bid of $130,000 for the track, its buildings and vehicles was accepted as the last bid. Wiscasset Raceway last sold for $500,000 several years ago. Jordan looked dazed, turning to his wife. What did we just do?
Richard and Vanessa Jordan saved a race track, which in this gathering was tantamount to saving a life. Men and women pressed forward, offering help. Paint, pound nails, mow, sweep, dig, whatever. Some five dozen members of Maine's stock car racing community had come to the foreclosure in these tough times, fearing they were attending a wake but hoping for a rebirth.
When would racing return? "Soon," said Richard Jordan, buying time. How soon? "We'll talk about that on our ride home," said Vanessa Jordan. "It's a (two-hour) ride back to Kingfield."
They are business owners. Jordan Lumber is one of their businesses, which should prod race fans' memories. Veteran driver Kelly Moore of Scarborough raced and won many times with Jordan Lumber sponsorship on his car.
"We didn't come here with the intention of buying the track," said Richard Jordan. He and his wife came to show support with a bid or two. When the bidding lagged, Jordan realized the track could be his.
His competition was John Clark II of Farmingdale, a former racer at Wiscasset and a successful businessman himself. His son is Johnny Clark, the six-time Pro All-Star Series champion. But father and son were on their way to Thompson, Conn., for a Thursday night race. John Clark, father and grandfather to the pair, was their proxy.
The elder Clark called his son. In front of a hushed crowd you could hear Clark ask, what do you want me to do? Miles away, John Clark II decided he wouldn't go higher.
Like Jordan, this was family business. John Clark II was a Late Model racer at Wiscasset some 30 years ago. Johnny Clark was 15 when he first raced at Wiscasset, the only track that looked the other way. He was one year too young.
For the Jordan and Clark families and countless others, including former Sprint Cup winner Ricky Craven, Wiscasset Raceway was a second home. It always seemed to need fresh paint, and general managers came and went with some frequency.
Many times there was a scheduling war with Unity Raceway, about 90 minutes away, testing drivers' loyalties.
The racing, however, was usually thrilling. "It had the best and fastest racing," said Jimmy Burns of Winslow, who won there and at Unity and at Oxford Plains Speedway. "It had the premier racing surface. The facilities weren't great but the track was."
The turns on the one-third mile oval were wider and had more banking than any other short track in Maine. Drivers had more chances to pass the leader.
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