Tuesday, June 18, 2013
By Paul Betit firstname.lastname@example.org
UNITY - George Fernald has pulled the plug on the auto racing season at Unity Raceway, but that doesn't mean Maine's oldest race track will be closed for good.
Fernald, who has leased the track from Maine auto racing legend Ralph Nason for five summers, announced last Saturday night he was ceasing operations, but Nason said Wednesday other people have expressed interest in operating the one-third mile track.
"The new people will probably run one or two events this year," Nason said. "There are two guys, actually, who are interested in running the track."
Nason expects to reveal the identity of the track's new operators during the next month.
"You know, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, and I don't have a bird in the hand yet," he said. "I don't believe the track is lost."
Fernald, who operates a company that specializes in the transportation of mobile homes, estimates his family lost more than $20,000 this summer while operating the raceway, a former horse racing track that held its first stock car race in 1948.
"It's just that everything I was making during the week with (my) business was going to keep the track open," he said.
Nason said he appreciates Fernald's efforts to keep the track open. "He tried 1,000 percent. The economy got George."
Earlier this month, Fernald scaled back ticket prices from $10 to $5 and lowered the cost of pit passes from $25 to $10.
But dwindling car counts made it difficult for him to lure fans to the race track.
Last Saturday night, the track hit a season low of 28 cars, spread out over seven divisions, prompting Fernald to halt his operation of the track.
By comparison, since the season began, 110 different cars have competed in the top four racing divisions on Saturday nights at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in Scarborough.
Fernald claimed car counts ranged as high as 80 cars per racing date last summer.
"Most of (the drivers) are just sitting and not racing," he said. "They can't afford to do it."
Last season, crowds ranged as high as 500 per racing date at Unity. "We were squeaking by," he said.
According to a story published in the Maine Sunday Telegram Aug. 5, more than 4,000 people attend races at Beech Ridge on an average Saturday night.
"We're not in that populated area like Beech Ridge is," Fernald said.
Beech Ridge owner Andy Cusack doubts his track will pick up any extra cars with the cessation of operations at Unity.
"The tracks are far enough apart, and our rules are just far enough apart, that it's difficult for someone to make that kind of haul," he said. "Frankly, we don't encourage anyone showing up (to race) this late in the season because the points races are so tight."
Staff Writer Paul Betit can be contacted at 791-6424 or at: