If Iíd thought Iíd run myself ragged getting the old Bradford Speedway set up back in the spring, I didnít know what ragged was. The only thing that allowed me to get everything done was that I had a light driverís ed schedule that week and the other instructor, Bob Seeburger, agreed to take some more of the remaining load off of me. As it was, I had a heck of a lot to do, and a lot of it I wanted to keep quiet until I made the announcement of what was happening with the track. I decided I wanted to keep it quiet until I could present it the right way, but that didnít mean that I couldnít get some ground work done.
One of the first things I had to do was to talk with Art about taking back some of the lease of the alfalfa field. He was easy about it, which was a relief. I was glad Iíd caught him when I did, because he had been getting set to plow it up and plant wheat in the next month or so. That would have made things a whole lot worse, if not downright impossible. The root structure of that alfalfa meant that we could have reasonable parking for the temporary track in the fall. I made a lot of phone calls, getting estimates and finding out who was available to do what.
The next evening, the four of us were again out in the alfalfa field, this time carrying things like stakes, hammers, string, and clip boards. We spent some time laying out the temporary track, where we were going to have to concentrate our effort if we werenít going to screw the rest of the season up too badly. We laid out a small track, a little closer to a fifth of a mile than a quarter, but it fit in the area we needed it to without having to be messed up by hills and gullies. We figured out where the bleachers and concession stand were going to have to go, and fences and access and other things.
Then, as the evening wore on, we headed up over the hill to get some measurements of the area that would be useful in planning the new track, which would include a track for karts in the infield, using the start/finish line of the main track. The karters had been good to me, and Iíd promised them a paved track sometime in the future, and the future was going to be sooner than any of us had thought.
When Saturday rolled around it was hard to keep my mouth shut around the kart crowd about what was going to happen, but I managed it. At the driverís meeting, I stood up and said, "Tomorrow at one, Iím going to be making a big announcement about the track. Before you get all hot and bothered about it, while thereís good news and bad news, itís mostly good news. Iíd just as soon announce it all at once and not let the rumor mill get too heated up, so Iíd appreciate it if you could be here at one, even if you donít stay for the races." Of course I had a lot of people ask me what it was all about, but I just had to put them off and tell them to be there the next day.
I hadnít yet told Frank about the change in plans, mostly because I wanted to tell him face to face. When he showed up, I got him in my old gray pickup truck and drove up to the farm, telling him about selling the track along the way. "Yeah," he said when I summed up what was riding on the sale. "A situation like that, you about had to do it, I donít blame you. Youíre saying you want to give me my money back?"
"Maybe not," I smiled. "I havenít told you the rest of the story, yet." I pulled into the alfalfa field, where the temporary track had been marked out. "I at least plan on finishing out the season. Weíve got some work to do and Iím planning on losing next weekend, but if everything goes right we should be set up here the weekend after that. It wonít be as nice a facility as we have down there, but it ought to do for a few weeks."
"Yeah, we raced on worse," he agreed. "A lot worse. And youíve got two weeks to build something. Hell, sometimes we raced at places that hadnít been thought of as race tracks two days ahead of time."
"Boy, is that ever true," I agreed. "But you havenít seen the best part yet." I drove on up over the hill, and came to a stop right in the middle of what weíd marked out as a grandstand area. "Now, think of us as being on the lower part of the stands," I said. "Turns one and two are over that way," I pointed to the right. "Turns three and four are off to our left someplace, we havenít worked out where yet, but wherever it takes to make a three-eighths mile paved oval out of it."
"Jeez, Mel," he smiled. "Youíre thinking big! That could be a heck of a track! You got anything else in mind?"
I explained about the kart track in the infield, and he thought it was a good idea, but added, "You had any thoughts about a road course? Dewey has been bitching about it again. Turns out one of the places theyíve been racing is going to close after this season."
"Yep," I said. "I thought about it. The pit area will be on top of that next hill and behind it. I figure we need a paved access road to the pits. Thereís no reason I canít have the pit road paved wide enough for the sporty car types to use."
"Mel," he shook his head. "You have a hell of a facility in mind here. Are you going to be able to pay for it all out of what youíre making on the sale of the old track?"
"Probably not," I said. "But this is a little different. A few months ago I was poking my toe in the water hoping something was there. Now I know there is, and I figure Iíve got money enough to get a good start, even though I donít have any idea what itís all going to cost yet. Iíve only thrown this together in the past couple days, so I donít have anything like the estimates I showed you for the old track last spring. I figure weíll get the track and some of the stands in for next year, maybe some more of the paving, but put other improvements off until I start bringing in some money. If we do improvements a little at a time, we ought to have a pretty decent facility here in another few years."
"Or, you could have a more decent facility sooner with a little more money," he said, understanding me fully. "So, no idea how much itís going to cost?"
"Not really," I sighed. "I know some pieces but not the whole puzzle. However, I think Iíve at least got a notion of how bad the biggest pieces are going to be. This time, Iím not asking for a loan or a handout, Frank. The last one you gave me came back like the Biblical bread cast upon the waters, and sooner than I ever could have dreamed. Iím looking for an investor, although I donít even have an idea how weíre going to set things up yet."
"All right," he smiled. "Iím in. Damn, this could be a nice facility."
"Thatís my plan," I said. "Dirt is fun, but dirt is dirty and hard on the spectators. Iím thinking this ought to be pretty neat by comparison."
"I think youíll make out," he said. "Look, first thing, get yourself a good lawyer to work out how you want to set the corporation up. Theyíre expensive now but cheap in the long run when you do something like this. You may run into more problems thatíll make you glad that you had a good mouthpiece on the line."
"Been talking to one already," I said. "A guy I know over in Hawthorne, who turns out to be a bit of a racing fan. We havenít got down to the details yet, because right now the most important thing is to get the temporary track going so I donít lose my racer supporters. This track is next year and right at the moment this year is more important."
"Yeah, I can see that," he said. "Youíre making the announcement on this today?"
"I about have to, I canít keep it under my hat much longer."
* * *
We drove back down to the old track Ė I was already thinking of it that way Ė and got down to business. People were showing up by then, unloading cars and getting them ready to race. Of course, the word had come down that I was making some kind of announcement, and everybody and their brother wanted to know what was coming off. "I canít just tell you a piece of the story, guys," I told everybody. "Like I told the karters yesterday, while thereís some bad news itís mostly good news."
The bleachers were pretty full at one oíclock, when I got up to make the announcement. "All right, everybody," I said. "First, I want to praise everybody for their determination about trying to weasel whatís happening out of me. I have heard some of the damndest excuses, but I think Iíve been able to keep everyone in suspense.
"Now, I told everybody that there was going to be bad news, but mostly good news. The bad news is that this is going to be the last day racing at this facility." There was a round of groans and general unhappy remarks. "Hey, itís not all bad," I went on. "You didnít hear the good news. The rest of the bad news is that we wonít be racing next weekend. But, if everything goes halfway right, weíll be racing the weekend after that at the new track two miles up the road."
"Mel," someone yelled. "What brought this on?"
"Iím getting to that," I said. "Donít get ants in your pants. The simple thing is that someone came along with an offer and a reason to buy this place thatís too good to refuse. I donít know if I should say this, but I will. Iíve agreed to sell this property to General Hardware Retailers, who have already bought up much of the surrounding land or have options on it. Within a month, theyíre going to be starting construction of a new regional distribution facility. I donít know much about it, except that itís going to be huge. Itís supposed to bring about 200 to 300 jobs to start with, with more in the future. That means that thereís good news in the bad news of the track being sold. At least itís being sold to good purpose."
"Mel!" Lloyd Weber yelled out. "Are you sure?"
"I could have show you the check I got, but itís already in the bank," I told him. "Iíve told everyone most of what I know about them. If you want an official statement, Iíve got a phone number you can call."
"Good God," Lloyd said. "This could be the biggest thing to ever come to Bradford."
"I knew that," I told him, and everyone else. "I just couldnít make myself stand in the way of something like that, track or no track. Anyway, the good-good news youíve already heard a piece of. Iím going to be throwing together a temporary track on the alfalfa field east of my house. This isnít going to be a volunteer deal, and Iím going to need help. Iím going to ask any of my auto shop students and any other students who would like a summer job for a while to see me later today, and weíll get going tomorrow here at eight. Weíre going to salvage what we can from this place to get the new temporary track going. Now, I say temporary, because up over the hill from the temporary track thereís some stakes driven that roughly mark out a new three-eighths mile oval track. Thatíll be a pavement track, and thereíll be a paved kart track in the infield. Iím sorry, I canít show you much more than that because this has only come together in the past couple days. Iím hoping the paved track can be ready for the season opener next spring, but I canít guarantee it. But weíll have a place to race, no matter how it works out."
The rest of the day went by like a dream. A lot of people came up to tell me that they thought it was a good deal all around. I told several people that it was a shame that so much work in the spring had been wasted, but that it wasnít a total loss. If there hadnít been a good reaction to the work weíd done, Iíd have been far less tempted to throw time and money at the temporary track and the new paved one. From what I could see, most people bought off on the idea. That was a relief Ė my main concern was people being upset that their volunteer work had gone to waste. I told them that I didnít plan on wasting it.
Fortunately Bob Seeburger was able to take over a lot of my driverís ed duties, so I could spend time at the track for the next few days. I had more kids there than I bargained for, but that was just fine with me Ė I could use them. Several of them were farm kids, and Iíd managed to borrow a couple tractors and some farm wagons. "OK, people," I said as I had them gathered in the bleachers. "The big things I want out of here are the bleachers, the PA system, the new concession building, the water truck, the woven wire fence and posts, anything else that isnít nailed down, and then anything else that is weíll just get later. The good sections of the bleachers here weíll just tear down and set up at the temporary track. The old bleacher parts, weíll just haul up and stack behind my barn. After that, weíll see how it goes."
I detailed off three or four kids who had spent time around the place and I thought well of to work at different things, then stood back to see what happened. It all went pretty well, and in a couple days we had all the pieces I really wanted except for the concession building up at the new place. Zack and I had designed the new concession building to be moved over to the other side of the track at some future date because we figured that weíd want a bigger one if we had to split up the parking lot and handle the crowds separately. As it turned out, we moved it quite a bit farther than we planned, but a low machinery trailer, some wood blocks and some house jacks were all that was needed to make the move, which came off the next Saturday. The new location was a bit of a problem since we didnít have water or power out there yet, but borrowing a generator took care of the power problem, and a bunch of garden hoses strung from the barn took care of the water, if temporarily.
Art was nice enough to come over with his tiller and chop up the sod where the new racing surface was going to be. One of the kids had his familyís Fordson with a loader and a rear scraper, and he started using that to rake up the sod, which he loaded on a manure spreader to be hauled elsewhere. There was a lot of tilling and grading going on after that, and in order to make a good racing surface a lot of the work had to be done while the soil was damp. I donít know where Smoky or whoever had come up with an old Army truck with a couple of tanks roughly welded onto it to use for a water truck. About all I can say is that it worked, if not very well. Getting water was a bit of a hassle until we set up a pump to get water out of a swamp about a quarter of a mile away, but after that it wasnít much of a problem.
The new track was going to have a nice runoff area three quarters of the way around it, but I wanted more protection for the bleachers, parking area, and pits. My original thought was to take the old tire wall from the old track, dump out the dirt and haul the tires up to do the same job at the new track. But, I soon discovered that the old tires were both pretty well weather-beaten, and that what I thought was dirt filling them was actually dirt on top of quite a bit of concrete. I figured that General Hardware or their contractors were better equipped to tear the thing up with their heavy equipment while we figured out something else.
Old tires are always a problem at junkyards Ė they were in those days and still are today. The guy who ran the junkyard over by Amherst was more than willing to give me a few loads to haul off for free, so for a couple days there traffic was held up between the two towns by farm tractors hauling farm wagons stacked precariously with old tires. Up at the temporary track, we stacked those tires in a single layer on the ground with a few fence posts here and there to keep them in one place, filled them with dirt that was mostly hauled up from the old track, followed by more layers that got the same treatment. Then, to be on the safe side, we built another tire wall directly behind that in the bleacher area, then built a catch fence behind that using the same stuff that had been used at the old track.
In general, things went along pretty well. Moving the concession building went off so well that Zack decided to do the same thing with the scoring and announcerís tower. That was quite a bit more precarious, and he had to lay it down to be able to haul it, but all in all it came off pretty well. The old track was getting pretty well stripped out by then, but we kept at it, figuring that the scrap lumber might be of use somewhere, even as a big cheery bonfire some time. To be honest, by the time we were ready to open the temporary track there wasnít much left at the old track to show that it had ever been there. The kids Iíd hired had even taken the sign down, repainted it, and erected it at the new location.
It had been a busy two weeks, but we were ready to open the temporary track on schedule. I hadnít planned on any big opening ceremonies or anything, because it was a temporary track, and promised everyone weíd have a real show when the time came to open the paved track.
The karters got to try the track out first this time. Although weíd made test runs with cars and it seemed to work out all right, I was a little concerned about how it would work with karts because the surface seemed a little loose to me, even with as much work as weíd put into the place. Karts were a concern, even though Vern and Ray had had theirs out on it several times and had pronounced it "cool." Iíll have to say, it wasnít until after Iíd committed to building a track in their back yard that I began to wonder just how much trouble they were going to get into on it.
In any case, Ray made the first practice lap around the place, and a while later won the first heat race. We had over seventy karts on hand, and for the most part it seemed as if everyone was happy with the way the place had turned out considering that it was to be a temporary track. A lot of people said that it would do for now, but that they were looking forward to the paved track that ought to be available the next year. The temporary track was in some respects a little more primitive than the old track, but there were some good features too, and for something that had been thrown together in two weeks it seemed like it would do the job.
The next day it was time for the real cars. I hadnít expected a big turnout, maybe twenty or thirty cars, and I would have been happy with that many considering that we had first-time bugs to work out, although with a crew that was used to running races now. As it turned out sixty-seven cars showed up, including a few racers who I hadnít seen since the reopening of the old track. That put a little strain on things, but for the most part it went all right. I got a lot of compliments about how well it had turned out on short notice, but I couldnít help but notice that a lot of people hiked up over the hill to see the stakes driven into the ground for the new layout.
Work was already under way on it. I realized right from the beginning that when we put the banking for turns three and four across the mouth of the little valley we had all the potential to turn the place into a pond. That might have been all right for boats but would have been a little hard for race cars. I hired a guy who did field drainage to put in a good drain system under what would become the infield and get the pipes laid under what would be turns three and four before the excavating work got under way, hopefully in the next week or so. Starting this late in the season it was going to be a rush to get everything done in time for an opening in the spring, but most of the pieces seemed to be in place.
The opening heat was Economy Stocks. Baxter Fenway surprised all of us by winning it, although not easily, in his little Rambler American. This was a car that most racers tended to put down as not being a "real" car Ė AMC cars didnít get much respect in those days. To top it off, later that afternoon Fenway won the Economy Stock A-Main, which was the first feature to be run at the track. Iíll admit that he won it at least partly because he was bright enough to take the opportunity when a fluke happened, but he won it and he was about as tickled pink as anyone you ever saw. He was already making sounds about getting a more competitive car for next year. People cringed a little at that, because after the show he put on that day we realized he was already hell on wheels.
All in all, for an opening day that wasnít supposed to be anything special, I thought it turned out pretty good. Everybody had a good time as far as I could tell, and there was something about the new place that seemed to offer hope for the future. Iím not sure why, but it seemed to me that weíd left some bad memories behind at the old track, and now we had a place to build some good new ones.