Speedway's bash is a treat for racing fans

March 16, 1998|By BRENDAN KIRBY

by Kevin G. Gilbert / staff photographer

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Winter bash

Brian Maynard and his family huddled in the grandstands at Hagerstown Speedway Sunday afternoon, sipping hot chocolate and pulling winter coats over their heads.

The race track's program was aptly named: "Winter Bash." It certainly was cold, but about 1,800 diehard fans braved the temperatures.

"That don't matter," Maynard said.

Maynard, 26, of Greencastle, Pa., said he and his wife come to the track six miles west of Hagerstown off U.S. 40 just about every weekend during the racing season. Even though he thinks it is a bit expensive, he said it is great entertainment.


Angie Maynard, 24, said both have been racing fans since childhood.

"I just like to watch them race," she said.

The Winter Bash gave fans a chance to see a form of racing the track does not normally offer. The afternoon featured modifieds and late models.

Stan Dillon, the track's publicity director, said those classes are popular in New York, New Jersey and parts of Pennsylvania, where the racing season has not yet begun.

Most of the drivers on Sunday were from outside the area, and so were many of the fans.

Jason Wyatt, 52, of Milton, Del., said he travels up and down the East Coast during the racing season, mainly to follow a particular driver.

"He's a local guy at home. He does a good job," he said.

Dillon said the weather kept attendance down, but he said he expects a bigger crowd for this Sunday's Grand Opening. It will be the last race before the track's regular points season begins.

During the year, drivers accumulate points based on their finish, culminating with an $8,000 payout to the champion in October.

The total purse for Sunday's competition was $18,000, Dillon said.

In a unique twist, the last race of the afternoon featured a free-for-all competition that included the late models and modifieds together.

"There's nothing really common about the cars except that they have four wheels," Winter bashDillon said.

Hagerstown Speedway, which opened in 1947, may be Washington County's largest draw behind Antietam National Battlefield. More than 50,000 fans come to the track each year and some events attract as many as 10,000, Dillon said.

In 1989, USA Today named Hagerstown Speedway the best all-around dirt track in the country. Dillon said the consistency of the surface and width of the track provide for exciting races. The cars reach speeds between 100 and 110 mph on the straightaways, he said.

"The drivers all love to race here," he said.

West Lawn, Pa., resident Richard Kuhns, 36, said he makes the two-hour drive to the race track about three times a year.

Kuhns, who attends races from New York to Maryland, said he enjoys the width and smoothness of the Hagerstown track as well as the caliber of competition it attracts.

"It's one of the best around," he said.

Some of the drivers who race in Hagerstown are full-time professionals and a few have even made it to the Winston Cup series, Dillon said.

Most, however, squeeze racing in around full-time jobs.

Gary Stuhler, of Greencastle, was the track champion in 1990 and has amassed 222 career wins.

Now Stuhler travels the region looking for bigger payouts. But the 42-year-old employee of Diversa Construction still races at Hagerstown Speedway periodically.

Stuhler said he shows up several hours before the race with his crew and tries to determine what adjustment to make to his car.

"You just got to watch the race and see what the track's going to do. Sometimes you pick it right; sometimes you don't," he said.

Some drivers, like Hagerstown resident Eddie Cornett, own the cars they race. That means not just a large time commitment but a hefty financial investment as well.

Cornett, 35, who is a welder by trade, estimated that he spent $20,000 to get started and shells out about $5,000 per year to maintain his car in the late model sportsman division.

"When I'm not working making money, I'm working on this," he said.

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