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Speedway Scene

March 27, 1999|By MIKE SIRBAUGH / Staff Correspondent

Some athletes will go to any lengths to satiate that incredible need they have to participate in their favorite sport.

A golfer will trudge through dew-soaked grass at six in the morning. Boxers put up with the stench of stale sweat in a poorly ventilated gym. Ice skaters frequent rinks at odd hours to labor on their skills in cold loneliness.

Race car drivers, especially small-time enthusiasts, squeeze to create time after working a full-time job, spending time with their family and tending to those minute details such as eating, paying bills, etc.

Eric Mellott of Needmore, Pa., is a case in point. He travels the 45 minutes from his home in southern Fulton County to race at the Hagerstown Speedway, but also ventures to Winchester (Va.) Speedway and used to make regular stops at Bedford Speedway until they dropped 4-cylinder racing some years ago.

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Mellott is a 30-year-old husband and father of two who combines his sport and chief hobby with family. It's because of the family aspect that he has the opportunity to race at all.

"I guess my crew is just me and my brother Ronnie," Mellott said. "Ronnie is the crew chief and my dad (Ronald Sr.) also helps sometimes."

He works at Fulton Motor Sales in McConnellsburg, Pa. and is proud to have his employer as his major sponsor. Last year, his chief sponsor was his father's business, Fulton Builders.

His in-laws, Larry and Mona Sowers, have also been major contributors, supplying financial backing and moral support. He used to race with his brother-in-law, Larry, Jr., until the latter gave it up in 1995.

His wife Mindy didn't get to attend many races last season because she was tending to their young children, 4-year old Erika and Nathan, who is now 19 months old. But Eric is counting on Mindy to be there more this year and to join him in Victory Lane if he can repeat or surpass his success of 1998.

Mellott picked up two wins last season in the 4-cylinder class, the third and fourth of his six-year career. The previous three were spread out over the first five years. One came in a thundercar early in his career, one was at Bedford Speedway in a 4-cylinder and the third was in 1997 at Hagerstown.

"The biggest highlights were that first win in Hagerstown and the last win last year," Mellott said. "The biggest thing was getting that first win. But we had a pretty good year last year."

Mellott is planning to race almost exclusively at Hagerstown this season and take a serious run at the points championship. But he concedes that the going won't be easy since he finished fourth last year behind two-time champion Brian Miller and Tommy and Art Jerin, the brother tandem that led the division in wins.

"We're going to have to win races," Mellott said. "Brian's going to be tough. But he's got a new crew, a new car and a new owner. The Holmes boys (Andy and Dean) are going to be tough. I mean, everybody is good.

"We've been ready to go for about a month. We tried to change our setup to get it to handle better but, other than that, the car's not much different."

That's probably as much a product of priorities as contentedness. Like anyone else, Mellott has other interests.

"I like to muzzleloader hunt and I restore old Mustangs. I have an old 1966 Mustang, but I haven't had much chance to work on it since I've been racing."

Racing can become an all-consuming fire in the belly.

"Dirt track is a bad bug. It's addictive."

Track facts




No high hopes of hitting the dirt this weekend. At the time of this writing, the forecasters were calling for anything from snow to rain for this weekend, a two-day affair for the Speedway.

Tonight is the Syracuse and Octoberfest qualifiers for the big block and small block modifieds with a 35-lap feature scheduled for the late models. Gates open at 3 with practice beginning at 5.

A regular show is scheduled for Sunday, with this year's points races beginning. Gates open at 11. Practice is set for 1:30 p.m.

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