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Hagerstown Speedway season opens

February 25, 2002|By TARA REILLY

The constant cloud of dirt that hung over Hagerstown Speedway Sunday afternoon, coating the faces of cheering fans, didn't appear to matter to those who turned out for the track's 55th season opener.

The speedway, known as "the capital of dirt track racing," kicked off the 2002 race year with dirt late-model and modified races and about 3,000 people in attendance, including drivers and crew members.

Once the green flag dropped, signaling the start of the first race, spectators clapped, waved flags and rooted on their favorite drivers.

"It's the first chance to watch a good race," said Chet Johnson of Indiana, Pa.

Dirt late-model race cars are modeled after current street cars, such as the Chevrolet Monte Carlo, Ford Taurus and Pontiac Grand Prix, but they are wider and lower to the ground.

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Modified cars are those with exposed front wheels and smaller bodies than the late models.

Johnson, who drives modified cars and will begin his season a few weeks from now at Lernerville Speedway in Freeport, Pa., said he enjoys watching the competition in Hagerstown. He said he raced in Hagerstown last year.

"I like the size of the track. The competition is always good," Johnson said. "They put on a good show. I like the side-by-side racing."

The 1/2-mile oval track has straightaways of more than 900 feet, and the turns are 90-feet wide. The surface is made of red clay. The speedway is located about six miles west of Hagerstown on U.S. 40.

"I always come out on opening day," said Russ Moseley of Maugansville. "I love it."

Moseley, a mechanic and pure stock racer, said he's been racing at the track for 35 years.

Lisa Bragunier, the speedway's general manager, said the pure stock season opens next week and consists of mostly local racers.

The majority of Sunday's late model and modified drivers, however, were not from the Washington County area, Bragunier said.

Many of the drivers hail from Delaware, Pennsylvania and New York. The track also attracts fans from those states, she said.

"We attract a national crowd," she said.

Chris Haertel and Al Atallah drove from Pittsburgh to attend the opening events in Hagerstown.

Haertel said he didn't mind the dirt flying around from cars whipping around the turns, even if some got in his beer.

Atallah said he knows many of the late-model drivers and enjoys cheering them on.

"It's more of a working-class person's kind of racing, so you can relate to it," Atallah said.

Shannon Waddell, of Berkeley County, W.Va., said she visits the track to see her cousin race.

"I just like it," Waddell said.

Her cousin, Buck Tomblin, drives the No. 41 late-model car, she said.

Bragunier said the speedway will host events every week through October, when it will wrap up the season with the 15th Annual Octoberfest 350. The U.S. Hot Rod Monster Truck Nationals will be July 19 and 20.

Bragunier said the 55 years the speedway has been open, combined with its number of events and track and facility conditions, makes it one of the top attractions in the area as well as throughout the East Coast.

"With age comes experience," Bragunier said. "We have a good surface to run on. It's a wide track. It's fantastic."

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