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He keeps track of dirt

April 29, 2002|BY ANDREA ROWLAND

andreabh@herald-mail.com

Randy Grove isn't a race car driver, but he may have out-lapped anyone else on the dirt track at Hagerstown Speedway.

Grove for 25 years has piloted the grader and water truck around the half-mile red clay track off U.S. 40 west of Hagerstown.

He goes round and round the 900-foot-long, 70-foot-wide straight-aways and 90-foot wide turns about twice a week during racing season, packing, wetting, re-packing and smoothing the soil in preparation for the next race.

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"Preparing a racetrack is a lot like mixing cement," said Grove, 50. "There's no rocket science to it. It's fooling with dirt.

"It just takes work."

Grove knows his dirt - from the red clay at Hagerstown's track to the sand at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte, N.C., and the dry desert soil at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

"He's like an environmentalist," Hagerstown Speedway General Manager Lisa Bragunier said. "He knows all about the different types of dirt and everything."

Grove is so good at what he does the owner of the World of Outlaws sprint racing series flies him to Charlotte and Las Vegas to prepare those tracks for big Outlaw series races.

"He just knows all kinds of dirt," Outlaws Owner Ted Johnson said. "He's real good at it."

Clay consistently retains moisture, keeping dust down, Grove said.

"They say the (Hagerstown Speedway) is the best dirt track in the world. I'd say it's as fine a red clay for racing surfaces as can be found anywhere," Grove said.

Water drains quickly through sand, he said, so it doesn't take much racing to stir up dust at tracks such as Lowe's Motor Speedway. The desert dirt is like modeling clay that has dried out, he said.

"It takes an awful lot of water."

Experience has taught Grove how much water to add to tracks to keep the dust down and the surface soft enough to give a little without rutting when racing tires pass over it, he said.

He knows he'll need more moisture on hot, sunny days. Clouds and humidity make his work easier.

Grove circles the track on a Caterpillar grader about 20 times prior to a race, devoting 10 laps to cutting out ruts across the surface and 10 more to scattering and smoothing dirt back across the track, he said.

He doesn't get bored.

"That's relaxation for me to ride that equipment," Grove said. "It has to be relaxing and fun for me to keep doing it. I've got a full-time job. I don't need two."

He works as a captain on the overnight shift at Roxbury Correctional Institution south of Hagerstown. The track is his home away from home, Grove said.

And it isn't far away.

He grew up across the street from the Hagerstown Speedway, which his father helped to build following World War II. He still lives on that ridge bordering Conococheague Creek.

Grove first drove the water truck around the track when he was 6, sitting on a crate to steer after his dad put the truck in gear, he said.

Over the years, Grove has helped run races, hand out penalties and care for the track. He's a racing fan with a preference for motocross and long straight-aways.

Grove's daughter, Nan, was the first female quarter-midget and four-cylinder stock car champion at Hagerstown Speedway, he said.

His wife of 29 years, Nancy, runs the concession stand at the infield.

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