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Race car event brings fans to mall

February 21, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

HALFWAY - Garrett Wiseley was in awe of the dirt-track race cars that were crammed into the hallways of Valley Mall Friday, heralding the start of a new season at Hagerstown Speedway.

"I like the black one - because it has the numbers on it ... they're shiny," said Garrett, 4. After his mother asked him about it, Garrett grinned and said, "I want to drive one of them when I get big."

His parents, Ken and Holly Wiseley, of Fairplay, brought Garrett and his twin sisters, Rachael and Victoria, both 8, to the mall to see the cars.

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Ken Wiseley said the dirt-track style of racing - versus the asphalt-style seen in NASCAR and Indy racing - is good because it's close, and it's a way to introduce his children to the sport. He said he hopes to do that several times this year.

"They'll go their own way. I just introduce them to it," Ken Wiseley said.

About 40 cars of differing styles were on display Friday, which was the official night of the Hagerstown Speedway's season kickoff, said Lisa Bragunier, the track's general manager.

Attendance for the annual event appeared to be up, she said. In the evening, families and race enthusiasts milled around the mall, snapping photos of the vehicles and talking about the upcoming season.

Bragunier said this year's schedule isn't much different from last year's, but she hoped the rain would hold off. The track, which is on the National Pike west of Hagerstown, canceled 15 races last year due to the weather.

This year's opening race, scheduled for Sunday, already has been postponed because snow still is covering the half-mile track. The race has been rescheduled for Feb. 29.

Bragunier said the weather is not the only factor she's counting on to boost attendance. She said NASCAR's continuing surge may be a boon as well.

She said the sport's popularity is driving up prices for both spectators and drivers, which is generally making dirt tracks more attractive for families like the Wiseleys, and racers who need to "fulfill their need for speed."

"I see more and more cars coming on the scene in Hagerstown," Bragunier said Friday. "Dirt racing's the grass roots. Almost every NASCAR driver started out on dirt."

But the track also is popular among those who have been in the business for a long time. Bud Kline, 67, of Hagerstown, represents the first generation in his family of racers, but both his two sons and one of his grandsons are full-fledged into auto racing as well.

Kline was watching over his son's Ford car, although very few parts aside from the engine actually are Ford parts, Kline said. The side panels were handmade, and the frame was built by hand. The seat is caged in with heavy-duty steel bars, and instead of a seat belt, there is a five-point harness that holds the driver in.

"I don't think you could run this one on the street, with the .. way it's built. It's run strictly on alcohol," Kline said. "It's real loud."

Kline said one car costs about $15,000 to build. If you wreck, "one race could wipe you out completely ... (but) you're safer in this than what you got on the street."

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