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Weather cooperates

speedway season opens

March 21, 2005|by BRIAN SHAPPELL

shappell@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Hundreds of people bundled up Sunday and donned their racing caps to "eat dirt" for the first time in 2005.

Many said they've been waiting for weeks to do so.

After weeks of delays due to poor track conditions caused by inclement weather, Hagerstown Speedway opened the 2005 season. The opening had to contend with chilly temperatures, brisk winds, and competition from NASCAR racing and the NCAA men's basketball tournament telecasts.

Dale Rose, of Bedford, Pa., said he drove south to watch the dirt-track racing in Hagerstown because another race closer to where he lived was canceled Sunday and because he knew of the speedway's good reputation. Rose said staying home to watch the televised Nextel Cup race from Atlanta was not an option for him.

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"I'd rather eat dirt," Rose said.

Berkeley Springs, W.Va., resident Richard J. O'Toole said, despite being a devoted NASCAR fan, nothing beats live racing.

"It's more fun to watch it in person and to support your local track," O'Toole said. "Without the local tracks, there wouldn't be the big ones."

Sunday's events, a late-model race won by Jeremy Miller and a small block modified race won by Brett Hearn, were green-flagged after three consecutive weekends of race cancellations.

Speedway Director of Public Relations Stan Dillon said rain early Sunday again threatened the start of the 2005 season.

"The rain early really hurt the size of the crowd, but we had so many (drivers) from upstate New York that we had to have it," Dillon said.

Attendance appeared to be less than half the track's capacity.

What the crowd lacked was made up for in "die-hard" fans, he said.

"You have a lot of fans that have been waiting for this since October," Dillon said.

Among the loyal fans was Ken Hardy of Hagerstown.

"We're here no matter what the weather," Hardy said. "I'm just glad they finally got one in."

For Howard Messerly Jr., of Warfordsburg, Pa., Sunday was not his first time at the speedway - or at least its front gate.

"I came down last weekend and didn't call because I figured they'd definitely be racing," Messerly said of finding the track closed. "I was kinda bummed."

Though many in the crowd were speedway loyalists, Messerly's friend Charles Chives proved that while rookies may get bumped around on the track, they're always welcome in the stands.

"I just wanted to see what it was like. It was pretty cool," Chives said. "I don't even watch NASCAR."

Denny Bonebrake, a six-time super late models champion at the speedway between 1969 and 1984, said he was glad to finally have a chance to check out how the racing teams did as a spectator, even if the weather was a little colder than most hoped for.

"I'll just be glad when it warms up a little bit," Bonebrake said.

Results and information about future events are available at www.hagerstownspeedway.com.

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