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A day at the races

Speedway welcomes about 1,200

Speedway welcomes about 1,200

March 06, 2006|By KAREN HANNA

HAGERSTOWN

Spoken over the growl of powerful engines, the words of one Hagerstown race car driver drifted into a strong wind.

Alan Sagi, a 42-year-old veteran, was looking for a little Opening Day magic Sunday at Hagerstown Speedway.

"I've won on Opening Day three times. I'd like to make it four today," Sagi said.

Two divisions of cars raced on the dirt track west of the city. Outside the gates, hundreds of spectators' cars and trucks bore plates from near and far.

Stan Dillon, who handles publicity for the track, estimated that about 1,200 people came to see the first races of the year.

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"We average, on a weekly basis, 2,200. Today, we're not going to have too many because of it being too cold," Dillon said.

Wearing brown work coveralls, Chris Almquist, 37, of Newark, Del., said he had come prepared for the weather.

"This is the only race that's racing this time of year, so you got to see it. There's no NASCAR on TV, so you got to come to see it," said Almquist, who travels to 30 to 40 races a year.

In his hands, he held a video camera he used to photograph the new paint jobs of the cars in the pits.

According to track handicapper Calvin Forsythe, 56 drivers were to compete Sunday. Twenty-five competitors, including Sagi, who has raced with a team from Endicott, N.Y., for about five years, were behind the wheels of late-model cars, while 31 drivers from states like New York, New Jersey and Delaware were set to try their luck with modified cars, Forsythe said.

"We wait for it every year," said Wendy Bean, who traveled with her husband and three children from Stephens City, Va., to see the races.

Under blankets, Tabitha Bean, 14, and Christian Bean, 11, talked about racing as Christian's twin brother Mark stood near the top of the bleachers.

Christian explained in two words what he likes about the sport.

"It's fast," he said.

The late-model cars, which are driven mostly by local competitors, are faster than the modified cars, Dillon said. The average speed around the half-mile oval is about 80 miles per hour, though the cars can reach 100 miles per hour on the straightaway, he said.

Dillon, the father of a racer, said he began working part time at the track in 1984 and still loves it.

"This is sort of the redneck side of me. I'm probably the only one who would go to an opera and go to the race track the next day," Dillon said.

Sagi, a full-time salesman, awaited his first feature race of the year as a group of modified cars slid through the turns on the dirt track during a qualifying run.

The 25-year racing veteran said he still gets excited about Opening Day. When asked what he liked best about racing, the driver showed no hesitation.

"Passing cars is fun. It's the vibration, the thrill of the speed, and it's fun to pass cars, maneuvering in traffic," he said.

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