WESTFIELD, Mass. — I love dirt-track racing.
Maybe it’s because my first ride was a dirtbike. I got it when I was 15, and that bike gave me a kind and level of freedom that was miles beyond what I’d experienced until then.
I lived in an ideal place to ride, too. My house was at the end of a dead-end street. Next to it was a large field its owner used only for haying. As long as we stayed on the single dirt path that crossed the field, he had no problem with us riding on it.
That was great, because the path led to acres of woods, with riding paths already cut into them by history and various turkey runs held there before I got my bike. The woods were bisected by a railroad-line that led to giant sandpits in either direction.
Of course, we weren’t supposed to be riding on any of this private property. But it was a different world then, and I was a kid. The occasional arrival of a fleet of cop cars served as no more than a green flag signaling us to blast away from the unenthusiastic chase given by the men in blue.
They didn’t really mind. We knew most of them, and they harbored no ill will toward us. They were doing their jobs. I was being a kid.
Naturally then, my first racing was on a motocross track … where, I must admit, I was overmatched. Later I tried my hand at short-track racing, on essentially an identical bike. I loved the challenge of trying to find traction on a surface that offered little of it. When I finally got a chance to drive a race car on dirt, I found I loved that even more.
Yet if I’d been lucky enough to grow up in the perfect place to put two wheels to dirt, I’ve come to realize I live in the worst part of the country to put four wheels on it.
My interest in racing on pavement began after I got my license. I grew up in Seekonk, Massachusetts. At the other end of town was the legendary Seekonk Speedway. Dad had no interest in racing, but I made my way there as soon as I had a car to steer in that direction. The modifieds racing there got my attention, but for that matter, so did the mini stocks.
My own first race car was a kart. A strong club raced on a one-eighth mile oval in Pomfret, Connecticut. It was a paved oval, like Seekonk, which I began to cover for the local dailies (newspapers, you know? They all used to cover racing). I also regularly covered Stafford, Thompson and Waterford close to home as well as Riverside Park, Star, Lee USA, Beech Ridge, and a host of other ovals, all paved. Any dirt tracks in New England were in the rural north, far away from my beat.
And then Whip City opened.
It was an hour away from home — next door, by Race Chaser standards. The first time I went there, the ARDC was in town. I was smitten. I started plotting my way onto the clay that the track’s principals, Frank Ferrara and Steve Pighetti, had trucked in to the land they’d leased from the town of Westfield. Laid up against a municipal airport, it seemingly was far away from any nimbys who might complain about noise or dust, or the fact that other people were having fun and they weren’t.
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