Cold Dirt

When my brother Ward and I first decided to take Don Douville up on his offer to build a midget out of his collection of tired and retired parts, part of the attraction was the opportunity to race less than 90 minutes away from home, at Whip City Speedway in Westfield, MA.

This was a rare opportunity because dirt tracks were rare in southern New England. There used to be a few, but most were long gone - or long paved. We’d already visited Whip City a bunch of times and appreciated that this little quarter-mile of trucked-in clay was designed and organized to a be a playground for guys like us, racers with commitments to other things, racers realistic enough to know they weren’t advancing up any ladder, guys without a lot of money to burn but a burning need to go fast.

It was a great group of guys racing at The Whip, and by guys I include the likes of Kelly Farrell, Bethany Viets; women with the same priorities as the men- as well as more skill than many of us. We raced tough, banged into each other occasionally, and fought as hard as any racers anywhere. Afterwards, we gathered and laughed about how much fun we had or helped the racers who hadn’t had as much fun bending or breaking their cars.

Then the town of Westfield decided not to renew the lease the track had with the town for the land. There was some big corporate manufacturer of some airplane part or another who coveted the property, hard by the town’s airport as it was. The midgets were forced north, where the last dirt racetracks in New England remained. What became a 90-minute blast up the Mass Pike became a four-hour trek into northern Vermont.

I love Bear Ridge. Butch Elms does a great job there, and it remains a happening place if you’re a dirt-racing fan. But racing became a full weekend event, heading north Saturday morning to get there for afternoon practice and getting home in the wee hours of Sunday morning to crash for the rest of the weekend.

A bit ago I was out in Western Mass., and I decided to take a detour to Westfield to check out this big company and the factory where it was promised that a ton of new jobs had been created. But there was no factory. There was no factory-construction. There was no signs of any factory at all. There was a quarter-mile of dirt track, now minus any grandstands or the great white wall that surrounded the track, but still looking game for some hot laps. There was the expanse of the pits unmolested. Even the telephone poles that marked out pit spots still were doing their job.

How much of the story of new airplane parts, and new jobs, was a lie told to town officials to get them to give some greedy and selfish entrepreneurs some sweetheart-deal they ultimately rejected? How much was a lie told by the town officials to get ready of those dirty racecar drivers?

I’m curious to go back there and see if anything has happened on the land yet. I’m not betting on it.

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