Fifty years ago, Lamoine’s Carl Crowley climbed into his 1964 Pontiac GTO and christened Winterport Dragway by making a run down the quarter-mile track.
The first race card followed.
Crowley will recreate that sprint down the track, which is now one-eighth of a mile, on Saturday as part of the dragway’s 50th anniversary celebration.
Cappy Holt, Crowley and the late Gary Jenkins and Gary Sargent had been drag racing in Sanford and wanted to cut back on their travel so they inquired about transforming an abandoned Winterport airfield into a track.
The town of Winterport allowed them the opportunity to give it a try and it is still going strong 50 years later.
Jim Watson of Gouldsboro, president of the Winterport Dragway Association, remembers sneaking out to race when it first opened. His parents had bought him his first car, a Mustang, and he wanted to race it.
“I just hoped I didn’t break anything. (The track) was a little rough back then. A guy with two flags started the race. There weren’t any lights or anything (like now). And it kept growing and growing,” recalled Watson.
Crowley shouldn’t find it rough at all this weekend.
Watson explained that the asphalt surface was repaved this year and the result has been a “good, smooth ride.”
“It hadn’t been resurfaced in 10 to 15 years. It was in desperate need of it. It was a big capital expense,” said Watson, who also races.
The resurfaced track is just one of the new improvements during the last year. More than $100,000 was raised or donated to also add state-of-the-art scoreboards and improve the computer system.
“They have been great additions,” said Watson.
“That has boosted attendance and vehicle counts,” said Rich Kopper, the track manager.
Racer Willy Larrabee of Stockton Springs said the paving extended another 440 feet beyond the finish line and noted that the barriers were moved closer to the track to make it safer for racers by reducing the momentum they could build before sailing into the barrier.
Larrabee has been racing for 30 years and for him and Watson, the thrill never gets old.
“Fools like me and the guy beside me (Larrabee) have this thing for speed,” quipped Watson. “Most of the guys who race here don’t make a lot of money and have a lot of money invested (in their cars).
“But if you put a bag of peanuts at the finish line, they’ll race for it,” Watson added. “It’s the thrill of going like hell.”
Larrabee said he loves the adrenaline rush and the competition.
“There are some real good racers here. You can’t go out there thinking you’re going to beat the guy you’re racing. Anyone can beat you,” said Larrabee.
They also like the social aspect of the activity.
“It’s probably even more social than it is racing. Everyone is friends or family,” said Larrabee. “We have cookouts and campfires. And if you need anything for your car, people will help you. If your car breaks and someone else isn’t racing, they’ll let you use their car.”
“A lot of families race here,” agreed Watson. “Everybody gets along.”
The Gassah Guys Nostalgia Reunion tour, which features racers from across New England who run cars from the 1960s or 1970s or new cars that are facsimiles of those cars, will hold its mid-season championship/swap meet Saturday. It is one of six weekends that the Gassah Guys race at the dragway.
The Jeff Paluga Memorial King of the Streets event will be held Sunday.
Time trials begin at 9 a.m. both days.
Open time trials are set for Friday from 4 p.m. until dark.
On Saturday, there will be a disc jockey playing music, a fireworks display and an exhibition featuring some alcohol-fueled funny cars. There also will be a dunk tank and bounce house for kids Saturday and Sunday.
“It’s going to be pretty special. I’m excited. I can’t wait for the weekend,” said Larrabee.