A car circles the dirt racing track at the Unity Raceway in Unity, Maine. Following a five-year hiatus, the raceway will open for its first full season this summer. Credit: Courtesy of Joey Doyon

After a five-year hiatus, weekly racing returned to Unity Raceway halfway through last summer.

Winterport native and longtime racer Joey Doyon, who is leasing the track from owner Ralph Nason, was able to get in some racing last July.

It marked the debut of Unity Raceway’s new dirt track, which was transformed from asphalt during its hiatus. Unity Raceway was originally a dirt track when it first opened in 1948 and remained as such until 1964 before becoming an asphalt oval for more than 50 years.

Now, with half a season under his belt and lessons learned, Doyon is preparing to open the raceway for his first full racing season at 7 p.m. on June 16.

Dirt track racing has had a resurgence in recent years. It returned to the NASCAR Cup Series schedule for the first time in more than 50 years in 2021 when Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee held a race. That continued in 2022 and again this April.

Unity Raceway will switch to Friday night racing this year, after hosting races on Sunday afternoon last season.

“Night racing is going to be a difference-maker,” Doyon predicted. “We were racing in the hottest part of the day last year so it was hard to manage things and keep up with the dust.”

Unity Raceway will have new lights and it will race from June 16 to Sept. 29 with just one Friday off on Aug. 25.

The raceway’s special Long John racing weekend will be on Oct. 20-22.

Doyon visited dirt tracks in Vermont last summer to do research on their logistics. He has also consulted with a number of people involved in racing to help formulate his blueprint for this season.

Doyon is looking forward to the season now that he has a better idea of how to run a track.

“I’m more settled in now. Last year, there were so many unknowns. It was pretty nerve-wracking,” admitted the 42-year-old Doyon.

“I want to give those guys the best possible track to race on. I understand from the drivers’ point of view how much money and time they have put into it,” Doyon added. “I’m going to do everything I can to make the track awesome. But I’m always going to want it to be better.”

He had hoped to have 30 to 40 cars spread out over seven classes last season but ended up with more than 60 most afternoons.

Doyon said he has 92 cars registered for this season so far, and he knows several others who intend to race who haven’t registered yet.

“The drivers are having fun,” said Nason, adding that dirt track racing is much less expensive than racing on asphalt because there is less wear and tear on tires.

“The tire bills are almost zero and the cars with the most horsepower aren’t the ones that win all the time,” said Nason, who explained that traction is more important than horsepower on a tricky dirt track.

Doyon agreed.

“The higher divisions will still have to buy tires but not as often as they would at [an asphalt track] and the lower divisions can run all year on one set of tires unless they cut one or something,” Doyon said.

Doyon has heard drivers go back and forth on the importance of horsepower on a dirt track.

“In my opinion, the drivers whose tires are hooked up better will be faster than the ones with more horsepower [and less traction),” Doyon said. “The drivers have to race the race track. The track changes every lap. That puts it more into the driver’s hands as opposed to it being decided by who has the bigger wallet.”

And he said it is entertaining for the fans.

“It’s pretty wild to watch,” said Doyon, who lives in Frankfort.

He said a number of people came forward last summer and offered to help him with the track and he now has an “awesome crew that is really helping out a lot.”

He will divide his classes into two groups and each will run every other Friday.

Unity is one of four active tracks in the state, but it is the only dirt track. Two of the other tracks, Oxford Plains Speedway and Wiscasset Speedway, opened last weekend.

Hermon’s Speedway 95 will kick off its season on Saturday, May 6, at 7 p.m.