Dalton Jacquier of Connecticut takes in a jump during the Northeast SnoCross races at Spud Speedway on March 4, 2023. Credit: Melissa Lizotte / Aroostook Republican

CARIBOU, Maine — A newfound friendship and business partnership could transform a historic Caribou race track into the city’s largest tourist attraction.

In March, business owners Troy Haney and Jim Gamage held the first ever SnowBowl, a four-day snowmobile festival that drew an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 people to Aroostook County for races, stunt shows and trail rides. The event’s success astounded the men so much that they are planning an ATV-themed festival this fall.

They recently became partners in a new venture at Caribou’s Spud Speedway. They plan to put more than $1 million into the venue, adding more race tracks, lodging, events, outdoor excursions and dining options.

Spud Speedway is the latest Aroostook County landmark seeing major revitalization from local or state investors, including the Aroostook Centre Mall in Presque Isle, Evergreen Lanes and Rendezvous Restaurant in Caribou and the former Loring Air Force Base in Limestone.

“We want to create experiences that you normally wouldn’t think of at a race track,” Gamage said. “We’re going to turn Spud into an event center that just happens to have a race track.”

Haney has owned Spud Speedway since 2009. Gamage and his wife, Michelle, recently became Haney’s partners in Spud Speedway Inc. after collaborating to promote and host the SnowBowl.

Launched in 1964, the speedway grew into a major venue for races that included Maine Racing Hall of Famers Bobby Alexander and Mark Jones, and most recently, The County’s own Austin Theriault. Haney follows at least seven prior owners of the speedway, which evolved to feature mostly entry-level classes in auto racing, with fewer big events.

In 2020, the Gamages moved with their son Noah, 12, from Rockland to Cross Lake, a lakeside town near Caribou, and opened their business, 180 Sealcoating. They were drawn to Aroostook after more than 20 years of traversing the region’s snowmobile trails.

Haney was one of the first people Gamage met in Caribou. The men were talking about outdoor activities last fall when Gamage mentioned an idea that became the SnowBowl.

In just one weekend, the partners saw the festival morph into a major economic driver for the city.

“The hotels were full. Every restaurant in town said they had lines of people waiting,” Haney said. “We had thousands of people spending money in Caribou.”

To grow on that success, Haney and Gamage have begun construction on two new racetracks at Spud Speedway: a 1,300-square-foot, two-lane grass drag track and a 500-square-foot tractor pull track.

The new tracks will be part of the speedway’s inaugural DustBowl, a spin-off of the SnowBowl. From Sept. 14 to 17, the DustBowl will feature the finale of Maine’s snowmobile grass drag series, ATV, truck and tractor pulls, ATV stunt shows, a 200-foot zip line, demolition derbies and a street party in downtown Caribou.

Phase one of the speedway’s expansion will include both new tracks and 10 tiny cabins adjacent to Spud that will sleep two to four people each. Haney and Gamage currently expect those projects to cost $1.5 million total.

The tiny cabins are a smaller version of the log cabin village that the partners originally proposed for Caribou Municipal Airport. With Aroostook seeing a shortage in hotel rooms during large events, they want to give visitors more lodging options and a convenient location alongside Caribou’s trail system.

“It’s a location where you can literally stay and play in one place,” Gamage said.

Within three to five years, he and Haney hope to grow Spud Speedway even more by building more tiny cabins and an indoor event center. That center could include a restaurant, bar and rental shop dedicated to snowmobiling, ATVs, four wheelers and mountain biking.

An indoor center could make Spud more appealing for year-round community events, like wedding receptions, proms, corporate meetings and community dinners. Other outdoor events might include themed roller skating days and drive-in movie nights, Gamage said.

Ultimately, he and Haney want Caribou to be a destination for tourists and perhaps inspire some to stay longer.

“[Caribou] has the best trail system in Maine. We have all these outdoor excursions to offer right here in northern Maine,” Gamage said. “Who knows, it might make some people want to live here.”