There’s something special about Bear Ridge Speedway, the small quarter-mile clay oval located in Bradford, Vermont, that keeps fans coming back each and every week during the racing season. Whether it’s the side-by-side racing, high-level of competition or the small town community-like atmosphere, for 47 years drivers and fans alike have traveled the back roads of Vermont every Saturday evening to enjoy a night of racing that begins at the tracks famous “6-ish” post-time.
C.V. “Butch” Elms III, who previously worked and raced at Bear Ridge Speedway for many years, purchased the track from his father, C.V. Elms II, back in 1989 and has been the man at the helm ever since. On race day, Elms can be found doing anything and everything to make sure the track is run smoothly.
On this Saturday night in May, Elms could be found race directing during the event, taking care of drivers in the pit area after the event and also helping to cut down a pine tree that the track would use as a track drying device following a rain shower.
Elms, who says he can’t remember the last time he missed a night of racing at the track, believes it is the high-level of competition and family-like atmosphere that keeps everybody coming back each week.
“The level of competition is second to none here on this little quarter-mile race track,” said Elms. “Everybody seems to get along with everybody. I’ve gone to a lot of race tracks where guys pitted next to each other wouldn’t help each other change a flat tire, but here everybody is family. Everybody gets along and everybody knows everybody. It’s a great atmosphere and hopefully we can keep it for many years to come.”
Unlike most tracks, both dirt and asphalt, Bear Ridge Speedway hosts what Elms calls “two premier divisions” every Saturday night. In addition to the DIRTcar-sanctioned Sportsman Modifieds, the track is also New England’s home for the Sportsman Coupes. The Coupes, which have evolved over time, feature Modified style chassis with Coupe bodies on them that bring back an old-school feeling to the Vermont oval every week.
“We put them back together back in 1985,” said Elms. “We’ve expanded them a little bit. They’re on a crate motor and most of them are professionally built chassis, but we can still find a few old Coupe bodies to keep on them.
“There’s enough difference in them that they’re different than the Modifieds. We’ve got a bunch of 18 to 20-year-old kids running a Coupe. They didn’t even know what a Coupe was so it’s fun. It’s a great class and we’re home of the Coupes. I’ve got two premier divisions here, while most race tracks have two premier divisions.”
Alfred Deveaux, Jr., of Norwich, Vermont, has been making the half-hour drive to Bear Ridge Speedway regularly since the 2007 season and says the Sportsman Coupes are one of the many reasons why he keeps returning.
“I remember coming here with my father when I was very, very young when they ran the real Coupes, not Coupe roofs on Modified chassis,” said Deveaux. “I remember what it was then and to come here and see it now is awesome.”
Deveaux, who says he doesn’t cheer for any specific driver on Saturday nights, shows up on race day to watch some intense racing.
“I don’t have a favorite car,” said Deveaux. “I’m probably one of the most neutral people you will see here. I work with some of the guys that are involved with the racing. My supervisor’s son runs WRC Performance, so I hear a lot about it at work. I don’t have any family on the track and I don’t have any friends on the track. I’m the guy that wants to come and see someone different win every week. I just like to watch good, tight racing.”
In addition to the weekly divisions hosted at the track, touring series such as the Sprint Cars of New England and USAC Dirt Midgets also visit the track on occasion. On this Saturday night in May, the Sprint Cars of New England were in town for a 25-lap feature.
Reaching average speeds of over 73 miles per hour on the quarter-mile clay oval, these cars put a show on for the fans in attendance. Chris Donnelly, of Piermont, New Hampshire, took home the win in both the Sprint Cars of New England feature and DIRTcar Sportsman Modified feature on this night.
Donnelly, who began his racing career at Bear Ridge Speedway back in 1990, progressed to the tracks premier division – the Sportsman Modifieds – after spending some time in each of the tracks divisions as he made his way up through the ranks.
“The best part for me is that I only live about eight miles from here,” said Donnelly. “This is where I grew up when I was a little kid. I’d come out and watch the races. It is home, really. It’s where I’ve been all along and I have a lot of fun here. I’ve been around here so much I know it like the back of my hand.”
After nearly 25 years of racing at the track, Donnelly told Speed51.com powered by JEGS that for fans who like watching side-by-side racing, he knows no better place to visit than Bear Ridge Speedway.
“It’s really good side-by-side racing with most of it being very clean,” said Donnelly. “Everybody kind of knows each other like a small town community. It’s good hard racing and the track is usually in really good shape, which allows for some good movement. You can definitely do some passing.
“If you like side-by-side racing, this is the place to be on Saturday nights.”
By Brandon Paul, Speed51.com Northeast Editor – Twitter: @Brandon_Paul51.
Photo Credit: Alan Ward