The oldest running asphalt race track in the State of Maine has been sold. Unity Raceway, originally built as a horse track before opening as a race track in the fall of 1948, has been sold by track owner Ralph Nason to former promoter George Fernald for an undisclosed amount.
The news of the sale was first reported by CentralMaine.com last Thursday and confirmed by Speed51.com powered by JEGS.
Nason purchased the track in 1980 and has owned the facility ever since. He said in a phone interview on Monday that the sale of the track, which is near and dear to his heart, hasn’t really set in yet.
“I still have the garage that’s down there and some other stuff,” said Nason. “I go there and I really don’t think about it. I think it’s good for the sport and it’s good for the race track because I’m not going to do anything and my kids don’t want to do anything with it, and Georgie has been in love with the place since he was a kid. He can’t wait to get back there and get going.”
Fernald will take over the track beginning on January 1, 2017 while current track lessee Nick Huff runs the 1/3-mile oval for the remainder of the 2016 season.
“As soon as I get it paid off I will feel a lot better,” Fernald told Speed51.com. “At least it will stay a race track and that’s really what Ralph really wanted. We’re good friends and I’m really honored that they passed on the torch to us.”
Although neither party elected to disclose the amount of the sale, Fernald said that Nason did give him 10 years to pay off the balance.
“Since I’ve run it last time we’ve talked every two or three weeks and become very good friends,” Fernald explained. “He’s known me since I was a kid racing there, I started when I was 19. It just happened to come up… and they were good enough to give me 10 years to pay for it.”
Over the course of the last few years, the future of Unity Raceway had been in limbo on a few occasions. Without a sale of the race track, Nason remained the owner of the track while leasing the facility out to different parties.
Fernald leased the track for five years but was forced to give up the track after the 2012 season. At that point, Jere Humphrey signed a two-year lease but eventually backed out of the deal prior to the 2014 season. Huff leased the track for the 2015 and 2016 season while running special events at the historic oval.
But now was the right time to sell the facility, according to Nason. He wanted to make sure he put the track in good hands, and in the hands of someone that would keep racing alive for years to come.
“I wasn’t going to do anything with it and the young fella (Huff) that leases it has been doing okay, but he wasn’t going to be able to buy it,” stated Nason. “It was kind of prolonging the time before I could have sold it. He could’ve stayed there possibly another two or three years. He was doing fine but that wasn’t doing the race track any justice as far as being sold and getting somebody that was going to spend some money on it.”
In addition to the price he’s paying to purchase the race track, Fernald has additional plans to spruce up the facility that he believes has been “run down” in recent years. He plans on shutting the race track down for much of the 2017 season in order to renovate the facility and prove to the racing community that Unity Raceway is here to stay.
“We’re going to put up new fencing. I want to dress the front up with maybe an arch way and maybe a fancy cement wall with flowers planted at the top of it,” explained Fernald. “I plan on painting on the fence, ‘Welcome to Unity Raceway’ and I’m going to have certain drivers from past and present, a picture of their car and them on the fence.”
Fernald also indicated that he hopes to repave the track within the next five years in order to attract premier touring series from around New England to the race track.
Preliminary plans for Fernald include bi-weekly racing on the asphalt track while also bringing in concerts and other non-racing events to help sustain the race track.
“I do realize that it’s going to take more than racing to support the place,” said Fernald. “I plan on racing like every other week while also trying to get in some concerts and maybe the rodeo for some other shows.
“Today, racing’s affordability is what it’s all about. I don’t think you can race every week and afford it. I have started talks with Speedway 95 and I think, it’s not 100% sure yet, but I think we’re going to go every other week and race on opposite weeks and support each other.”
Looking back on the history of the race track, Nason appreciates its roots and hopes to see racing alive and well for years to come. Although he won’t have a vested interest in Unity Raceway, he said that he’s more than willing to help whenever and however he can.
“Georgie knows that anything that I know if he wants to know, I’d be more than willing to part with anything that I know,” stated Nason. “If he heads off in the wrong direction, I’m going to tell him. I’m not going to stick my nose into how he runs his business, but if he needs to know something I’d be more than willing to help him.”
Moving forward, both Nason and Fernald have a similar vision for the race track: packed grandstands, a full pit area and a whole lot of fun at Maine’s oldest race track.
“I think that five years down the road that he’d be racing on Saturday nights with the grandstands full and the pits full,” said Nason. “He needs to come up with a plan and he needs to start something new that is going to be inexpensive to do. This is what has happened to racing over the years, it has priced itself out of business.
“If he can come up with the right kind of a deal with the right cars and get it so that it’s fun and everybody can spend a couple thousand bucks and have a piece to go there with, the place is going to be mobbed. Somebody is going to make some money.”
“I’d like to see the stands full and everyone enjoying the show, and the place almost paid off,” Fernald said with a laugh. “I can retire when I’m 60 so I’ve got seven years and three months. I’m hoping to be ahead of schedule on the payments and have it paid off then.”
As Fernald works towards his goal of making Unity Raceway a hotbed for Short Track Racing action in Central Maine, the driving forces behind him will be his love for the race track and the fear of failing.
“I love the place as much as the Nasons do and I don’t believe they would have sold it to anyone who didn’t because they’ve always wanted it to stay a race track. They know that as long as I’m alive that it will stay that way.
“I’m very honored that they choose me to take it over and I don’t want to disappoint them. Failure is not an option. I felt like I failed a little bit the last time I ran it and it’s not going to happen again.”
-By Brandon Paul, Speed51.com Editor – Twitter: @Brandon_Paul51
-Photo credit: Unity Raceway