SCARBOROUGH — Craig Bernier sat in the stands at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway and watched a car spin out 10 minutes into the first race Thursday night – and in unison with hundreds sitting around him, he let loose a loud belly laugh. 

But inside, the Westbrook man was choked up. 

After 73 years, Thursday night’s races were among the last at the speedway, ending an era of Thursday and Saturday night racing that many in the crowd of about 3,000 said had been passed down through generations. 

“I’m very, very sad. This is a family affair. It’s a big community,” said Bernier, 50, who used to race at the track, along with his father, uncle, brother and daughter, Emma. 

Beech Ridge owner Andy Cusack announced during a post-race awards ceremony on Sept. 11 that the track had been sold to a real estate developer.

Cusack talked to the Press Herald on Thursday about his decision for the first time since the announcement, saying he was approached by a developer looking for a large tract of land in Scarborough.

“It wasn’t so much a case of me deciding it was the right time to sell. The right time came to me. We opened a dialogue and it progressed enough to where it made sense,” Cusack said.

Citing a non-disclosure agreement, Cusack said he could not name the buyer, the sale price, or if the developer is based in Maine or out of state.

At the request of drivers, Cusack has added one last day of racing, on Sunday, when the flag will drop for three NASCAR divisions at 2 p.m.

Betty Nelson, second from left, talks with her crew, including her son Josh Nelson, center, about how they will set up her car for Thursday night’s race at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway. Nelson, who is from Limington, started her racing career in the late 1990s at Beech Ridge and said she had to come back to race there again. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

But for many in the stands on Thursday, the one-third-mile oval was the site of one last homecoming or family reunion – or perhaps the wake of a dear friend. 

EVERYONE KNOWS EVERYONE

Former driver Sally Gherardi walked through the pit area talking to drivers and hearing them call out to her. The Gorham physics teacher raced for 21 years – and won the Sports Series championship in 2017.

“It’s sad for the people who still are racing. I feel it for them. In one way, shape or form, everyone here knows everyone else,” Gherardi said, looking around at the cars lined up and being worked on and the stories being shared around each one.

Todd Libby and his sister, Sara Schroeder, grew up in Porter and have been racing together for a decade. They were raised at the track. It’s where they spent summer weekends as children rather than going to camp or the beach or on vacation. Now they race together in twin lime-green-and-black cars.

“I scheduled my wedding around racing,” said Schroeder, the 2019 ladies division champion. “I told one of the race directors, ‘If it’s a rainout and the race gets moved to next weekend, we have a problem.’ “

Libby promised his sister he would have missed a race to make her wedding, if needed. But then he fell quiet, and added that racing is his life.

Dan Lord talks to the driver of the car he is working Thursday. Lord, part of Boss Dog Racing, said he grew up just a few minutes from Beech Ridge and used to hear the cars rounding the track at night as a child. He came to the track for the first time in 1966, and said he has been involved ever since. “If I won megabucks today, I would own this place,” Lord said. “This is an experience, this is a life.” Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

“This place has taught me how to win, and how to lose – and how to carry myself like a man when I do lose,” said Libby, 33. “You just go out and work harder.”

Other fans said the demise of their weekend gathering place speaks of the times we live in – when good, old-fashioned pursuits are fading away.

In 2018, Scarborough Downs was sold for $6.7 million, bringing horse racing in southern Maine to a close last fall after 70 years.

CHANGING TIMES

The sale of the land around Beech Ridge Motor Speedway now leaves only three auto racing tracks in Maine: Wiscasset Speedway, Oxford Plains Speedway and Speedway 95 in Hermon, just outside of Bangor.

“It’s our family history. It’s emotional. All the things I enjoyed growing up are ending – roller skating rinks, now auto racing tracks. Even some fairgrounds are going away. It’s one more thing we are losing,” said Jeff Read of Somerville, another fan whose father and grandfather were involved with racing at Beech Ridge. 

He came to sit in the Beech Ridge stands at noon and waited for other fans to arrive before Thursday’s races started at 7 p.m.

Jeff Read and his son Jackson Read, 14, watch cars round the track before the start of racing Thursday at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in Scarborough. Read, who lives in Somerville, said he had to come back to Beech Ridge for the last week of racing because it’s where his father won three championships in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He began racing himself in Wiscasset after his father died. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

“After Dad passed away in 1983 I started racing. Now my son, Jackson, is 14 and is going to race next year. My grandson wants to race, too,” Read said. 

Meanwhile, up in the announcer’s booth, 79-year-old Dolly Wescott came to cheer one last time from the box where she used to run the scoreboard during more than a half a century of coming to the track. She’s holding out hope it’s not really goodbye.

“It’s not good. I’m losing my track. I lost Bingo. It’s breaking my heart. My kids grew up here. My husband and I used to date here, then he got involved in racing,” Wescott said of her late husband, Cliff. 

Cusack told the Press Herald Thursday that if the sale falls through, it is possible Beech Ridge could operate as a speedway in 2022 “in some form.”

SALE STILL HAS TO CLOSE

“It is not sold yet,” he said, adding that there is not a deadline for the sale to be finalized.

Cusack has owned the track since 1997, after he purchased it from his parents, who had bought the facility in 1981 when Cusack was 15.

Cusack’s company, High Meadows Inc., owns two tracts of land on Holmes Road, according to Scarborough town records: the 55 acres with the track, which is assessed by Scarborough at $1.4 million, and an adjacent lot used for parking that covers 86 acres and is assessed at just under $600,000 .

Cusack acknowledged that his Sept. 11 announcement shocked and upset fans. Like many, he likened his announcement to the worst kind of devastating news, akin to someone telling a spouse they want a divorce.

“Is there really a right time or a best way to do it? You just have to pick when you feel is best and tear the Band-Aid off,” Cusack said, adding he also wanted to make sure the people most closely connected to the 72-year-old racing facility heard the news directly from him.

“I don’t have any regrets about anything including this business decision. I’ve had much longer to process this than the general public,” Cusack said. “I knew it would come as a shock and I get that. And I know it’s going to sting for a little bit, but eventually I think people will be able to understand.”

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