Beyond the game

As 10-year-old race fan, trips to Wiscasset roaring good times

By Ken Waltz | Nov 15, 2019

As Wiscasset Speedway celebrated its 50th year of existence this summer, the idea of fast cars racing repeatedly — you know the saying, just go left — around an oval somehow circled, then jogged, my 60-year-old brain.

When I was a boy of about age 10, my dad, Kenneth E. Waltz Sr. of Waldoboro, took me to my first and only stock car races at, as I now realize, the newly-opened Wiscasset track.

I recall being excited for this new experience, sitting in the stands (bleachers) behind a large protective fence as the collective roar of the car engines sang a booming, rhythmic tune over the land.

I was mesmerized as the numbered cars, apparently connected by an invisible force, rode in unison around the track as they followed the pace vehicle until, at some point, like a magic wand waved from the heavens, the pack became pockets of separation.

Then the cars made tour after tour in hot pursuit of a first-place finish. Some cars bumped into one another or, worse, crashed into the unforgiving wall. That made me excited and scared at the same time. Some cars even spun out on the infield, which really did a number on the grass, as I recall.

What was this seemingly weird, wonderful sport?

Who were these guys seat-belted into these fast-moving machines pushing the pedal to the metal, jockeying for position, all for a chance to take the checkered flag and win the race and, as I remember, a taller-than-me trophy?

While this car racing was foreign to me — I was a "city boy" who grew up in Rockland with my mom and only visited my dad, who was "country folk," occasionally on weekends — I know I looked forward to the few times he brought me to the track.

This outdoor carnival of loud noises, smell of gas fumes, sound and sight of squealing tires, smoke of burned rubber, roar of the crowd and, of course, many child-friendly food treats.

My dad and I did not do much together, but I do recall a handful of fun, memorable experiences, and venturing to the stock car races in Wiscasset certainly was one of them.

Up until that point, I was strictly a professional ball or puck sports fan, playing baseball, basketball, football and ice hockey. I knew every player on every team, their statistics and how each stood at the plate, shot the ball, passed the pigskin or held his stick.

Those were my passions and stock car or drag racing was not on my radar. Until it was.

That changed as my dad, a kind, hard-working, blue-collar man, who loved many things I knew nothing about, such as professional wrestling (he and I watched the matches on television and he adored Chief Jay Strongbow and Ivan Putski, the "Polish Power"). I gravitated to George "The Animal" Steele, who must be crazy because he ate turnbuckles for dinner, and Killer Kowalski (my late good friend, Ron Belyea, used to call me Killer Kwaltzski, get it?).

As we sat in our chairs in the living room watching wrestling, my dad would yell at the television as the two grown men literally beat the sweat out of one another. I simply wondered how two human beings could take such a pounding but somehow get off the mat or floor, bloodied and bruised, and still walk to the dressing room.

I later discovered the whole thing was staged and it was more orchestrated for entertainment (Vince McMahon was the ring announcer at the time, and now owns the entire enterprise), but my dad would hear none of it. The men in the ring surely were warriors who could take a lickin' and keep on tickin'.

If my dad only knew, or maybe he did, but choose not to believe it because it would ruin his good-old adult fun.

Dad loved candlepin bowling, horseshoes, watching and forecasting the weather, country music, Hee-Haw, the Porter Wagner Show and, of course, Dolly Parton. He also loved cars and trucks — and racing.

Unlike the pro wrestling, at least stock car racing, in my 10-year-old brain, made more sense and surely was real competition. Drivers versus drivers behind the wheels of fast-moving cars probably built and tuned-up by their own hands to get the most efficient performance.

Like the baseball, basketball, football and hockey players before them, I got to know the car numbers and drivers' names. One in particular caught my interest and eye. His name was Teddy Palino of Bremen. I watched Palino, then a young man, race around the track and secure win after win. He was my local racing hero, even if he was not Richard Petty, he was to me.

I later found out Palino and I are related and, ironically, Teddy was inducted into the Wiscasset Speedway hall of fame, the inaugural class, this summer to mark the 50th year of the track.

As I spent more time in Rockland and less at my dad's, my trips to Wiscasset became fewer through my teenage years and then stopped. I never again attended another day or night of racing at Wiscasset, although, ironically, as a Midcoast sports reporter, wrote many stories on the local drivers and races at the track over the past 38 years.

It is on Wiscasset's 50th year of existence I remember my late father, who died at age 59 — 31 years ago (that is hard to believe0 — and the fact he exposed me to this roaring sport.

One that may not have piqued the lifelong interest of this Rockland boy who can barely change a tire and would not know the difference between a strut and brake pad. Still, I toast that wonderful man and a track that has provided so much spring, summer and fall fun to generations of thrill-seeking, need-for-speed families.

Gentlemen — and women — I hope, for years to come, you get to "start your engines" and smile as the official starter waves the green flag to begin your next race at Wiscasset Speedway.

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