FREMONT – Its a little past 6 p.m. inside the pits, straight across the asphalt track from the aluminum bleachers and the three-tiered suites at Angola Motorsport Speedway. The last sunset of June, high above Turns 3 and 4, has a good three hours of daylight before the cars begin to reflect the three banks of lights, equally dispersed across the infield.
Even though qualification runs have begun and its nearly an hour and a half away from the first race, the main grandstands are more than half full. By the time the track announcer barks Lets go racin and the winged sprint cars, with their funky down force wings, rev around the track, more fans have found a spot on the Turn 2 bleachers.
After a few months of looking to find a suitor to make sure the place wouldnt turn to weeds, the roar has returned to the 3/8 -mile track.
When I bought this place, the city was very, very happy it was going to be brought back to life, said Kurt Henry, who, along with his wife, Tammy, bought the 80-acre complex for $525,000 at auction.
Thats the only reason I bought it. I have no reason to be in the racing business.
Except that his 16-year-old son, Kyle, is nuts about the sport and drives the No. 11 winged sprint.
Hank Lower, 74, sits in his red driving suit but has nowhere to go on this particular late afternoon. The back end of his sprint car broke, and all he can do is sit on a stack of tires and watch the others get ready for the night.
This is his 53rd year of driving, and how many hes got left in him, hes not real sure.
Because hes from Angola, he says hes tickled that the Henrys bought the track.
If theres one person whos an institution along the pits, its Lower.
He is in the Hall of Fame at a Michigan track and is in the Baer Field and Avilla Halls of Fame.
I had the world record at Winchester in 2000 and held that for four years, Lower said. These young guys come along and, well, now its gone.
But the track lives on.
John Gearhart, 51, fishes the dip out of his lower lip with his right index finger and flicks it on the ground next to his hauling trailer.
For him, theres more to the track than a place to race in his 34th season.
My granddad built it and owned it for 20-some years, Gearhart said.
It was Edsel Musser, Gearhart said, who built it in 1964.
It was dirt back then. And then in 71, they asphalted it, Gearhart said. If I had the money, Id a bought it. I wouldnt have let it stay closed.
It still takes cash to be in the game, though. Gearhart figures between tires and fuel and car maintenance and all the other expenses that pop up, it costs between $14,000 and $20,000 for this kind of summer fun.
In all, 74 cars in four different classes came for the grand reopening Saturday.
Good thing there was racing, too, since the Friday afternoon storm that wiped out power to much of Fort Wayne also hit Baer Field Speedway, which had to cancel its Saturday night card.
Its a good thing were open today because Baer Field shut down, Henry said. A storm came. So its a good thing were here. Otherwise, all these racers would have had no place to go. Cars are ready, zoomed up, pumped up.
Henry insists there is no competition between his track and Baer Fields. I dont want to step on their feet, he says.
But Lower isnt so sure the two places can co-exist.
I say no; not if they run the same night, Lower said. They seem to think they can. If they run the same night, it aint gonna go.
Im comin here. Its only 15 mile.
The drive was longer than 15 mile for Carl Bellow of Sturgis, Mich.
In a sleeveless Dale Earnhardt Jr. T-shirt and an Earnhardt cap, Bellow made sure he found his mid-track seat early.
Its great that this place is open, he said. Ive been coming down here for years, and I wasnt sure about this year. But here I am. Lets go racin.