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Start Your Engines...

Ransomville = dirt track racing, the closest thing to the red clay roads of Georgia.

Local tracks are motorsports meccas for thousands of fans

As summer approaches and we find ourselves watching plumes of oil spew out uncontrollably from the floor of the Gulf of Mexico, destroying natural habitat and befouling pristine beaches on the Gulf Coast in one of the worst environmental catastrophes on record, it’s time to reflect on the fact that we must move toward energy sources that will be kinder to our planet.

In the meantime why not gas up the car and head on out to what—if environmentalists have their way—could be a vanishing slice of Americana? I’m talking about the stock car track.

More so than any country on earth, Americans have this love affair with cars and racing. Oh, you can point to Italy, Germany, England, Japan…but I’m not talkin’ about high-tech Formula One BS, where the mechanics wear lab coats and have the motor steam-cleaned before inspecting it. I’m talking about the kind of homegrown competition that grew out of bootleggers’ souped-up hot rods in the American South. I’m talking about a dirt track (although the paved ones around here still have that backwoods feel), the smell of hot dogs, hamburgers, sun tan oil, motor oil, and gasoline. Lots and lots of gasoline. Boy, howdy, that’s the stuff!

In our area, we don’t have the kind of big-time races where the drivers are wealthy superstars and multi-national corporations pay huge fees to plaster their logos on cars, on the infield, on the track walls, and anywhere else a logo will fit. Yes, there’s some of that, because big corporations go everywhere. But more often than not, we have the kind of guys who struggle year-round to scrounge up sponsorship money from every little auto parts store and pizzeria around, just to get a car up and running in time for the short summer season. Then, they strap themselves in and drive like hell, risking life and limb in the hope of landing in the winner’s circle to collect a little trophy and a kiss from a pretty girl wearing a sash. If they do that enough times, they can even become a local legend. What could be more wholesome than that?

Get your motor runnin’

The closest place for city dwellers to visit this world is Dunn Tire Raceway Park—known to locals since 1959 as Lancaster Speedway, at 57 Gunnville Road in Lancaster. Visible from the Thruway, this iconic track features stock car and drag racing on its asphalt lanes. Gaining in popularity is their off-road rock crawling park, and that bizarre event beloved by jacked-up monster tire enthusiasts, the mud bog. Lancaster also boasts the Trackside Saloon, featuring live music, beer, liquor, wine, and food under tents—rain or shine.

If you want to head out further into the sticks, you can check out the only NASCAR sanctioned track nearby at Holland Speedway, known more properly as Holland NASCAR Motorsports Complex, located on Holland Glenwood Road. No specific address, but the place is as big as a racetrack, for crying out loud. Here you’ll catch the most sophisticated racing around, and they have all the food and drinks you can want, as well as amusement park rides and a track-side swimming pool! Pro-modifieds, late-model, Chargers, TQ Midgets, and hair-raising figure eight racing. Circle September 11 as the season-ending event: Crash-A-Rama! That’s where full-size school busses weave in and out around the figure eight course in the infield…producing predictable, crowd-pleasing results.

Dirt track dates

If you want to get a little less highbrow, check out Ransomville Speedway on Braley Road off Ransomville Road just outside Ransomville. Of course, if you blink, sometimes its easy to miss Ransomville. Here, the cars run on dirt, which some purists will argue is the closest thing to the red clay roads traveled by racing pioneers like Robert Glenn “Junior” Johnson—the former bootlegger who retired in 1966 and is today considered NASCAR royalty. Friday nights throughout the summer you can catch street stock, micro-sprints, four-bangers, enduros, figure eights...all the kinds of events that get the adrenaline pumping like a blast of nitrous oxide…plus fireworks on August 6, when someone will win the biggest purse of the season—$10,000.

Head west of Ellicottville on route 242 to route 353 and you’ll hit Little Valley Speedway at 501 Erie Street in Little Valley. This dirt track features fewer races during the season, making every date an event. Maximum purses are $4,000 to win in the Super Late Model division at the season closer on September 18. Celebrate your American spirit by heading out to the hills for the Freedom Daze Demolition Derby on the Fourth of July. Large and small car derbies, plus monster trucks and a fireworks spectacular. Gates open at 3pm, demo at 7:30pm. $8 adults, kids under 8 are free.

Further on up the road

If you want to make it even more of a road trip—hell, why not push down on the pedal an shoot on out to Oswego Speedway, off route 104 in East Oswego? This track, nicknamed “the Steel Palace,” opened in 1951, converted from an old horse-racing course. Racing some Fridays and most Saturdays from now until September 5.

Finally, if you want to shoot west down the 90, over the Pennsylvania line but before you make it to Erie, on Delmas Drive in North East, PA, you can check out the biggest track nearby—Lake Erie Speedway. Their motto is “It’s not just racing, it’s racing entertainment!” They feature a heavy schedule, and a kid’s area complete with rock-climbing wall and bounce tents. This is the newest track on the list, and while it’s fun, it’s like a high-tech rollercoaster in a big amusement park. I favor the thrill of the fly-by-night carnival, where there’s that sense of danger implied in knowing your life hangs at the top of the Ferris wheel by that one, greasy, rusted cotter pin.

Remember, this summer, that life is short. So make a trip to the pump and fill ’er up. Then drive out of town and get out and cheer your head off for a bunch of daredevils racing in circles for little more than the sheer fun of it. It’s a guilty pleasure that will give you memories that’ll last a lifetime.

And those memories will be all the more special once we pass peak oil, and start driving around in strange looking vehicles powered by the sun.

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