WISCASSET — There’s another race track much closer to his house, but it’s not where Logan Melcher considers home. When Wiscasset Speedway opened its gates for the first time in 2020 Saturday night, Melcher was among the first lined up to get on the track.

“One hundred percent, it’s the atmosphere,” said Melcher, of Fayette. “You can come here and talk to anybody you want — any driver, official, anybody you want — and everyone’s friendly, happy and helpful. It’s just so much fun to be here.”

Of Maine’s four operating stock car racing facilities, Wiscasset Speedway was the last to open this season. Both Oxford Plains Speedway and Speedway 95 in Hermon opened in June, while Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in Scarborough opened last month.

All three of those tracks held their first events of the summer without spectators allowed in the grandstands. Wiscasset owners Richard and Vanessa Jordan held firm to their belief that, no matter what state officials allowed in re-opening phases during the COVID-19 pandemic, their speedway would not swing its gates opens to competitors until fans were allowed to attend.

Tracks were allowed 200 fans, socially distanced in four separate sections holding no more than 50 people, beginning July 25.

Fans watch a late model heat race start Saturday at the Wiscasset Speedway. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

“That hurt,” Melcher said of first hearing of the limitations on spectators. “I know the feeling of getting out of your car and seeing the whole crowd. It’s surreal. No other track has a victory lane like this one, it’s just unbelievably uplifting (with big crowds).”

Wiscasset sold 200 VIP season passes via telephone beginning Monday last week. Those sold out by the end of the day Wednesday, according to Vanessa Jordan.

The track opened the admission gates to those fans at 4 p.m. on Saturday — two hours before the start of the racing program. At 5 p.m., based on how many of those VIP ticket holders passed through, they would sell remaining general admission tickets on a first-come, first-served basis.

There were no general admission tickets to sell.

“The hardest part is what to do with our diehards,” Vanessa Jordan said. “I had a guy who walked up and said he’s been coming here every week, and I thought ‘so have the other 200 people already here.’ It’s a really tough situation to be in.”

While Melcher said that it wouldn’t be the same without fans in attendance, other drivers didn’t think think they’d notice it as much.

All were in agreement that in the pit area, business seemed to be pretty much “as usual.”

“The place was packed last week (at Speedway 95),” said Liberty’s Josh St. Clair, whose grandfather Dave St. Clair was a longtime owner of Wiscasset. “You couldn’t sit in the grandstands, but in the pits we were all standing there packed like sardines against the fence.”

Race fans watch cars taking their practice laps Saturday at the Wiscasset Speedway. Grandstand seating was limited to 200 tickets to comply with state coronavirus rules. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

St. Clair raced the previous two weeks at Speedway 95, winning his most recent start there on July 25. He was glad to be back at his home track, though it wasn’t an easy decision.

“It was pretty hard to walk away after going well there,” St. Clair said. “The car ran really well there, but this is home. The facility, not to take a dig at anybody else, but I think it’s a better facility and the fans are better. They booed me pretty bad up at Speedway (95) and it’s pretty welcoming here.”

Vanessa Jordan hopes that, by following the guidelines implemented for re-opening, it will lead to more leniency — and larger crowds — before the season is over.

“It’s good to have people back,” she said. “The stands aren’t as full as they usually are, but it’s still nice to have people up there. Our hope is that in three or four weeks, we can add some more people and not have to turn them around (at the gate).”

St. Clair echoed the sentiments of most on either side of the track Saturday.

“Let’s go race,” St. Clair said. “I know they’re trying to make the fans thing work here, but we’ve got a lot of money sitting in the garages not being raced. It’s a Catch-22. I understand both sides of it.”

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