Sharon Speedway is more than just racing

HARTFORD

DIRT flies underneath my low-riding SUV, feeling the undulations of the bumpy grass terrain below. The remnants of a quick-moving rainstorm soaked the already saturated surface, leaving some tan-colored muddy indents — ready to cake any vehicle in its wake.

Sounds like the splatter from the 3/8-mile oval track at Sharon Speedway, inundating each Sprint Car tested to the limits in every race. When the track hasn’t been tormented by Mother Nature, you can truly get some dirt in your diet with chunks of track soaring in the wake of a pack of cars circulating inside a fenced area. It’s something you’ll find when racing resumes on July 20.

Enter the facility through the will call area and you’ll see a 50/50 table just off to your right under the grandstands. It is representatives of the Badger High School boys basketball team. It’s a great time for a fundraiser for the Braves as two of their native sons, Dave and Dale Blaney, were highlighted in last weekend’s Lou Blaney Memorial, honoring the legendary dirt-track racer who died of Alzheimer’s disease in 2009. Lou’s sons, Dave and Dale, listened and watched their father, computing the information as a toddler with a sponge-like brain. Racing became the passion of the Badger High School graduates.

Dale’s interests aren’t limited to strapping on his white helmet, racing suit and carefully weaving his way into his vehicle. The 6-foot-4 guard is still a legend in the halls of Badger and around the Mahoning Valley. The dribble of the basketball, hearing the sound of a mid-range jumper swishing through the twine attached to a orange hoop and backboard. Basketball was more than a pastime for Dale, something his mother, Kate, thought he’d pursue well into adulthood. The travels on the hardwood took his country road and led him home to West Virginia University, where Dale is inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame. He was on the Los Angeles Lakers roster for a short while in the mid 1980s, but the call of the revving engines was too much to pass. He’s a dominant force in the World of Outlaws, but still stays active with golf and basketball. Kate said Dale will help coach Kevin Siroki and the Westminster Titans men’s basketball team this year.

Dave moved to North Carolina to pursue the constant, hard-charging motions of NASCAR. He’s a couple years removed from the stock cars going near 200 miles per hour around the asphalt tracks. Dave, known as the Buckeye Bullet, moved back to his roots, the dirt surface and sprint car racing.

His son, Ryan, one of the stars of the modern-day NASCAR, was his passion throughout his travels when Dave was active on the circuit. Dave groomed him into the driver he is today. The father and son have a shared passion behind the wheel.

Dave and Dale each had some people around them in the Sharon Speedway pit area hours before last Saturday’s races. Trailers are lined up and down a patch of dirt roads behind the track. There were some laughs, pictures shared and taken with Dave. Dale was busy telling stories to a semicircle of people intently hanging on every one of his words.

The intricate parts of racing, you’re not going to find it here. Truth be told, I’m far from an auto racing aficionado. I watched my father and his friends work on their cars many times in the garage. It wasn’t my thing. I preferred playing baseball or football with my neighborhood friends, or riding my bicycle to parts unknown.

There’s more to this venue.

There’s Kate, the matriarch of the Blaney family. She was talking to me for last weekend’s feature on Dave and Dale, telling me about her two sons, proud as she could be of each of their accomplishments. Friends of the family filled a pavilion behind her for a buffet dinner.

The was an older gentlemen named Tom. He asked Kate if she had seen his wife, Sandy. Kate said, ‘No.’ She began to call into the crowd, ‘Sandy.’ Seconds later, you heard a voice in the background call, ‘Tom.’

“Excuse me,” Kate said.

No apology necessary. She makes everyone feel welcome at this northern Trumbull County facility.

Going to Sharon Speedway, for me, isn’t about the technical aspects of the sport. It’s about the people, a genuine feeling you get few other places. It’s even more than the Blaneys. It’s about a host of racers displaying their passions on a 3/8-mile dirt track, sharing more than racing. Each one has a story to tell.

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