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Angola Motorsport Speedway
Where: 2850 North E, Fremont
Track: 3/8 -mile, asphalt
Schedule: Saturday nights
Weekly classes: ABC stock cars, open-wheel modifieds, mini stocks, front-wheel drive
Gates: Pits, 3 p.m.; spectators, 4 p.m.; hot laps, 4 p.m.; qualifying, 5:30 p.m.; racing, 7:30 p.m.
Admission: Adults, $12; ages 11-15, $5; 11-younger, free; pit pass, $25
Photos by Swikar Patel | The Journal Gazette
Donald Steffs, right, and his children, 12-year-old Dakota, center, and 3-year-old Tana wave checkered flags at Angola Motorsport Speedway. The track reopened Saturday.

Roaring back to life

Angola Motorsport Speedway reopens doors for racing

Todd Urig of Churubusco was one of 74 drivers at Angola Motorsport Speedway on Saturday.

– It’s 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 it’s 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 “Let’s 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 wouldn’t 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.

“That’s 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.

Dang kids.

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 he’s got left in him, he’s not real sure.

Because he’s from Angola, he says he’s “tickled” that the Henrys bought the track.

If there’s one person who’s an institution along the pits, it’s 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 it’s 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, there’s 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, I’d a bought it. I wouldn’t 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.

“It’s a good thing we’re open today because Baer Field shut down,” Henry said. “A storm came. So it’s a good thing we’re 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 Field’s. “I don’t want to step on their feet,” he says.

But Lower isn’t 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 ain’t gonna go.

“I’m comin’ here. It’s 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.

“It’s great that this place is open,” he said. “I’ve been coming down here for years, and I wasn’t sure about this year. But here I am. Let’s go racin’.”