Beech Ridge Motor Speedway and auto racing in Maine were the dream of James B. McConnell of Scarborough. McConnell ran a timber cutting and sawmill operation. With the help of some 15 men and equipment, McConnell carved out of the woods what is today Beech Ridge Motor Speedway. Beech Ridge opened its gates on Sunday, May 20th, 1949 bringing McConnell’s dream of professional racing to Maine. Improvements to the facility were made and McConnell kept the track operational for the next 20 years, having funded his dream out of his own pocket. McConnell was 36 years old when he began building Beech Ridge in 1948.
By the early 1970’s, McConnell realized that his track was ready for a new leader to take over all of the promotion and hard work his tired hands had built. A young ambitious man by the name of Calvin Reynolds of Gorham, Maine, fit the bill just perfectly and after two decades under McConnell’s leadership, Reynolds took over as the new owner of Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in the fall of 1973. Calvin, 35 years old, was a former Ridge championship driver and had also served as one of the speedway’s most colorful flagmen. He and his family operated the speedway for the next seven years, bringing a family atmosphere to the facility.
By the end of the 1970s, Cal Reynolds made a decision to sell the speedway in order to focus his energy and attention on his growing motorcycle and snowmobile dealership business. Out of a handful of interested buyers, Reynolds chose to make the sale to a Beech Ridge icon – Ralph Cusack. Cusack, a Scarborough resident, was at Beech Ridge the day it opened in 1949 when he was just seventeen years old. He began a full-time driving career the next season and would go on to record a dozen championship titles, dominating the competition over a 30-year period. He purchased the track and took over the operations from Cal Reynolds in the spring of 1981. Cusack was 47 years old. As track owner, Cusack took the speedway to another high level, taking on some major renovations which included paving the track in 1986 and, in turn, lead to some major events being attracted to the Scarborough oval. Cusack and his family earned NASCAR’s sanctioning rights in 1995.
The track remains in the Cusack family to this day. In 1997, Ralph Cusack sold the speedway to his sons Glenn (age 35) and Andy (age 33). The two sons had grown up in the Beech Ridge grandstand cheering on their father in the 1960s and 70s, and unwittingly were learning the art of race entertainment. When the Cusack family first began operating the speedway in 1981, Glenn began a successful driving career while Andy began a successful career administering the race events. Elder brother Glenn opted out of the family business a short time after his tenure in ownership, in 1999.
Currently, Andy Cusack remains the sole owner of Beech Ridge Motor Speedway. He is credited with providing a polished, professional presentation of events and competition at Beech Ridge for which the track has become regionally and nationally renowned. At 38 years of age, he was awarded Maine’s “Promoter of the Year” award. At 41, in 2006, he was one of only eight promoters nationwide to receive a regional Promoter of the Year award. He provides business assistance to NASCAR’s Daytona Beach office, and he serves in an advisory capacity to the Maine Vintage Race Car Association – a statewide historic motorsports preservation effort.
Through more than 60 years of continuous operation since it’s opening, Beech Ridge remains a top quality racing facility that continues to be operated by a local family for the benefit and enjoyment of local racing families.
- Beech Ridge is a 1/3-mile, semi-banked asphalt oval located in Scarborough, which is part of Greater Portland, Maine. It is considered a “short track”, as are all tracks under 5/8 mile in distance. Tracks one-mile (New Hampshire Motor Speedway, for example) around and larger are considered “speedways,” while tracks 2½ miles or longer in length (such as Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway) are considered “super speedways.”
- There are some 900 short track speedways in America.
- George Hartley won the very first feature event held at the track.
- Dick Garrett holds the honor of being the first track champion at Beech Ridge.
- It is estimated that more than two thousand different drivers have competed at Beech Ridge during its history.
- Only 75 different drivers have been a Beech Ridge champion in the 60-plus-year history of the track.
- Ralph Cusack has the most career championships with 12. Dick Wolstenhulme has 10 titles, Mike Maietta Sr. has 9 and Mike Johnson 8.
- The drivers with the most titles who are currently active at Beech Ridge are Steve Berry Jr., of Gorham, and Bobby Babb of Windham, each with 4 championships.
- Beech Ridge is the only known weekly short track that gives its winning drivers an actual checkered flag to keep. It is a tradition begun by founder Jim McConnell and it continues today. The checkered flags have always been handmade in Maine and have only ever been prepared by three different seamstresses: Jim McConnell’s mother – Mary McConnell of Scarborough; Marie-Jean Janson of Biddeford and currently Sandra Jones of Kennebunk. More than 4,000 flags have been made and awarded to race winners.
- Currently, there are only eight Maine drivers who have been inducted into the New England Racing Hall of Fame. All nine – Homer Drew, Ralph Cusack, Dick McCabe, Dick Garrett, Bob & Phil Libby, Dick Wolstenhulme, Dave Darveau and Russ Nutting – were full time Beech Ridge drivers during their careers.
- The American Canadian Tour brought regional touring racing to Beech Ridge in the early 1990s, bringing with it such New England stars as Dave Dion, Mike Rowe and Robbie Crouch. The ACT also sanctioned the weekly racing events at Beech Ridge between 1990 and 1994.
- In 1995, an agreement with NASCAR was signed to sanction the weekly racing series at Beech Ridge and also brought 2 of NASCAR’s touring series to the track. The NASCAR Busch North Series (now the K&N Pro Series East) and the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour made trips to the track for long distance races that played to full grandstands.
- While the weekly race payoff to drivers varies depending upon the division of competition, drivers at Beech Ridge can earn between $200 and $1500 for winning a race. Few drivers actually make a profit from racing at this level. Instead, the weekly payoff affords them the ability to re-invest money into equipment or repairs and continue enjoying their hobby.
- Race cars at this level can cost from less than $1,000 for an entry-level class of competition to $30,000 for the top-ranked Pro Series division.
- Beech Ridge Motor Speedway is one of only 60 tracks in the country with the distinction of having earned NASCAR sanctioning rights. NASCAR bases its track sanctioning selections on such criteria as the quality of the facility and its events, the experience and business record of the track owner, the reputation of the venue and the need for a presence in the geographic market area of the track. As a NASCAR track, Beech Ridge drivers are able to compete against drivers at other tracks without ever leaving their home track. NASCAR compares every driver’s seasonal record against every other driver under the NASCAR short track program. Drivers placing in NASCAR’s top ten standings can earn from $5,000 to $25,000 in prize money.
- Beech Ridge is to NASCAR what the Portland Sea Dogs are to Major League Baseball or the Portland Pirates are to the National Hockey League. Beech Ridge is a “minor league” track where aspiring drivers can form their skills before attempting to further their careers if they so choose. Unlike other sports where players are drafted upward by a larger team, few drivers experience that sort of progression. Most drivers must move themselves forward by funding their own operations through personal and advertiser-sponsor s wawaupport and by proving their ability on the track. From Beech Ridge, drivers logically progress up the NASCAR ladder to the NASCAR K&N Pro Series, where drivers race at different short tracks each week. From the K&N Pro Series, drivers generally step to the regional NASCAR Nationwide Series which usually competes at the same tracks on the same weekend as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers – NASCAR’s top-level series.
- Beech Ridge has served as a launching pad for many drivers who have gone on to enjoy career success on the regional and national stage. Former NASCAR Sprint Cup driver and Maine native Ricky Craven has raced and won at Beech Ridge. Other former Beech Ridge drivers who have made it to NASCAR’s top level include Joe Bessey, Kevin Lepage and Steve Park, all of whom have also won at the Ridge. There are several Nationwide series drivers – including two-time series champion Randy Lajoie, Jeff Fuller, Mike McLaughlin and Rick Fuller – who have raced at Beech Ridge. The NASCAR K&N Pro Series record books has been laced with Beech Ridge alumni including Kelly Moore, Brad Leighton, Dick McCabe, Andy Santerre and Mike Stefanik.
- Beech Ridge Motor Speedway is recognized as one of the premier short tracks in America. Beech Ridge is frequently rated by its visitors and race industry professionals as one of the top facilities in the country. In fact, NASCAR Sprint Cup star Ken Schrader, who has raced all across the nation, rated Beech Ridge one of his top ten favorite tracks in America in a USA Today article. The family atmosphere and fast paced racing action provide the population of Greater Portland with an entertainment value second to none. National NASCAR drivers Bobby Allison, Brett Bodine, Ricky Craven, Steve Park, Randy Lajoie and Kyle Petty have all raced at Beech Ridge.
- Nationally, more than 73 million adults classify themselves as race fans. That’s an astounding 37% of the country’s population. Much of the credit for the sport’s popularity is attributed to the local interest created by short tracks like Beech Ridge. At the local level, race fans can get up close and interact with the star athletes of the show. And since the players are all local residents, fans find themselves involved in other community events and even in the workplace with the very drivers they watch at their local track. That fan-and-player contact has been instrumental in the development and success of auto racing nationwide, and ultimately sets the sport apart from other professional sports where players are assembled from around the world and are generally insulated from public interaction.
Track founder Jim McConnell during a 2002 visit to celebrate his 90th birthday at the track he built from scratch.
NASCAR Pro Series cars are worked on in the track’s pit area before a race.
Wildcat division cars wait in line to head out on the track to turn laps at speed.
A crew member watches a practice session for Thursday Thunder, a popular midweek program for entry-level cars and drivers each summer.
Beech Ridge fans and drivers mingle during one of the popular annual Autograph Night sessions.
The track’s pace car prepares a field of NASCAR Pro Series cars for the start of a race event.
What’s In A Name…
Beech Ridge Motor Speedway gets its name by virtue of its location in Scarborough – one of Maine’s fastest populating towns, and also the state’s geographically largest, occupying 54 square miles.
Because of the town’s expansive size (it can take nearly a half hour to drive from one corner to the other), Scarborough’s early settlers began developing nicknames for different areas of the town in order to easily identify to someone which area they might be traveling to – first by horseback, and eventually by the automobile.
Even before the town was officially incorporated in 1658, residents were creating neighborhood nicknames. The first three village names established were Black Point, Blue Point and Pine Point. All three are beachside areas of the oceanside town. Servants to England’s Kings were sent to the American colony property to harvest what were known as “King’s pine” — extraordinarily large pine trees that were just right for England’s shipbuilding, and particularly for the ships’ tall masts. It is said that from the ocean, the pines on Scarborough harbor’s north side appeared black (hence, Black Point), while the pines to the south appeared more bluish in color (Blue Point). It is still unclear today whether Pine Point is named as such for its access to the King’s pine, or for one of its earliest settling families — the Pines.
Over time, there became a dozen named village areas within Scarborough: The aforementioned Black, Blue and Pine Points; Dunstan, Higgins Beach, Ferry Beach, Prout’s Neck (where world-renowned artist Winslow Homer painted from his studio), Oak Hill, Spurwink, Coal Kiln, Eight Corners and Beech Ridge. The Beech Ridge area of Scarborough is located about two air miles from the Atlantic Ocean, lying just north of the geographical center of town. Sitting upon the highest point in town – a point that rises just a few hundred feet from sea level before descending again to the north side of town, forming a ‘ridge’ – this particular area could be easily identified by its long sweeping stands of beech trees.
Today, continued housing development and a natural encroachment of other coniferous and deciduous trees make ‘the Ridge’ more difficult to discern by first glance. But at the time of the speedway’s construction in 1948, the Beech Ridge area of Scarborough was still a landmark identification. These days, the ridge area is more closely identified by its NASCAR speedway, Beech Ridge Motor Speedway.