Mike Beland of Milo had been racing cars for more than 30 years, so last year he made up his mind it was time to retire. He knew only something out of the ordinary would get him back on the track.
That something has turned out to be the new pickup truck division in Speedway 95 in Hermon’s Wacky Wednesday program. The 51-year-old instructor at Eastern Maine Technical College in Bangor earned his second victory of the season in that division Wednesday.
“The only thing that was gonna bring me back was something that wasn’t every weekend and something different. This [pickup division] is a lot of fun,” Beland said.
The trucks are full-size and are required to have full roll cages, fuel cells and regular safety gear. They run on street tires, and very few modifications are permitted.
Speedway 95 public relations representative George Thomas said 15 drivers have signed up for the division, although the largest race so far has been eight pickups. The races have been competitive, with four different winners in seven outings. Prize money is also awarded.
The pickups make for an unusual spectacle for fans accustomed to watching compact, low-to-the-ground cars whizzing around the track. Thomas said the pickup races are just as exciting as the car races.
“It’s no more distinctive than other racing. It’s still circle-track racing,” he said.
Beland built his truck from the ground up with the help of students at Eastern Maine Tech. He said learning to race the pickup has been challenging.
“I like it – but it’s a lot of work. They don’t handle like a car; there’s plenty of power but no place to put it. A lot more is up to the driver. It’s a lot harder to drive than any other division,” he said.
Beland has raced in the Sport-4, Midget, Sprint and Late Model divisions and has also raced motorcycles.
Thomas said the division has been accepted enthusiastically by fans and drivers alike.
“I haven’t heard any word about it that’s discouraging,” he said.
Thomas said he expects the division to grow slowly, much like the Sport-4 division. He said that division started with three cars and now regularly features a 25-car field for Speedway 95’s Saturday program.
Beland agreed, adding that he knows drivers in Greenville and Stockton Springs who are building pickups to race.
“I think some [drivers] are sitting back and waiting to see if [the division] survives. I think it will; we’ve got good support from the fan base and owner [Del Merritt],” he said.
Regardless, the almost-retired Beland is hooked.
“I’d like to continue at least ’til [the division] gets solid – then I’ll hand it off to the younger guys,” he said.