Daytona International Speedway looking good thanks to Caribou man

Episode 271

July 7, 2019

Turf to dirt to turf at Daytona; County groundskeeper does it well

After 14 1/2 years with the Boston Red Sox groundskeeping crew under the direction of the legendary Dave Mellor, Caribou High School Class of 2000 graduate Jason Griffeth was hired by Daytona International Speedway. His job at the one of the most recognizable tracks on the planet is Head of Grounds.

Griffeth begins the calendar year with a design literally sown into the dormant winter turf on the frontstretch at Daytona in mid-November. He and the track administrators decide the theme and the artwork needed to accomplish that theme in preparation for Speedweeks.

When I went to Daytona in January to cover the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, this is what the 4.3 acre turf at the start/finish looked like. It was  annual ryegrass and perennial ryegrass that give the dark vs light greens. The design was voted on by race fans for the Speedweeks 2019 events. (DIS photo)

Following the Daytona 500 the turf was torn up and converted into a motocross track and a TT Flat Track. (DIS sketch of Ricky Carmichael design)

The process of making a motocross course began directly after the Daytona 500 race. The heavy equipment was moved in and mounds of dirt began to take shape. The dirt for the track is stored off-site until needed for this conversion. (DIS Photo)

Once Bike weeks had concluded at DIS this is what the site looked like as it was rough graded to begin the process of growing turf on that location once again. (DIS Photo)

Jason Griffeth explained the process he and his crew of six utilize to make the conversions throughout the year at Daytona beginning with the post-motorcycle week events up to the time for getting ready for Speedweeks 2020.  Keep in mind that the crew must also mow and maintain acres of turf in and around the 2 1/2 mile track. They also utilize a special mower to keep the outside of the 33 1/3 degree banked turns looking great.

“The type of grass you see now is bermudagrass, ” said the Maine native. “The specific cultivar is called Celebration.  We planted the 4.3 acre field with approximately 4500 bushels of sprigs on March 23rd.”

” Sprigs are stolons or rhizomes that contain the crown structure of the plant and usually some small root section.  The sprigs are harvested by machine on the sod farm through a process that resembles deep, super aggressive verticutting.”

” We spread these sprigs evenly over the field, then water multiple times per day for the first 10 days to prevent them from drying out.  Once the sprigs begin to produce roots we gradually dial back on the water and dial-up the fertilizer.”

Mid-May on the frontstretch after the sprigs have spread and mowing low encourages them to spread. Fertilizer is added and regular watering is cut back to encourage bare spots to fill in. (DIS Photo)

“Three weeks after planting we begin mowing every few days at ½” to help promote lateral growth.  The grass will spread and cover the area in about 9 weeks, with a few slower areas taking a little longer.”

June 27, 2019 just prior to the sign painters doing their handiwork with sponsor logos and Daytona added to the turfgrass. Note the color change and stripping done to the field. Thank you to Dawn Zinsmaster, Manager of Public Relations at Daytona International Speedway, for most of these photos showing the turfgrass growth. (DIS Photo)

Frontstretch with the logo and Daytona emblem during one of the NASCAR Monster Energy Coke Zero Sugar 400 won for first time by 20 year-old Justin Haley. The turf will remain in Bermudagrass until November when it begins winter dormancy. (DIS Photo)

“In November we will open the turf canopy up with a verticut and seed the ryegrass directly into the bermudagrass in preparation for our winter races.”

Local racer restores vintage stock car to honor “Old Timer” racer

The lure of racing was established in Caribou’s Jesse Michaud from a young age when he would hang around with his Dad, Fred Michaud, as prepared to race as well at the local track, Spud Speedway. Michaud would accompany his father to the track when he was old enough to enter the pits.

Later he would race karts, work on the Caribou FFA Electrathon battery-powered racer, race his own stock cars, restore multiple cars, land speed race, and eventually restore as well as race vintage stock cars with the Wicked Good Vintage Racing Association.

In his words this is the story of the Hardie Ketch Chevy stock car:

“As most of you know I have embarked on bringing an old Spud Speedway stock car back to life. The car, a 1956 Chevrolet 4 dr hardtop #37. Here is its story up to now.”

“About 1992 or so, I went to Anderson’s Junkyard with my father. I think we were looking for race car parts perhaps? I don’t remember. What I do remember was a 56 Chevy stock car sitting under a fir-tree way out back of the yard. I thought it was the coolest car ever. I talked how great it would be to restore it and put it in parades. I wanted to paint it bright yellow. I was 10 or 11 at the time, don’t hold this against me!”

“Fast forward to high school. Again to Anderson’s looking for race car parts, again I see the ’56. By now I at least knew it was a 56. When I was younger I kept calling it a ’57. I actually asked Bob about it and was told it was staying put. In reality he was saving that car from a gearhead teenager who likely would have ended up scrapping it.”

“Another jump in time leads me to 2008. Jeff, Bryan and I were out scoping the countryside for rusty gold. I mentioned the 56, we went and looked at it and inquired. Was again turned down but was given the promise of ‘If it goes anywhere I will let you know'”.

“One thing the car did get that day was a name, ‘Barb’ as it was/is painted on the dash. From that day forward we both called the car ‘Barb'”.

The Hardie Ketch race car rescued from the crusher. (Stacy Robey photo)

“In 2012 Bob calls; they are crushing everything. If we want the 56, go get it or it will be crushed. I took the ramp truck up and got it and hauled it back to Jeff’s where it sat…and sat…we never even put it on the lift.”

“When I got involved with the Wicked Good (Wicked Good Vintage Racing Association) this car was one of the finalists to become my hobby class car. I decided on the coupe because the coupe was closer to being race ready (hindsight now).”

The coupe that Jesse Michaud is talking about in the story. Jesse is entering the track at Wiscasset Motor Speedway in 2018 Wicked Good Vintage Racing Association event. (Stacy Robey photo)

“For the past 3 years I have been eyeing cars to go land speed racing with. Nothing fit me. Too new, too much work, not enough money, and the list continues.”

“Fast forward to the 2018 summer Maine Event (at Loring). Marcia (Barker) blows the Flying 7 up and decides to move onto other projects. I gladly took over the reins to keep the car going.”

The Flying 7 responsibility exchanged in the summer of 2018 at Loring Timing Association. The driver Marcia Barker had the misfortune of the straight six disintegrating after many years of service. (HTF Motorsports photo)

“I feel that car has a solid place in Loring history. You know the cars you see and they say Bonneville or Oxford or wherever the place may be. The Flying 7 held that for me. The 1034 held that place for me. Jason White’s Vette holds that to me.”

“Anyways, it simply wasn’t meant to be. The owner of the Flying 7 wanted the car to return to its roots of circle track racing. That’s that and that is where the car is going. I am glad to see it will live on and not just sit in a field somewhere.”

“Anyways, this got me really going on building a land speed car. I eyed several project cars but I kept thinking about the ’56. I decided I need to get the car on the lift and see what was left. After Jeff’s help on the hottest day of the year, we finally had the car on the lift. The frame was great. The outer foot of the floor on each side was trash. This was the car. I was ‘all in at that point’.”

The 56 Chevy was in rough shape, however, the frame was okay. Rust had taken its toll and the bumps and bruises from its racing history were very much present. (Jesse Michaud photo)

“As I work on the car I try to learn the history of the car. I was told it was owned by Sonny Griffeth. I later hear that Hardie Ketch was the driver. I dig a little deeper and find that Hardie drove a 57 Chevy #53A. Dead end since Sonny passed in 1984.”

“Timeline wise it looks like after Sonny passed on in 84 his family cleaned up his junk cars and that is when it went to Anderson’s (Anderson’s Junkyard in Caribou).”

“Stacy mentions she sees Hardie from time to time and she will ask him next time she sees him. Racing history for Spud from what I call Gen 1 (64-72 the first closure) is pretty hard to come by. Maybe he knew something.”

“Yesterday she bumps into Hardie. She asks, ‘Did you used to drive a car for Griffeths?'”

“He lights up, ‘Yes, a 57 Chevy #37, it was dark blue’.”

“She tells me. It never crossed my mind why he said 57. This car is a 56. I arrange to meet with Hardie tonight (Friday night). I wanted the story. Why was the car so straight, did they only run it a few times. Did it ever run? Was this a spare car? And most importantly, who the Hell is Barb?”

Meeting with Hardie Ketch to discuss the history of the 1956 Chevy race car. (Stacy Robey photo)

“Tonight I went and met with Hardie. At almost 82 you would never know it. We spent an evening of talking about racing. Not just local Spud racing, but all short track racing. He attends the Oxford 250 each summer (he is leaving in the morning). He picked Cassius to win by the way.”

“He loved racing boats. He told me all kinds of boat racing stories, stories of winning at the Caribou Airport on a 399 Ski Doo one winter beating the factory Cat guys and so on. He was very energetic about the old days. It was a moment I will always remember. I brought a good chunk of youth back to this old-timer.”

“We talked about Spud. From the “big class guys” Like Chink Maynard, Adam Albert, Erny Levesque and so on. Hardie raced in the Hobby class, aka stock.”

“In 64 he ran some at Limestone Motor Speedway (Graydon Adams’ dirt track a mile from the Spud Speedway track) in a ’47 Chevy with dual rear wheels he bought from Chink. He brought it to Spud one time.”

“In 1965 after Spud paved, he decided to go race there. It was the end of the season and Spud badly needed cars. He said the car counts were almost nothing that first year of pavement.”

“Sonny had this ’56 with a ’57 283 out of a wagon. It was the 4bbl option making 220 hp. A big leap over the 162 hp this car came with.”

“Technically it did not meet the rules. They spoke up and said so. (rule #1 in racing, shut your mouth!) Bob Knowles (owner of Spud) told them they could run it. They ran the very last weekend of 1965 with this car, and won!”

“Fast forward to ’66. Again they show up with Barb on opening day and proceed to win the first 3 weeks in a row! At that time they were told to either move up a class or don’t bring it back since the motor was illegal.”

“Sonny and Hardie both knew the set up was what made the car go, not the motor. So they went home. Took the motor and trans out of Barb and placed it into a 57 Chevy they had. Painted it the same blue and gave it the same number. They did the springs exactly the same and went back the next week. Yep, they won again.”

“Hardie went on to tell me the Belmains were so upset that they put up $75 to have him tore down. They were even more upset when he wouldn’t let them watch. He went on to tell me the car really came to life after they used that $75 to have the heads done.”

“Ketch went on to race the new car for a few years, even went to 95 with it one time. He eventually built his own 57, #53A. That was his boat number. A few years later Graydon Adams had built a car for a GI on the base and he raced it one time and then was shipped out.”

“Hardie was tagged to drive the car. That was a Chevelle, #10. (Note: I recently learned Hardie was a cousin to the late Randy Reitmeyer. Randy always ran #10. Side, side note the Griffeth boys I went to school with – Matt and Steve ran #37, small world huh?)”

“Ketch went on to race until the next closure at the end of 77 (roughly speaking). At that time he hung up the helmet for the last time (although I doubt it would take much arm twisting to get him back in a car again. After all, he was complaining his pickup shuts off at 100!)”

“I was honored to be able to spend time with, what I will call a Spud legend. The stories were great. From Graydon taking Hardie out, in Graydon’s car, to racing at Speedway 95. It was great.”

“I vowed to keep him in the loop as to the car and told him he is more than welcome to drive it. He obliged and went on to ask if he could lay some rubber. Hahaha”

“I love racing history. I love putting the pieces of the puzzle together, Who, where, when. Think of the stories lost. The ones that the likes of Dave MacDougall, Dick Harris, Adam Albert and Ulysses Bernier, just to name a few, never got to tell.”

“If you know an old racer. Stop in. Ask questions. Ask for pictures. Keep this alive! It won’t be long and the stories will be gone too.”

“History to many is who won the Battle at Bunker Hill, and it is. But to many, they want to know the story of the way to get away with running calcium filled tires in a figure 8 car (story for another day).”

“As to why Barb is painted on the dash, he has no idea! ”

Racer and race car reunited in 2019

“As most of you know,” said Michaud, “I will wade through waist deep water in a gator infested swamp to see a stock car, yet I won’t get off my couch to look out the window at a Corvette. It’s who I am.”

“You know the story of Barb. The 56 Chevy stock car that ran at Spud Speedway in ’65-’66 that I started the rescue on almost one full year ago.The car was driven by Hardie Ketch.”

Hardie Ketch is reunited with his 1956 stock car he raced at Spud Speedway. The car was brought back to life by Jesse Michaud for use at the 2019 Loring Timing Association Maine Event July 9 -14. (Stacy Robey photo)

“Today I reunited Hardie with the car. Which turned into his son, daughter in law, grand kids and most of the local farmers all stopping in. It was a highlight for the entire family. Very happy to have brought those memories back.”

Reliving the memories of a bygone era in the history of Spud Speedway are Hardie Ketch on left with Jesse Michaud on right. (Stacy Robey photo)

“Hardie and I talked racing for an hour or so. Relived the past and talked about the current state of racing.”

82 year old Hardie Ketch signs the roof of the restored 1956 Chevy he drove in the mid 60’s. The car will now be land speed raced at Loring this week. Jesse Michaud reports the car has a 294 cubic inch LS based engine converted to carb.with a Brian Tooley cam coupled to a Borg Warner Super T10 trans. That puts the car in D Gas Circle Track. D/GCT. D is limited to 306 cubic inches (Stacy Robey photo)

“To finish the evening off I had Hardie aka “hard to catch” sign the car. Full circle if you will. Kinda at a loss for words, it was a great reunion. All the time. All the busted knuckles. All the money….It all seemed worth it tonight”

As for the car, it heads down the runway next week….

Loring Timing Association Summer Event

You know it is close to race week when the pit, tech, and race set up gets posted online. LTA officials estimate about 80 entries for the event.

I hope to be at the event a couple of times this week to check out the racers and racing. Hardie Ketch hopes to be at the track Thursday so maybe a meet and greet can be set up then.

I am looking forward to seeing Maine’s Frank John at the track shaking down and maybe attempting a couple passes at speed with his electric Formula 500 converted to electric race car.

Frank John recently at Winterport Dragway aboard his converted Formula 500. “The car started life as a Raptor, built for the F500 class. I lengthened the chassis by about 12”. The battery pack is 375V nominal. The system can make about 400 electric hp (probably 325 to the rear wheels) but I doubt the chassis could handle that. The motor is a WarP 9, controller is a Zilla Z2K. We’ve been calling it simply “343” as that’s the number. The previous owner is a retired NY City firefighter (Bob Wanner – one of the two guys who actually started the LTA) and he requested I keep that number, in honor of the NYFD members who lost their lives on 9/11. I’ll be at Winterport again next weekend (weather dependent of course) and I’m slowly turning up the power as I learn the car and test everything out. I’m not planning any high-speed runs in July as I need to make sure the car is stable as speed increases. I’ve been 85 mph a couple of times at the drag strip and it feels pretty good.(Contributed photo)

Number 343 was owned Bob Wanner, firefighter from New York City. Wanner, Bob Jepson, and local enthusiast, Mark Sotomayor were the men with the vision to hold land speed races at the former Loring Air Force Base. Their first event was in 2009 making this the 10th season at the base.

RTM “Bumble Bee Racing” sweep Tough Trucks competition

Winners of both nights at the Freedom Festival Tough Trucks competition at the Northern Maine Fairgrounds is driver Dell Brissette on left and RTM Racing owner Don Rideout. Brissette drove a Chevy Blazer named “Black Betsy’s Child” (RTM Racing photo)

CORE Autosports on pole at IMSA race in Canada

CORE Autosports Colin Braun captures the team’s first pole with their Nissan DPi at the IMSA race at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, Bowmansville, Ontario. (CORE Autosports photo)

CORE Autosports drivers at Watkins Glen 2019. Colin Braun on left captured the pole the next week at CTMP in Canada. Owner driver Jon Bennett on right has a local connection to the County as told in a previous episode of UpNorth Motorsports. The team placed 7th in the race. (CORE Autosports photo)

Races 2 & 3 of NMKA

Kart racing doubleheader action Saturday July 13 begins at 9:30 when the pit gate opens. Practice until 11:30 when the driver’s meeting occurs. Racing begins at noon. Pit entrance is $10 and grandstand viewing is free.

Tom Hale

About Tom Hale

Tom wrote 14 years as freelancer for the Bangor Daily Sports covering motorsports in Maine. Now blogging and concentrating on human interest stories about people and places in racing. He races Champ Karts and owns HTF Motorsports in remote Westmanland, Maine