In the midst of a cold New England winter, with fresh snow on the ground, one wouldn’t expect to see a race car, never mind several.
But for three January days, within the doors of the Augusta Civic Center in Maine’s capital city, racers and fans alike could step in for a break from the cold and be treated to a buffet of racing machines, polished and prepped for the 2024 season to begin.
This is the NorthEast Motorsports Expo.
Racing, after all, is often described as a community. Communities need to commune, to gather. And for 35 years now, this has been the place for the New England racing community to find respite in a long offseason.
There may be no better place to exemplify the racing community than New England. Within the six-state region are sixteen active paved short tracks: four in Maine, seven in New Hampshire, three in Connecticut, and one each in Vermont and Massachusetts.
Yet for its riches in racing opportunities, even the highest echelons of New England motorsports are blue-collar to the core. The crews are volunteers, the cars maintained in a free garage stall, the hours put in after careers and families are tended to. Racing is a lifestyle, but in New England, only a precious few call it a way to make a living.
Steve Perry understands this well. Perry’s journey through motorsports includes time spent as a crew member, a team owner, a promoter, a television host, and now the operator of a karting program for aspiring Maine racers. Since 2010, Perry has been the steward of the NorthEast Motorsports Expo, too. And for the 35th running of the show, Perry has drawn the racing community together once again to share their time, their stories and experiences, and their plans for the coming season.
In the social media era, news is rarely broken at the expo, but seeing is always believing.
The hub of the expo is the floor of the arena, where booths encircle the arena floor for race teams, tracks and vendors to show off. By no means is the expo exclusive to circle track racing, either. There are booths for local drag strips and offroading groups, and even a massive display promoting the Great Race, a time-speed-distance rally for cars manufactured no earlier than 1974. This year’s Great Race ends not far away in Gardiner, the home base of Everett J. Prescott, Inc. The Prescotts have backed racing for years, sponsoring drivers like Ricky Craven and Steve Park.
But the focus is on the stock cars, and the tracks where they race, and the people who make it possible. And in New England, there is often crossover between the three.
Tucked in among the offroaders and vintage dragsters is a display for Unity Raceway, a venerable Maine oval that suffered through the late 2010s under the weight of deterioration and lease deals that never panned out. Enter “Junkyard” Joey Doyon, who carried through with an aborted plan to convert the track to a dirt oval in a state with no dirt racing scene. So far, “The Rebuild” has paid off, with Unity even attracting the Sprint Cars of New England circuit to turn laps around the historic track.
Behind Unity’s display is a spread for New Hampshire’s Star Speedway, where track owner Bobby Webber, Jr. talks about the fences mended late in 2023 with Pro All Stars Series owner Tom Mayberry. Webber’s booth includes two race cars from his Bobby Webber Racing operation. The Tour-type Modified is for Supermodified phenom Jeffrey Battle, who will run a handful of Modified races in 2024. The Super Late Model, already adorned with a PASS decal, will be driven by Rusty Poland. Chilling by his new ride, Poland gushes about sponsor support and the opportunity to drive for Webber, after years of racing his own equipment. His own car, “Caroline,” is tucked away on a lift in the shop he shares with cousin Derek Kneeland.
Star finds itself on a sort of “race track row,” with Maine ovals Wiscasset Speedway and Speedway 95 showing off some of their regulars’ race cars on either side of the aisle. Another three New Hampshire tracks have representation in the form of RaceDay Productions, the rechristened promoter of competition at Lee USA Speedway, Hudson Speedway and Claremont Motorsports Park. Promoter Mark Beaudry talks a bit about the transition from the now-defunct NHSTRA brand over the fall, including the tracks’ independent (and app-driven) streaming platform.
On the back wall of the arena is Maine’s own Pro All Stars Series, sharing space with home venue Oxford Plains Speedway and a freshly-decorated car for regular Joe Pastore. Next door, the Vermont-based American-Canadian Tour is represented by a newly-wrapped car for 2021 ACT Tour champ Ben Rowe, who will share time at the wheel with JR Robinson. Cale King, ACT’s PR man, answers questions about Thunder Road’s SRX appearance. He says they received the tickets just in time to sell them at the expo, only for SRX to pull the plug on its season the afternoon before they left.
The cars of Pastore and Rowe are designs from the studio of Connor McDougal, who has his own booth across from the touring series partners. McDougal runs Eleveight Design, and while race cars are only a part of his portfolio, his craft is well-represented around the arena, with a baker’s dozen of his designs on everything from go-karts to Modifieds and Super Late Models. Most of the cars have a modern aesthetic, but McDougal has a knack for retro, as showcased front and center on his own Late Model, which bears a handsome Pontiac-themed wrap.
Spotter-for-hire Greg Emerson shares space in McDougal’s booth for his own venture, NightOwl Creations. Emerson’s specialty is helmet wraps, and his work has adorned the protective gear of drivers like Derek Griffith and Ryan Moore. McDougal, meanwhile, commits fully to the retro bit; he dons his open-faced helmet and driving goggles, steals some hero cards from a neighbor, then sits at a table across the aisle, dangling an unlit cigarette from his lip, Sharpie in hand. “Anyone got a light?” he asks as people walk past.
Evan Beaulieu is another racer for whom design work is a second business. Beaulieu works full-time as a building materials salesman, but on the side, he runs Nitro Designs, working on everything from apparel and graphics to Web design, social media and branding. Beaulieu checks his phone; his wife and daughter are on the way to the arena. A savvy marketer, Beaulieu’s booth includes a table for kids to color their own design for his car number.
Like McDougal, Beaulieu’s best advertisement is his own Super Late Model, debuting an updated look for a full-time run at the Granite State Pro Stock Series title in 2024. He says his car is all ready to go; father Todd casts a critical eye and asks, “Is it?” with a laugh. Beaulieu’s own car may be just about ready, but as for the other racers he works with, he says, “I have a lot of stuff to do after this show.”
One of those customers in waiting is in the next booth, where Dan Winter and his father are promoting Winter Pit Products. Winter grew up racing go-karts against Beaulieu and his fellow Maine friends, and the racers have a tight bond. Winter teaches welding at a community college in New Hampshire, but he has been nurturing a side hustle into a sustaining business.
“It’s huge, any time you can get out and talk to new customers, returning customers, potential customers,” says Winter of the expo. “Just for them to see the product and really find out what their specific needs are.”
Even though racing in New England is idle for a few months, the planning starts early. “January, you’re right before Daytona. So people are starting to get into the racing mindset,” Winter says. “A lot of it jogs their memory, like, ‘oh yeah, we realized at the end of the year we needed it.’ And they go ahead and place the order.”
Those orders can carry Winter through the offseason. “This is the second year where we’ve officially had a bigger booth and brought more product, and customers came through that said ‘we checked out your products last year, kind of thought about exactly what we wanted,’ and we’ve gotten a handful of orders from that,” he says. “So it’s kind of a returning customer base.”
Winter’s own Super Late Model is at home, torn apart for an offseason freshening. “We didn’t bring the car last year either,” he says, as he is “just trying to really push the product over the car. The car, we’ve done it a lot, I enjoy bringing the car, but trying to get product ready to bring along with the car, it’s a lot of work. It’s nice to focus.”
Not all the art and craftsmanship at the expo is serious in nature. Dan Collins has lived a life in racing, working years ago on an infamous ARCA team and currently spotting for Trevor Sanborn. Collins has parlayed his experiences into NE Marketing Designs, supporting Sanborn and others with their digital presence. Apparel was a natural extension of the marketing and design venture, and it’s an extension Collins explored last year with Little Billy Tees.
The name derives from a vulgar but anonymous admonishment of poorly-disciplined kid racers, though Collins and his friends have since applied it to any number of reckless drivers, always with a sense of humor and self-reference. Little Billy Tees has its serious side, with vintage-styled shirts to honor racers from the Northeast. But plenty of shirts include comical in-jokes and even the titular mascot himself, a smarmy firesuited boy with a three-step approach to racing: “Show up, wreck cars, leave!”
Collins will put on the serious hat to co-host a seminar Saturday evening, joining Perry, Garrett Lamb and Wiscasset promoter Ken Minott to talk about marketing and social media for local racers.
Minott also serves as the president of the Maine Vintage Race Car Association. The MVRCA kickstarted Saturday’s expo activities with a roundtable discussion featuring Andy Santerre, Joe Bessey and New Hampshire’s Brad Leighton. A silent auction at their booth will bring in needed money to maintain the group’s mobile museum and fund activities throughout the year.
To find drivers at the expo, though, one needs look no further than the crowd. Ben Rowe wanders through the attendees, greeting old friends. Derek Gluchacki stops by the ACT Tour display, where Alexendre “Fireball” Tardif has already turned in his full-time entry form for 2024. Bruce “Hurricane” Haley, the soft-spoken winner of one of the first NASCAR Busch North Series races in 1987, catches up with old friends while wife Sandy networks with potential clients for her photography business. Bobby Timmons hangs out near the Wiscasset Speedway booth, tensely watching a replay of a Supermodified race. “Why am I watching this?” he asks. “I know I’m gonna crash.” At last, Timmons’ car blows a tire and sails into the concrete wall. “It wasn’t actually that hard a hit,” he recalls as he sips his beer.
Some drivers, meanwhile, have entirely different agendas. At the far corner of the expo hall, Austin Theriault shakes hands and chats with racers and fans alike. For years, Theriault was northern New England’s latest great hope of a top-level stock car star, winning the 2017 ARCA Menards Series championship and making a handful of NASCAR Cup Series starts.
Today, he finds himself in a whole new race. Elected as a state representative in 2022, Theriault is here campaigning for a seat in the United States House of Representatives. Theriault hails from Fort Kent in Aroostook County, the sparsely-populated northernmost corner of Maine. “The County” is intensely blue-collar and working-class, supported by the timber industry and potato farming, and Theriault brings that work ethic to his new vocation.
The NorthEast Motorsports Expo, then, is a destination with many purposes. Some are here strictly as fans. Some are here as drivers. Some are here to support the community.
And some, like John Peters, have done a little of all three.
“I think I’ve learned a lot from it,” says John Peters of the expo. In his 27 years, Peters has experienced the event from many perspectives.
“This is a show I’ve almost grown up at,” he says. “We used to hang up in the seats up above the expo and just be kids. For us at that time, it was about having fun. Then it transitioned to…where it was about being in the show to represent partners, and make sure we’re getting them exposure. So it was a more professional side of me…My dad made sure I stood by the car. I couldn’t go run off and do other things. I had to be there and greet people.”
Peters, who now lives in North Carolina, flew in overnight to present “GNG’s Gift,” a memorial racing sponsorship awarded in honor of his father Greg, who passed away from cancer in 2021.
“Now, it’s a very different phase,” he says, “where the cause is different, but the place is the same. And I think that’s important. Just knowing that the racing community is all together this weekend. We don’t have to pull strings, we’re not asking people to make a special occasion just for this. It slides perfectly into what Steve already has planned. We can do the moment right, and not put too much emphasis on it.”
In a meeting room next to the expo hall, that community has assembled in front of Peters as he steps to the lectern. In the front row are Peters’ friends: Winter, veteran photographer/videographer John Miller, Speedway 660 and Super Late Model Series promoter Brent Roy, who drove in from New Brunswick that morning, and PASS tech man Jason Ricker. With Ricker as team strategist, Peters, Miller and Roy will join Beaulieu the next week in iRacing’s online edition of the 24 Hours of Daytona.
Timmons and Lamb, the first two GNG’s Gift honorees, are on opposite sides of the room. Timmons chats with Poland, who will become the first GNG’s Gift Spirit Award recipient. Poland’s car owner, Bobby Webber, is there to capture the moment. Emerson, the helmet designer, Finalist Zach Bowie sits near Lamb and his family; fellow finalist Reilly Lanphear and her family are sitting a row or two behind Timmons’ entourage.
The Peters family presents this year’s GNG’s Gift, worth $5,000.09, to Kate Re, who persevered through a family health scare to win her first Super Late Model feature last summer. Re, with proud parents Rick and Karen in tow, echoed the family focus that inspires the Peters family’s charity.
“He’s always there, no matter what,” Re says of her dad. “We’ve skipped family dinners, family vacations just to go work on the race cars, to be at the shop together.”
The elder Peters’ moniker, “Grand National Greg,” drew from the big-league enthusiasm he brought to local racing. “My dad loved the show, he loved coming here, he loved cars that looked professional,” John says. “Steve named the Best In Show [award] after him because he cared about those things deeply.”
Indeed, Perry has been handing out superlatives all weekend, from divisional best-appearing plaques to deeper acknowledgements of success and dedication. D.J. Shaw is named the Touring Premier Division Driver of the Year; Joey Doyon’s efforts at Unity are honored with a Promoter of the Year nod. Perry returns to the stage after a seminar to hand out the Award of Excellence to former Beech Ridge Motor Speedway announcer Andy Austin. Austin, fresh off a day of announcing indoor ice racing, makes it to the expo hall in time to be ushered on stage for his recognition.
There are opportunities for racers to scratch the offseason itch, whether at Speedweeks or the Freedom Factory or PASS’ Easter Bunny weekend in Hickory, North Carolina. But for most at the Augusta Civic Center, it will still be months before real race cars are at the center of their weekend plans.
And thanks to Steve Perry’s promotional efforts, the NorthEast Motorsports Expo provides a welcome oasis in the long, long offseason.