By Bill Ladabouche



            One of the truly pioneering stock car race tracks in the northeastern United States was an old fairgrounds in Unity, Maine. The venue started very early – in the late 1940’s; but it will always be somewhat upstaged by the Lewiston Fairgrounds. The Lewiston site tried getting in on Jack Kochman’s over – ambitious program to bring NASCAR modifieds to five or six venues all over the Northeast. The Lewiston shows failed immediately. The exhausted NASCAR drivers were often on the road 10 hours a day, not eating, sleeping [or even bathing] regularly; so, the Kochman brainstorm had a brief life. Meanwhile, Unity Raceway, having begun soon after, is still operating today.

Fortune City Site Photo
Jack Kochman’s plan might have worked today, but the lack of interstates in the 1950’s and the
lack of comfortable haulers made it impossibly hard on the teams. Below – Marshall Teague
drives a typical late 1940’s NASCAR modified. Photo


            In the Autumn, weeks after the Lewiston Fairgrounds debacle ended, Unity Raceway was opened by Ed Knowles, an enterprising Down Easter. The Maine Vintage Race Car group’s old “Memories” website wrote :” Rain prevented the first race program from being completed and the raceway, a converted fairgrounds horse track, opened for good in the spring of 1949. Ed Knowles owned and promoted the raceway from 1948 until son Bob took over in 1960.” The Unity venue, at first, attracted racers from all over the Pine Tree State, as most states at that time had only a limited number of capable stock car teams.

NEAR Photo
Ed Knowles with his trademark hat,  in the early days
of the Unity Raceway. Below – Blackie Hilliard and his colorful car.

Maine Vintage Race Car Site Photo


            Arguably, the top star in the earliest days of the Unity track was colorful “Blackie” Hilliard, driver of the flame – decorated #98 coupe. Hilliard divided his time among such early tracks as Beech Ridge Speedway, Oxford Plains Speedway and the old Washington and Waterville-Oakland speedways; but, it is clear that Unity was where he was the most dominant. With his uniquely – schemed Hudson, he managed to take 12 track titles – mostly in the 1950’s.

            Unity race shows were something to behold, with the old fairgrounds track running along a street in Unity, and nearby residents both enjoying the free show from the front porch and, conversely, hating the huge plumes of dust that rose from the action [even after the track had begun to be oiled]. Probably like most New England ovals in the 1950’s, Unity fields were an eclectic mixture of competitive coupes and sedan, less local cars, and some highly – strange rigs such as pickup trucks with no rear box and cars with incredibly long frames.

Maine Vintage Race Car Site Photo
Unity Raceway’s early fields of cars were something to behold.


            All that kept the speeding [and not always well – controlled] cars off State Route 139 was a flimsy board fence. Photos of early racing show people and homes on a street next to the track. However, the present layout and location of the track in relation to street shows only Route 139, which doesn’t look like a residential area. Knowles protected the drivers – and the surrounding area around the track – with sandy banks, which often had old automobile tires laid on top for stability.

            Unity was like so many other Northeast race tracks of that early era. Many of the better stock car operations were happening, in the United States, at former or on – going fairgrounds facilities: Unity, Norway, Lewiston – in Maine; Fonda, in New York; Fairmont and Dog River – in Vermont; and the Plymouth, NH fairgrounds.

John Grady Photo via Dave Dykes
Above – the grandstands at Fonda Speedway are still pretty much the same today.
Below – Unity Raceway has made their stands a trademark of sorts.

Maine Vintage Race Car Site Photo


            Many of those early tracks had an enterprising promoter who had been prominent for other lines of endeavor first. Most of these same operations were getting drivers coming in from fairly distant places, and running at many other tracks nearby.

            Unity has always made a big deal of its covered grandstands; but, tracks from the old Warrensburgh, NY fairgrounds – to Bouvrette Speedway in St. Jerome, QU – to the Cheshire Fairgrounds near Keene, NH all had the same stands, either being horse tracks or fairgrounds originally. Like the Fonda Speedway in New York, the covered stands are still in use in Unity, Maine. Unlike the Fonda track, Unity has never had strong influence from NASCAR.

Maine Vintage Race Car Site Photo

People on the front porch at the house in the background look on with a mixture of interest
and revulsion as both the action and the dust reach a crescendo at Unity in the early 1950’s.


            In the 1950’s, the term “environmental superfund site” had not been coined, nor was there much particular environmental or water quality concern. The fact that Knowles was treating the track with bunker oil made Unity just another track doing the same thing. Tracks from Whites Beach Speedway in Ballston Lake, NY, to Rebel Speedway in Granby, QU, to Saranac Lake Speedway all were liberally pouring oil or some other unhealthy substance in a futile effort to fight off the track – dusting effects of running on Sunday afternoons in the full sun. Any photos showing early action at Unity do little t o prove Knowles’ oiling did much good. Knowles took the wise step of installing lights and going to Saturday nights by the end of the 1950’s.

Maine Vintage Race Car Site Photo

Bob Knowles [left] presents Keith Fuller with a trophy,
with the help of Maine Governor John Reed. Fuller’s son
apparently is not impressed with any governor guy.


            By 1960, Ed was turning the reins of the speedway over to son, Robert. After the early era with Hilliard as king, Unity saw a succession of other stars come and go. In the 1960’s, there developed a second wave of big names at Unity, including the track’s first [and probably only] graduate into the ranks of the NASCAR Grand Nationals. Older drivers like Al Robinson and Harold Wilcox were being joined by a new group that included Doug Ripley, Dana Graves, and future GN driver Stan “The Man” Meserve, from Winslow, ME. “Wild Bill” Carleton, a fifties driver who had doubled as supplier of the track tow truck, was still running, as was Dave Darveau, one of Maine’s all -  time great drivers.

Cavalcade of Auto Racing Photo

Wild Bill Carleton, shown as a 1965 Unity top star, was also doubling as the track towing service
in the 1960’s, as shown below, pulling a car off Knowles’ sand banks.

Maine Vintage Race Car Site Photo


            The track, in those days, had developed a class of modifieds that looked much like those of Beech Ridge and some Granite State tracks, as well. These were often cut – down rigs, a far cry from the modifieds that NASCAR was running in New York and Southern New England. Running under the banner of the Central Maine Stock Car Racing Association, the track quietly prospered away from the higher – profile Oxford and Beech Ridge venues.

            The term “central Maine” can be deceiving, as much of northern Maine is so lightly inhabited that Unity’s relatively close proximity to the ocean still can be called central, as far a state population balance goes. It is relatively near Bangor, to the northeast, and Augusta, to the southwest, but it does not draw from large population areas. The nearby track, today, is Speedway 95, near Bangor; and, the Wiscasset track isn’t too far away. Unity has lost Oakland – Waterville Speedway, Belfast Speedway, and the Washington fairgrounds track, all of which did not survive the surge of track openings in the 1950’s.

Maine Vintage Race Car Site Photo

Unity local success story, Stan Meserve [upper righthand corner] joins such drivers as Paul Goldsmith, James Hylton, Charlie Glotzback, and Buddy Baker in a Grand National photo in 1965. Below – He came back to a good driving career in the Northeast and jobs as an official for NASCAR and ACT.

Maine Vintage Race Car Site Photo

            The predominant car style went eventually to the late model, probably as much to fit in with the tracks in the area as for any other reason. With that class, Unity could possibly draw some cars from Wiscasset or Speedway 95. Dana Graves, one of the stars of the track, was very active at the 95 track near Bangor, and – as time went on – late model teams were running at almost all of the bigger Maine venues, especially at each track’s larger – paying races [such as the Oxford 250].

Maine Vintage Race Car Site Photo

Dana Graves started with the same style stock cars as Blackie Hilliard, and ended with the
 far more modern late model sportsman car on the 70’s and 80’s.

Maine Vintage Race Car Site Photo


                        The Knowles era ended when the track was sold to one of its best racers, Ralph Nason, from Newburgh. Again, Unity is now much like other tracks – struggling. Current manager, George Fernald, operating under Nason ownership, had all he could do to keep the track open in 2011. At a cost of $12,000 a week to run a show, he was facing overhead higher than the entire amount Ed Knowles had to muster to entirely found the track in 1948. Wiscasset is now closed, and it is likely Unity will be that way, too – if it is not already.

Ralph Nason Collection
Latest owner Ralph Nason parked one of his famous Chrysler kit cars right next to the rear of the track’s equally – famous grandstands. The photo below shows Nason, still driving when he was 70 – with a great shot of the stands behind him. Photo

            Whether or not it survives this current crisis that has left only a handful of healthy weekly tracks in the Northeast, Unity Raceway has established itself in the stock car racing history of the region, just as have older venues like the Rockingham board track and the odd – shaped track at Old Orchard Beach. It has made a significant impact on racing in its region, as have the Cheshire Fairgrounds in New Hampshire, and Catamount Stadium in Milton, Vermont. It may have gotten overshadowed somewhat first, by Beech Ridge, and later, by Oxford Plains; but, the Knowles family and the Nasons soldiered on and kept it viable for decades.

            The  track had a number of other stars in its long history. Often touted as the winningest driver in Unity history, Albion’s Steve Nelson did take 10 track titles with his pro stock racer, but that was still two short of Blackie Hilliard. Several of the drivers were highly revered in Maine racing circles. Nason’s amazing career span has earned him a sometimes – grudging regard in the racing community. Driver Big John Phippen was so well – liked that his untimely death recently has sparked a number of Memorial races at various tracks which are still managing to run in the area.

USGS Terraserver Photo
The odd – shaped track at the fairgrounds in Manchester, VT was one of the very first stock car
venues in the northeast, much like Unity.


            It will, some day, be hard to find the old covered grandstands that once sheltered stock car fans at Springfield, ME; Norway, ME; Warrensburgh, NY; Unity, ME, Keene, NH, Plymouth, NH, and dozens of more locations where the fairs may no longer be running and at which the stock car shows surely are not. Some of stock car racing’s remaining premier events are closely tied to existing fairgrounds tracks – particularly in Syracuse, NY; but, these are becoming fewer and fewer. Unity Raceway will always have its place in the history, along with some of its better – known competitors.

Norm Vadnais Photo

There was nothing like the view of a stock car race from under old covered grandstands. Here, at Rutland, VT in 1962, a young Norm Vadnais has captured Jim Spaulding winning a heat. Below- a less obstructed view from the Fonda, NY stands in 1963.

Ladabouche Photo

Please email me if you have any photos to lend me or information and corrections I could benefit from. Please do not submit anything you are not willing to allow me to use on my website - and thanks. Email is: . For those who still don’t like computers - my regular address is: Bill Ladabouche, 23 York Street, Swanton, Vermont 05488.



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