Drivers of all ages chase NASCAR dreams as racing returns to Londonderry kart track
LONDONDERRY -- For nearly seven years, the sound of revving engines was absent from the track once known as Londonderry Raceway.
Tucked behind an industrial building, across the street from Grenier Field Road fire station, the infield and area surrounding the quarter-mile oval track were once riddled with weeds and litter. That all changed after Concord resident Dan Gelinas set foot on the site last year. A former competitive snowmobiler whose teenage daughter had recently became interested in racing go-karts, Gelinas saw a huge potential in the abandoned racecourse, which in recent years had been used exclusively for bicycle racing.
"Go-kart racing is a sport that kids can get into and continue to compete at for a fair dollar," he said. "I've seen a lot of interest so far, and it can only keep growing."
The owner of an excavation company, Gelinas founded Granite State Karting with partner Shawn Duhaime. After promoting their venture during last September's NASCAR weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, they spent a couple of months refurbishing the Londonderry facility, which they lease from the Nu-Cast Inc., the aluminum casting company headquartered next door.
Renamed Manchester Motordrome, the track opened to the public last month.
On busier weekends, there have been up to 60 drivers competing at the site, some of them coming from miles away to get their speed fix.
Races take place most Saturdays. Granite State Karting also has four race days scheduled at NHMS in Loudon.
Competitive racers acquire points throughout the season, similar to the way NASCAR racers do in the Sprint Cup series.
But while a race car might cost more than a semester in college, a new go-kart can be had for a couple thousand dollars.
Rhode Islander Lauryn Burd, 18, is an up-and-coming competitive racer who travels regularly around New England.
The college freshman said go-karting offers an affordable way to pursue her passion while spending time with her parents. Epsom resident Chris Pepin, whose 11-year-old-son, Tyler, has been racing go-karts for four years, said the hours spent on the track are all about time together as a family.
Chris and his father, Bill, regularly accompany Tyler to the racetrack.
"We help with the heavy lifting," Chris Pepin said with a grin.
Pepin said the Londonderry track is particularly attractive because it was designed with safety in mind, while its size and width accommodate drivers who prefer to travel at faster speeds.
"We see a lot of families come here, and they become like an extended family," Pepin said. "Yes, some of the kids race up and down the Eastern Seaboard, but on the opposite end, there's the guys that just come here to race on the weekends."
Bedford resident Wayne Ellis said this is his third season racing with this son Ashton, 9, known as "Ace" to his racing friends.
"I like anything with wheels," said the younger Ellis, who, like many of his friends, has some lofty NASCAR dreams.
The father and son typically spend about 20 hours per week on their hobby.
"It sure beats standing on the sideline of a baseball field or a hockey rink," Wayne Ellis said.
For Candia resident David Morell, go-karting is a way to keep his father's memory alive.
Robert Morrell Sr., who owned Morrell's Auto Service in Candia for more than 40 years, died May 9.
"If it wasn't for him, we wouldn't be here today. He planted a seed in us," said the younger Morrell, whose son Robert III began racing at age 7. "It's all about family."