The parking areas were filled with cars on July 17th, 2010. A line stretched around the brick hut that sold tickets and passes. Hot dogs were sizzling, sending an aroma that radiated from the Fast Lane Grill. Fans climbed up the metal stairway to find their seats, and kids were mesmerized by their first glimpse of a real racetrack. Mansfield Motorsports Park drew a crowd for this thrilling stop on the ARCA schedule.
Sadly, that race, the Tim Richmond Memorial 200, was the last race at the track. The gates have been closed ever since.
Yet, I could still hear it. As I looped my fingers through the chainlinks, the faint roaring of engines bounced off my ear drums. The wind whipped my hair back. Cars speeding off turn four, inches from smacking the wall. I felt the earth shake beneath me. Squealing sheet metal made me cringe, and sparks lit up my brain. There was a black-and-white freight train reeling through my head. It was like I was there, even if I had never witnessed one of the events.
I blinked, and it was all gone.
Dust rode the breeze to hit me in the face. In just two years, the speedway has become desolated. The gravel parking lot is the home of browning weeds and brand-new lighting. The ticket building’s security cameras have bird nests sitting on them, which goes nicely with the bright new ‘Tickets’ sign. New metal railing lines the stairway up to the bleachers, but they’ll never be grasped by eager hands.
Taking a step back, my head mindlessly shook. The owner had put so much money into the facility, only to shut it down due to a lack of a title sponsor. The track closed back in 2008 after it lost its NASCAR Truck date, but it reopened when it gained a spot on the ARCA line up in 2009. The two races were won by Parker Kligerman and Max Gresham, the track becoming a blur in late 2010.
I think everyone knows that feeling, the one you get when you know you’ve lost something special. It twists your stomach into a tight double knot. That’s what I felt as I took pictures through the gates. The half-mile seemed perfect, especially with the Mansfield Lahm Regional Airport right across the road. With some research, I found out that the track set aside one hour for autograph signings and opened the pits before the race. It was willing to do anything for the fans, to make them happy. I guess that wasn’t enough.
The race was important to the community. The Tim Richmond Memorial 200 was an obvious tribute to NASCAR’s James Dean-esque driver, who grew up half an hour away in the city of Ashland. It was our way of celebrating his life, which ended way too quickly. Also, there isn’t a Cup or NNS race anywhere near here. You have many dirt tracks, and ARCA still runs up in Toledo Speedway. With Michigan, Indianapolis, Kentucky, and Pocono surrounding us, there isn’t a big track around here.
Mansfield was our gateway into the NASCAR world, only to be shut abruptly.
When I climbed back in the car after capturing the photos, it felt like I was walking away from an opportunity. It had the potential to become a great track. Trust me, if someone fixed it up, I would promote the heck out of that place. Make T-shirts, posters, have a bake sale, whatever I could do to get Mansfield Motorsports Park back in the positive spotlight.
One day, it might get to shine again, and I hope that day comes soon.