Dale Chadbourne of Woolwich has seen many a checkered flag fall and celebrated countess victory laps as a race car driver, crew chief and car owner. But on the evening of April 13, he’ll be able to call himself a Maine Motorsports Hall of Famer.
In the summer of 1969, Chadbourne climbed behind the wheel and revved the engine for his first race. It was at the newly opened Wiscasset Speedway, which called itself the fastest one-third of a mile in Maine.
“Back at the very beginning, I raced a red 1957 Chevrolet. She was equipped with a big a V-8. Bud Greenleaf of Westport gave me the car and I put the motor in it,” recalled Chadbourne as he thumbed through a stack of pictures and other racing memorabilia in the kitchen of his log cabin home on Thunder Road.
“I must have been about 18 then,” he said looking at a snapshot of himself standing alongside that same flaming red race car and holding the checkered flag.
“You won’t believe this but I built the engine for that car in my bedroom upstairs in the house where I grew up. That was at the old family farm on the Chopps Cross Road. Somehow, I snuck all the parts for the motor past my mother. Maybe she knew about it but if she did, she never said anything. When it was finally done, it took three or four of us to carry it downstairs.
“My first couple of years of racing I was still kind of finding my way on the track,” he went on. “I didn’t win my first race until 1973. It was at Wiscasset Speedway on pretty much the same track that’s there today. By then I was racing in the Chevy Charger class and driving a ’55 Chevrolet. I built that car practically from the wheels up. It could really go, too!
“The funny thing was, every time I was in the lead, she’d up and quit on me before I could get to the finish line. That happened to me three times until I finally figured out what the heck was going wrong. There was hay in the bottom of the gas tank, it would get drawn up when the fuel would get low and stall the motor. It must have gotten into the tank because it had been sitting outside in a field for years.”
Memories like those and other exciting racing moments will be very much on Chadbourne’s mind when he steps to the podium to be inducted into the hall of fame at the Augusta Civic Center. The awards ceremony will follow dinner and introduction of this year's six inductees.
Chadbourne, a longtime selectman and towing operator, will be among some pretty good motor racing company. The other inductees include former NASCAR race driver Ricky Craven, now a racing analyst for FOX Sports. Another is mechanic Bob Bailey of Harpswell, a legendary builder of top-notch racing engines for Craven and many other drivers including the Dale Chadbourne Racing Team.
“What’s really special about this is that we’ve always built our own cars right here behind the house and still been successful at winning. That makes me feel really good and proud of my racing team,” added Chadbourne.
As a driver, he has over 70 motorsport wins including three championships. He’s chalked up seven championships and 80 wins as a car owner and crew chief. Most of those have been at Wiscasset Speedway, although he has also raced at Unity Raceway, Oxford Plains Speedway and Speedway 95 in Bangor.
In 2003, Chadbourne gave up driving, deciding the time had come to turn the wheel over to the next generation. He continued building race cars and became crew chief for his son Adam Chadbourne and fellow motorsport drivers Mike Moody, Bobby Meismer, Cory Creamer and Cory Fitzgerald.
“I’ve still got two cars. Adam and Bobby are my drivers. They’re both very dedicated and competitive. They work hard and it’s fun for me to watch them race,” he said.
The current members of the Chadbourne Racing Team are Jeramy Koenig, Donald Peavy, Chris Sweeny, Clifford Brown and Zach Thomas. There’s also Chadbourne's number one fan, his wife Sherry. She furnishes the team with meals and encouragement before, during and after race day.
A lot has changed since Chadbourne first got behind the wheel of that ’57 Chevy. “When Wilford Cronk first started Wiscasset Speedway there were only two classes, the Sportsman and the Hobby.
"I raced in the Hobby class. Motorsport racing was just getting started and it could get pretty rough back then,” recalled Chadbourne. Arguments, even fights frequently broke out among the drivers, the pit crews and sometimes the fans.
“Motorsport racing is much better today. Over the years it has really turned into a family-friendly event,” he said. He added, Richard and Vanessa Jordan, Wiscasset Speedway’s owners since 2012, have done an outstanding job operating the track. “It’s one of the premiere racetracks in Maine.”
The story of Chadbourne’s racing career wouldn’t be complete without mentioning his efforts in 2011 to save racing in Wiscasset after the speedway briefly shut its gates. He rolled up his sleeves and got to work organizing races, repairing the bleachers and even mowing the lawn around the infield.
His efforts didn’t go unnoticed at that year’s Northeast Motorsports Expo. He won “Feel Good Moment of the Year”.
The speedway is also celebrating its 50th anniversary this summer with a feature race planned in August. The racing season begins next month with two practice sessions for the drivers. One is set for April 13, the same day as Chadbourne’s induction.
He said he’ll likely rise early that morning, spend a few hours down at the racetrack then return home to get ready to head up to Augusta.
“I feel pretty good that a little guy like me can get this kind of statewide recognition from his peers. I’d always done it the old-fashioned way, built my own cars, most of them outdoors in the backyard before we put up the garage. It really means a lot to me, my racing team and all the sponsors and folks who have supported me over the years.”
The Maine Vintage Race Car Association, parent organization of Maine Motorsports Hall of Fame, hosts the dinner and awards ceremony.