A fter more than 50 years in the racing industry, C.J. Richards has had enough.
Richards who owns Devil’s Bowl Speedway in West Haven, Vt. and the Albany-Saratoga Speedway in Malta has put both tracks on the market and when a sale is finalized, it will bring an end to a rich history in the annals of local stock car racing.
The Richards family started Devil’s Bowl 45 years ago and although the track is near and dear to Richards’ heart, he said his age (he’s 74) and health have told him it’s time to step aside.
“The track opened in 1967 and I’ve been in the business for 54 years but I’m getting old and tired,” Richards, said. “I just can’t handle it anymore; it’s gotten to be too much.”
High gas prices, a depressed economy and enough rain to invoke images of a biblical flood have contributed to a poor season and lower than normal turnout, Richards said.
“We’ve had seven or eight rain outs this year; the last four races in a row were all rained out. And with the economy being where it is and the gas prices, it’s been a terrible-disastrous season.”
The switch from a dirt surface to a paved track has had an impact as well.
For nearly its entire history, Devil’s Bowl (and the Malta track) was a dirt track, but that changed before the 2010 season when the Richards family paved the half mile long oval.
Richards admits the change may have chased away some racers loyal to the dirt surface.
“Dirt people are dirt people,” he said. “But it’s so much work to maintain a dirt track. The ones (racers) who have had the foresight enough to go ahead with our new program have loved it.”
The speedway, which with the track in Malta comprise the Champlain Valley Racing Association, has been in operation since 1967 after Richards, and his father built the raceway a year earlier in the middle of a corn field on the southbound side of Route 22A in West Haven.
The track has been a family affair ever since. Richards daughter, Sharon, is the operations manager for both track and his sons, Bruce and Jerry serve as promoters and general managers of the Malta and West Haven-based tracks, respectively.
“It’s always been in the family. It’s very close to my heart,” Richards said.
Over the years, the track has hosted thousands of races and tens of thousands of spectators and a number of local residents have cut their teeth racing on the track.
This year, for the first time, the track became a NASCAR-sanctioned raceway, allowing drivers to compete with their counterparts at tracks all over the country as part of the NASCAR Whelen All-American series.
Richard believes the track’s longevity and its transition to a NASCAR-sanctioned raceway are moves that will help ensure the property remains a speedway long after it’s sold.
“I don’t foresee it (not being a track). If it’s not a race track, it’s just a corn field with a paved oval in the middle.”
He said the property is perfect for a race track and its location on a rural stretch of road means they never have problems with neighbors complaining about the noise. It also doesn’t have as much competition as larger markets, another reason why he believes the Devil’s Bowl will remain a speedway.
The same can’t be said for the Malta track.
He said the tracks location places it within four miles of the Global Foundaries Chip Plant making it an ideal tract of land for development.
“There’s going to be a lot of spinoff business from that,” Richards said. “People are looking at it for the future, but probably not as a race track.”
Both tracks have generated interest from buyers and Richards said a local person has expressed interest in taking over Devil’s Bowl and keeping it as a race track.
“Hopefully it works out and I can come and watch some races,” he said.