The County’s first  ‘DustBowl’ celebrates outdoor sports in northern Maine

2 months ago

CARIBOU, Maine — After a hugely successful SnowBowl festival in March, that event’s creators brought an ATV and grass drag-themed follow-up to Caribou.

Inspired by the SnowBowl, the newly created DustBowl was dedicated to ATV group rides, stunt shows and a fair carnival that aimed to showcase Caribou’s popular trail system. Event organizers Troy Haney and Jim Gamage estimate that attendance may have come close to that of the SnowBowl, which brought out 8,000 to 10,000 people.

Aroostook County’s snowmobile and ATV seasons help bring in millions of dollars in tourism revenue, making events like the SnowBowl and DustBowl essential for promoting the region, Haney said.

“We’ll absolutely have another DustBowl next year,” Haney said. “We have some of the best trails around, and we wanted ways to showcase that to snowmobilers and ATVers.”

Grass drag racers take off from the new track at Spud Speedway during the first ever DustBowl. (Courtesy of Jim Leighton)

The DustBowl featured the finale of Maine’s snowmobile grass drag circuit races at Caribou’s Spud Speedway. Riders in 14 classes, including two children’s race classes, traveled from central and northern Maine towns and as far as South Carolina to be part of Maine’s Northwoods Grass Drags Point Series. The circuit’s previous races were held this summer in Hermon and Ashland.

Aroostook is a natural fit for grass drags, said Haney, who owns Spud Speedway with Gamage. The region already boasts popular snowmobile and ATV trails, so ending the grass drags series in Caribou celebrates those trails.

It also helps that Spud Speedway just finished a brand new, two-lane dirt and mud grass drag track, located next to the venue’s grandstand, Haney noted.

“A lot of grass drag tracks across the country have their tracks separate but ours is right there in front of the audience,” Haney said. “It’s such a different experience, and our racers really enjoyed it.”

The grass drags were delayed nearly two hours Saturday, first due to heavy fog that drifted over the area into mid morning. Organizers also wanted to test out the track and ensure that the space would be safe and enjoyable for racers.

That gave racers and their families plenty of time to mingle with other competitors and embrace the camaraderie of the racing circuit.

Families attending the DustBowl at Spud Speedway this weekend enjoyed fair rides and food vendors courtesy of Smokey’s Greater Shows. (Melissa Lizotte | Aroostook Republican)

Toby Caron of Fort Kent found himself unable to race due to mechanical issues with his snowmobile. But he was still there to cheer on his son Oakley Caron, 5, who competed in the Mini 120 Stock class. The Carons also raced in the SnowBowl’s Northeast SnoCross races in March.

“We go to pretty much every race we can,” Toby Caron said.

Tyler Chasse of Mapleton and fiance Courtney Berube of Caribou also got in on the grass drag action, racing in the Stock 600 and the Stock and Improved 850 classes, respectively.

Longtime racer Chasse competed in Ashland’s grass drag series in August, while Berube was heading to the track for the first time.

“[I race] for the thrill of it,” Chasse said. 

The DustBowl was initially postponed from Sept. 14-17 to Sept. 28-Oct. 1 due to rainfall from Hurricane Lee. But the change in dates helped make the festival even bigger than Haney and Gamage anticipated.

After postponing, they learned that the Maine Truck and Tractor Pull Association would be unable to travel to Caribou that weekend. But Haney and Gamage managed to strike a last-minute deal with Smokey’s Greater Shows, the vendor who previously brought carnival rides to the Northern Maine Fair in Presque Isle.

Families attending the DustBowl at Spud Speedway this weekend enjoyed fair rides and food vendors courtesy of Smokey’s Greater Shows. (Melissa Lizotte | Aroostook Republican)

Nineteen carnival rides and nearly 30 local vendors were part of a five-acre carnival space next to the grass drags, Haney said. Other events included an ATV ride from Presque Isle to Mars Hill Mountain, a classic car show and demolition derby at Spud Speedway, all held on Sunday.

“It’s nice for Caribou to have a festival like this,” Berube said before the grass drags began on Saturday. “I think it’ll be a good asset for the community.”

That’s exactly what Haney and Gamage are hoping to create, along with other yearly festivals and events at their speedway.

Haney has owned Spud Speedway since 2009. Gamage and his wife Michelle became business partners with Haney this summer. Since then, they have completed the two-lane, 660-foot-long grass drag track and 500-foot-long truck and tractor pull track. The $660,000 project also involved expanding Spud Speedway’s parking lot.

As part of an over $1 million investment, Haney and Gamage plan to build 10 tiny log cabins and add a motorcycle race track and mud pit to use for future “mud run” events. Eventually, the pair wants to build an indoor event center.

“We want to find ways to bring people here. Hopefully they’ll fall in love with the area and want to come back,” Haney said.