3/8 mile paved oval. 12 degrees of banking in the corners, 8 degrees of banking in the straights. Located in Lee NH, on Route 125
The world’s most recognized short track photographer, Rich “Purple” Hayes, has sent us his “Early Years Of Lee” write up with pictures. Click here to see it. His recollection differs from the recollection of Russ Conway. YOU decide which version is most accurate.
History (Source: Russ Conway)
Bob Bonser first opened Lee Raceway on the site in 1964. The track was a 1/3 mile dirt tri-oval and had two elevation changes, one uphill and the other being downhill.
In 1965, Bonser paved the dirt track in the hopes of getting NESMRA (New England Super Modified Racing Association) to come to the facility. It worked. In 1965, NESMRA made Lee Raceway their “home track”. 1965 also featured the only winter snow race in the history of the facility.
1966 featured the first ever “NESMRA Super Classic”, a race which later became “The Star Classic” when NESMRA moved to Star Speedway.
The first “Classic” was a three segment event. 100 laps, 50 laps, and another 50 lap segment, making the total 200 laps for the event. That race started at 8 PM and didn’t end until 2:10 AM. The track went through THREE flaggers that night, the first one quit, the second was assaulted on the flag stand, and the third finished the event. The event wound up with a three way tie between Eddie West, Bob Cloutier, and Don MacLaren. The three drivers split the prize money.
In 1967 Charlie Elliot opened a brand new track in Epping NH called “Star Speedway”. Charlie contacted the racers from NESMRA about trying out the new facility. This didn’t sit well with Bonser. He forced the Supers to pick between the all new, level Star Speedway, and the still new (ish) tri-oval, far from level Lee Raceway.
In 1968 NESMRA moved to Star Speedway and Lee Raceway started to decline. A few shows were run with the NESMA banner displayed, but eventually the crowds shrank too much and the track was forced to close the gates for the final time. Lee Raceway was done in 1979.
In 1980 and 1981 the track remained dormant. In November of 1982, Russ Conway was in Florida, getting ready for a big race, when he was informed that his friend Kenny Smith had called and he needed Russ to call him as soon as possible. Russ immediately called Kenny and was flabbergasted when the conversation took place.
The trio (Kenny Smith and Russ Conway with Charlie Elliott) had owned Star and Hudson, among other ventures, but they were quite happy with what they had done. Russ was asked if he was ready to buy another track over the phone. When he asked why he heard, “Charlie wants to buy Lee.” The only reaction that Russ could have was understandable “IS HE @#%! NUTS?”
By the end of November the trio had purchased Lee Raceway and plans were in place to reconfigure the track and rename it. Lee Raceway was gone and Lee USA Speedway was about to arrive!
1983 was a construction year for the track. Stakes laid out the oval, which is the way that Charlie always laid out a track. In early 1984 the paving project began, turning Lee Raceway officially into Lee USA Speedway and preparing the track for “The Teaser” event in July.
July 4th, 1984 was the first oval race held at Lee USA Speedway. The pavement had just been finished and they actually had problems with the pavement starting to blister. The crew had to dump thousands of gallons of water onto the track in order to cool it down. The track dried almost immediately, but it also cooled the track enough to run the event without causing too much damage to the new pavement.
“The Teaser” was a combined NEMA, USAC, and ARDC show with Nokie Fornoro taking the first ever oval win at Lee
As is usually the case with an event called “The Teaser”, it was a set up event for a bigger event later in the year. The first ever Oktoberfest was held in October of 1984 with Paul Richardson winning the first ever Super Modified feature at the inaugural event.
The event was one of the largest in New England short track racing history with over 300 entrants and well over 7,000 fans in attendance. The traffic was backed up between the Lee Traffic Circle and the ramps to Route 101. The track rented three fields and used EIGHT busses to shuttle people back and forth, the overflow was parked on both sides of Route 125 for miles in both directions. Additional seating was brought in from Star Speedway and Hudson Speedway for this huge event.
The facility ran just special events until the track was sold to the MacDonald family in December of 1986. 1987 was the beginning of the MacDonald era and weekly racing at Lee USA Speedway, and the track has hosted weekly action ever since.
More History (Source Jerry Venne)
When he was 19 years old a young Jeff Gordon (yes, THAT Jeff Gordon) tested one of Red MacDonald’s Supers at the track. He had a good time in the car until he met the inside wall on the front stretch. Jeff was OK, the car however needed some work.
Jerry also recalled two seperate moments from Lee’s history that are significant. Paul Richardson getting the better of Ken Schrader in turn 1 during one of the shootouts, and the then NASCAR Cup champion Terry Labonte leaning against the pit fence at Lee and being basically ignored.
One has to wonder what would happen if Jimmie Johnson was to be seen leaning against the fence in the pits of a short track nowadays… new fence maybe?
Two of the most unique features of Lee USA Speedway are the bridges. The foot bridge allows fans to pass over the entrance to pit road and access the front stretch, and the “pit bridge” allows cars to drive over the fan entrance in the front of the race track. The fans actually walk underneath the cars that are making their way to the track.
Part of the original tri-oval pavement configuration is still used today, it’s the staging area that the cars line up in before the come out to race.
Virtually all of the track’s features have been replicated for use in the simulation computer racing game “Nascar racing 2003 Season” by Mark Royer. Mark came to the track in 2008 and took over 500 pictures which he used to replicate the track in the software. The track for the game features a “surprise” in the infield that Mark put there for our announcer and all of the long time fans of Lee USA Speedway, Ollie Silva’s car sits in the infield of the track in the game, giving him a permanent cyber parking spot at Lee.
Oktoberfest 1984 was the largest crowd in the history of Lee USA Speedway, however the option to add seating is available to the track. With a few changes the track could be surrounded with seats and the 1984 crowd could be almost doubled. On a normal night the track can hold almost 5,000 fans.
The “Daytona Chair Back Section” was purchased from Frank Dery and the Sunshine Speedway in Tampa Florida, and hauled up to Lee on flatbeds. The seats were built by Reeves Construction and were made from the same mold that was used for the seats at Daytona, Talladega, and a few other major NASCAR tracks.
The oval was paved in June of 1984 by Tate Brothers Paving. The base of the track is 4 inches of clay, 4 inches of crushed stone, 3 inches of “binder” and 3 inches of “top coat” asphalt, which is more than some airports have for their runways.
As of the start of the 2009 season, the track is using the same pavement from 1984. 25 years on the same pavement in New England. While the track has lost some of the grip, the pavement is still relatively smooth. Quite impressive for New England with all of the temperature changes we see in the Northeast.
The track draws very little power from “the local grid” during our night racing program. The lights are primarily powered by a generator in the infield. Experienced fans know to look for the whisp of smoke in the infield when the generator fires up, they know that the lights will be on soon.
During a delay at the track in the 90’s while working with the generator, the announcer at the time Pete Falconi, spotted the smoke and joked “Either the lights will be back soon, or there’s a new Pope!”
The “Tell Your Friends” that John Spence Sr. makes reference to on the mic on some Fridays is in reference to the old Russ Conway sales pitch used at the track in 1984, asking fans to tell their friends all about the track. The phrase is from the old days when a “carnival barker” would hype the upcoming carnival with “Tell Your Friends.” with a hand held megaphone.
John Spence Sr. and Deryl Morley, our two announcers share the same birthday of July 9th, although John Spence Sr. was born “a few” years before Morley. In fact, Spence was the first announcer that Deryl Morley ever heard and he was the reason that Morley decided he wanted to be an announcer. On any given Friday night during the racing season you can hear the duo sharing the announcing duties at Lee. Morley refers to working with John Spence as “ a dream come true”.
1985 and 1986 saw the “Budweiser Shootout” come to Lee USA Speedway, featuring the stars of the top series in NASCAR at the time. Drivers like Terry Labonte, Buddy Baker, Tim Richmond, and Dale Earnhardt Sr. raced in those two races.
The die cast car that was released by Dale Earnhardt Incorporated as the “Outlaw Late Model” actually first raced at Lee USA Speedway. After the first practice session Dale hated the car and wanted a different one. When he was told there were no other cars for him to drive he set to work on the car himself. He spent some time under the car and under the hood, getting the car set up for the track and tweaking the performance. At the end of the night, after winning the feature in the car that he wanted nothing to do with, Dale pulled into the pits with his trademark smile and said “Yep, that’ll do.” Typical Dale Earnhardt.
Midget superstar Rich Vogler has won a race at Lee USA Speedway.
In 2006 ISMA driver Chris Perley tied the all time ISMA win record, matching Russ Wood’s previous mark, at Lee USA Speedway. Russ Wood was in attendance that night.
Some of the other big names that have run at Lee are Gary Bettenhausen, Mel Kenyon, John Andretti, Tom Bigelow, Bentley Warren, Ollie Silva, Brett Bodine, Todd Bodine, Nate Boutwell, Smokey Boutwell, Bud Crotty, Randy Witkum, Richie Evans, Leo Cleary, Ernie Gahan.
Motor Racing Network broadcaster Dave Moody was once the “Voice” of Lee USA Speedway. Other former voices include radio personalities, Bill Tremblay, Dave Stevens, Andy Austin, John Spence,and Pete Falconi. Charlie Crocco and Kevin Boucher also called the action at Lee.
One of the scariest incidents in Lee USA Speedway history took place in 2008 when Jeff Locke’s Small Block Super Modified was sent airborne into the turn 1 fence. The car cleared the wall completely and took down some of the fence. However the fence slowed the car enough that the car came to rest just a few feet from the outside of the wall itself. As a tribute to the safety features in the cars and in the track, Jeff walked away from the incident with only minor injuries
Sadly three drivers have lost their lives at Lee USA Speedway. Lou Harton died in a Pro Stock on the tri-oval in 1973. Freddie Brown lost his life in a Late Model at the 1985 Oktoberfest. And Frank Presutti paid the ultimate price in a Super Modified during the 1993 Oktoberfest.