That some of those 80-somethings have kept their old heaps isn't surprising, said Al Torney of Annapolis, director of the Maryland Stock Car Racing Hall of Fame.

"Their cars are their scrapbooks," he said.

Keeping racing alive

Listen to the men and women who keep Maryland racing alive these days, and the stories aren't so different. Some caught the bug from their fathers, others when they were teenagers, speeding around in search of girls to impress.

"Your car was like a peacock," said Miller, owner of Maryland International Raceway. "Your social status was very much tied to the set of wheels you had."

He got his first job at a Northern Virginia service station when he was 14 and raced his '69 Camaro at local raceways.

"And now I own a racetrack," he said, laughing as he reflected on a life that has taken him all over the country as a drag racer.

Miller's Mechanicsville track will host 108 days of racing this year, everything from jet-powered skateboards to a mechanical dinosaur that can pick up a car and bite it in half. He expects a total attendance of around 200,000.

"We might not have the broad percentage interest that you have in Charlotte, North Carolina or someplace like that," said the 58-year-old track owner. "But we have enough population here that we can do pretty good numbers."

Lisa Plessinger inherited management of the 66-year-old Hagerstown Speedway from her father, Frank. She remembers racers speeding around the red clay surface in the era when there were no guard rails and they might careen into adjacent Conococheague Creek.

The technology is better these days, but she'll still attract 3,000 people on a good night, with more coming from Pennsylvania and West Virginia than from Maryland. Her fans remain loyal to American brands such as Chevy, Ford and Dodge and she can't imagine many trekking to Baltimore to watch open-wheeled racers that resemble rocket ships as much as everyday sedans.

"It's almost as big a difference as, I don't know, football and lacrosse," Plessinger said. "Most of our fans, they're not as interested in something they haven't had their hands on."

Baltimore Grand Prix 2013 news from The Baltimore Sun