BUDDS CREEK — BUDDS CREEK -- Timmy Booth is trying to find glory in a 3/8 -mile dirt track.
Every Friday evening at 6 o'clock the Edgewater resident and about 90 other drivers and their race cars jam the few roads to this St. Mary's County town, population 885.
They're heading to Potomac Speedway, out in farm country, where race car shares the road with Amish horse and buggy.
Mr. Booth and his mechanic, Danny Evans, drive down from Upper Marlboro, towing a black-and-white Camaro with "48" written in yellow and red on both sides. They're here to prove before 3,000 people that No. 48 is the fastest car on the speedway.
"It's always been that way: 'My car is better than yours.' 'My Chevy is better than your Ford.' It's been that way since Henry Ford," explained Kathy Reichard, who owns No. 48 with her husband, Ray.
Last time, Mr. Booth held steady in sixth place until another car nicked him in the 12th lap, sending his car spinning off the track. He never really recovered, finishing 11th out of 19 cars.
No. 24M, George Moreland's Camaro, crossed the checkered flags first. He got to stand in the winner's circle with the cameramen and Miss Potomac, 21-year-old Jennifer Boling, who wound her way down from the bleachers in a neon green bikini. She slid next to him and mugged for pictures.
On this night, Mr. Booth wants to be in the winner's circle. He and Mr. Evans drive past the grand stand at the speedway and go down a dirt service road to the pit, where they join the Reichards.
"You're looking at 90 hopeful people," says Ms. Reichard, as she walks down the sturdy wooden steps to the pit. "Everyone's hoping to win."
Five classes of cars -- enduro, four-cylinder, pure street, semi-late model and late model -- crowd the pit, a dimly lighted dirt parking lot.
'It's a guessing game'
Portable generators give off a low, electric hum. People hook up their own lights or air pumps. Many lug gallons of methane gas the color of Windex. Cars are jacked up as the crews change tires.
"We hope we can guess right on the tire compounds," says Mr. Booth, straddling a fat, 18-inch-thick tire, trying to pump more air into it. "These cars are real temperamental. It's a guessing game."
The Reichards, who live in Odenton, bought No. 48 five years ago. Until this year, Mr. Reichard raced the car himself. A couple of years ago, Mr. Booth saw the couple in the pit and offered an extra hand. He joined the pit crew.
The Reichards have been making the 90-minute trip to Budds Creek since the Dorsey Speedway in Hanover closed about 10 years ago.
The closing, they say, left a generation to grow up without knowing the tradition of Friday nights at the dirt track races.
A business park sits on top of the old Hanover tracks. Other tracks in Glen Burnie, Upper Marlboro, Lanham and Beltsville also lost out to development.
"We have enough shopping centers. We need somewhere to play," Mr. Reichard, 55, says between slow drags on a Marlboro Light.
Mr. Reichard, who owns two mechanic shops, started watching dirt track races when he was 13. Ms. Reichard's mother sold tickets at the old Westport Speedway in Baltimore.
Mr. Booth has always wanted to be a race car driver. His father, Ferd "Slim Boot" Booth, drove stock cars on Maryland tracks until Timmy Booth turned 9.
Timmy Booth is the only one in his family who races, the only one who has signed his name atop a race car. But it doesn't pay his bills. The rest of the week he's a bricklayer for his uncle in Edgewater.
"I love being the driver," says Mr. Booth, 33. "It's a dream. . . . Thanks to Ray and Kathy, I have the opportunity to do it."
The races begin at 7:30 p.m. and last until midnight. But the competition starts on the drive down and in the pit, where the drivers and crews scope each other out, checking to see who's here, who's not, who has the fanciest trailer.
Mr. Booth keeps his eye on David Hill, No. 75. The flaming red Pontiac Trans-Am has been in four races and taken the checkered flag twice.
In the last race, Mr. Booth stuck right behind No. 75, hoping to follow the Pontiac to the winner's circle. That was the plan; then he spun out. Mr. Hill didn't have a good night, either. He finished third.
At 10:35 p.m., the announcer calls Mr. Booth's race: "Late models -- you're next. Line up at the base of the hill."
He zips up his black-and-red racing suit, buckles his helmet, climbs into the car, straps himself in. As he slips on his red gloves, Mr. Reichard leans into the cab and says, "Be careful -- take your time."
Then Mr. Booth turns the ignition. The 575-horsepower, 350-cubic-inch Chevrolet engine crackles and rumbles, spitting eye-stinging methane gas fumes into the night.
Mr. Booth drives out of the dark pit and joins a single file of red, white and yellow cars heading to the brightly lighted track.
Mr. Reichard, Mr. Evans and the rest of the family follow in a black Chevrolet Blazer. They park inside the track where dozens of people stand on dirt mounds to track their cars and be on hand for emergencies.
Mr. Reichard and Mr. Evans unload spare tires and a jack, and take their spot by the third mound. From there they feed Mr. Booth signals -- whether to swing to the outside edge of the track or hug the inside.
Twenty-three cars line up side by side and slowly make one lap, each driver watching for the green flag.
Then, the starter gives the signal and there is an ear-piercing roar of engines going full throttle. The late models hit speeds of 100 mph, spitting dirt into the air, pelting fans standing along an iron fence. By night's end, some of the rust-colored dirt is gray and hard as asphalt.
Cars bump, spin and tailgate. In the second lap, Mr. Hill, No. 75, zips out in front and stays there. This time he's too fast for Mr. Booth to chase into the winner's circle.
The 25-lap race is over in 15 minutes. No. 75 takes a victory lap, then slows to a stop in front of the grandstand. Mr. Hill gets to meet Miss Potomac again. Mr. Booth, who finishes sixth, heads back to the pit.
"We're pretty happy with it," he says, sweating and full of adrenalin. "Brought the car back in one piece. . . . I'm ready to go again."