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Ashwell takes the long ride from fan to driver


Like many race fans, Dale Ashwell Jr. wanted to get behind the wheel of a race car to see what it was like, but the expense of building one, regardless of the division, is prohibitive for most people.

To take advantage of the large number of fans with similar interest as Ashwell, the enduro race for amateur drivers was originated by promoters of local oval tracks.

"It was something I always wanted to do," said Ashwell. "I always wanted to race, and this was the best way to do it."

Enduros' popularity mushroomed through the '80s and are still contested regularly at area speedways. The enduros are endurance races on oval tracks with a distance of 100 laps or more. They are specifically for novice drivers who want to fulfill their desire to race. All a person needs to do is find an old car, install a roll bar and go racing. The car has to be stock with no modifications.

Unlike most races on oval tracks, the number of cars starting the enduro is unlimited. Last Sunday's Fall Championship enduro at the Hagerstown Speedway had nearly 80 cars entered, and they were lined up three abreast. When the race begins, all the drivers have the same goal, to be the first to complete the 150 laps around the half-mile oval.

The first several laps are the most daring, as 80 cars are bunched close together. It definitely can give a first-time driver like Ashwell second thoughts about racing as he started back of the long string of cars.

"I just wanted to get the feel of it in the beginning," said the 33-year-old Sykesville resident. "I had the shield on my helmet steamed up in the beginning, I was so nervous as the cars ran four and five abreast. After a while, I settled down and got braver with each lap."

It wasn't all smooth sailing once the race was under way. An enduro race is nonstop. There are no cautions for spin-outs or stalled cars. When cars come to a stop on the track, the race continues as drivers have to maneuver their way around the obstacles.

"I got pushed around when I went low," said Ashwell. "Most of the time, I stayed high to stay out of the way. One time, I got spun out."

About midway through the race, Ashwell had worked his way up to 15th. About lap 82, he thought his day would end early when he brushed the outside guardrail, sending dust everywhere when his throttle stuck. But he didn't panic and regained control of the car.

Ten laps from the end of the race and three hours after the start of the race, Ashwell pulled in the pits with an overheating engine. He was disappointed, but satisfied with how well he did.

tTC Enduro racing is a good way to fulfill dreams of racing without spending a lot of money. Ashwell has less than $500 in his 1987 Oldsmobile. He got the Olds without an engine from a friend, then paid $150 for a wrecked '86 Buick and used its motor in the Olds.

Three generations of Ashwells worked on the car, Dale's father, Dale Sr., and son, Dale II, plus his brother, Mike, and nephew Chad Jones. It was truly a family effort.

Mike was the first to experience the excitement of driving when ** he competed in an enduro race at Williams Grove Speedway last month. Dale Sr. will have his turn next behind the wheel.

"I learned a lot Sunday," said Ashwell. "I had a ball, I am going to do it again. I have the bug to race now."

Weekend results

Last weekend, there was a lot of action at the local dragways. At the Fall Ford Spectacular at 75-80, Don Leonard of Mount Airy won Class I. Jim Peddicord of Westminster went three rounds. Chris Hruska of Mount Airy won Class II on Saturday, Michelle Francis of Westminster won on Sunday. Harris Levin went to the semifinals in Class II on Saturday, Charlie Spielman and Mike Garber of Taneytown and Mike Stambaugh of Union Bridge went three rounds. Jeff Francis of Westminster won the ETK race on Sunday.

At Mason-Dixon Dragway, George Milstred of Westminster went to the semifinals in Class I, Marvin Ford of Westminster was runner-up in the motorcycle division and David Smith of Mount Airy was runner-up in the Class I Jr. Dragster division.

On the oval circuit, Cris Eash of Woodbine finished sixth in the super sprint feature at Lincoln Speedway. Steve Owings of Westminster wrestled the lead from pole-sitter A.J. Ernesto on the fifth lap and led the rest of the way to win the micro-sprint feature at Lincoln. Steve Pollard of Westminster was 11th in the street stock feature.

Brad Green of Westminster was seventh in the pure stock feature at Potomac Speedway in the Southern Nationals. Matt and Steve Barnes of Westminster finished in the sixth and seventh spots, respectively, in the four-cylinder feature and Mike Walls of Taneytown was eighth.

Gary Stuhler of Westminster started fifth and took the lead on the 17th lap to win the 50-lap Queen City 50 for late models at the Cumberland Raceway.

Jeff Shepard of Upperco was second in the Club All-Stars sprint feature at Eldora Speedway on Saturday, then finished sixth on Saturday night and fifth in the All-Star Shootout.

Luke Dempsey of Westminster won the Jr. Stock #2 feature in quarter-midget action at Hagerstown. Stacy Myers was third in the Jr. Stock No. 1 main event.

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