The SCoNE cars at Canaan. (John
From the north or south you have to take the
beautiful, but endless, Interstate Route 89. From east or west, you
really can’t get there.
But what a treat for a couple
thousand folk who did make the haul to the tiny, nearly forgotten
town of Canaan, New Hampshire, a couple of Tuesdays ago, the night
before the Fourth of July. Coming around that bend in Route 118 –
right in the middle of logging country and little else – set those
funky, old, wooden covered grandstands of the Canaan Fair Dirt
Speedway. They were literally packed to the rafters. And the pits
were a-roar with 31 center-steer dirt modifieds and 25 SCoNE 360
Sure, there were fireworks and lots of kids and
families to see them, but something else was in the air, too.
“I’m not sure just what happened,” emoted promoter Dick
Therrien. “Quite honestly, I didn’t spend a dime advertising. It was
all mailing to every racer I know and word of mouth, but we’ve never
had a crowd like this. It was standing-room only. We even had people
sitting watching from the top of the grandstands of our neighboring
There was old-time racing joy in the breeze.
Other tracks weren’t open, so the fresh-faced kids were intermingled
with familiar racing zealots from all over New England and eastern
New York. And, when the cars came out, there was that old-time
hootin’ and hollerin’. With good reason. The racing was fabulous.
The mods queued up for two 20-lap features, the overall winner
averaging best in both. Both were scrappy and hotly contested,
sparing nary the nerf bar along the way. The victor – but winner of
neither – was Adam Pierson, the acknowledged super-stud of the
modifieds at Butch Elms’ Bear Ridge Speedway in Bradford, Vermont.
|The top mod dog
from the area, Adam Pierson, brings ’em down for a
restart. (LINMAT Photo)
The sprinters ran a 25-lapper,
definitely the most spectacular race many spectators had seen all
year. Young Clay Dow and veteran Danny Douville put on a dramatic
“Double D” driving demonstration. Both started deep in the pack and
chose every conceivable groove to push to the front. Their duel
ended about ten feet from the finish. Clay prevailed, and, like Adam
Pierson, earned himself a Coastal 181 Cup, as well as a bulked-up
|It was this close.
Douville leads here in the 7x, but Dow took it in
(John Dadalt photo)
It was pretty late driving back down I-89
afterwards, but I, for one, was pretty wound up. All I could
think was “Where’s Charlie?!?”
Elliott is the rightful father of auto racing in northern New
England. He’s a rugged individualist from another world, another
A lifelong lover of fairs and common people’s
entertainment, there’s a carny streak to the guy, affixed to a
90-year passion for race cars.
After doing some roadster
racing before the stock-car craze, Charlie, armed with nothing
but his hands and certainly no money, began revamping crumbling
race tracks and putting on shows. He worked tirelessly,
completing Herculean projects virtually by himself, one after
First , in the early 1950s, there was Sanford
(ME) Speedway, up by the old drag strip. Then there was the
Spartan but racy little fairgrounds oval in Dover, New
With a wisp of good luck, Charlie hooked up
with Ken Smith and Russ Conway and formed the New England Super
Modified Racing Association in 1965. That led to his
construction of Star Speedway in Epping, New Hampshire, home of
the Supers for decades. It was perfect for Charlie. Supers. No
The NESMRA trio also took on Hudson and Lee
Speedways in New Hampshire, both of which Charlie refurbished in
major ways. Lee, especially, was enlarged and reconfigured. But
Charlie loved that good ole carny stuff. He still joked about
the “hoochie-koochie girls,” so he left ample acreage for the
adjoining nudist camp.
When these facilities had been
purchased by others by the ’90s, Charlie had done some
blue-highways touring further north and came upon the
dilapidated fairgrounds in Canaan. It had been the local country
fair site forever and more recently had hosted some loosely
|Charlie cuttin’ a groove.
(Dick Berggren Photo)
Charlie bought it and put that Yankee ingenuity to work once
again, first straightening out the sagging but glorious old
grandstands, with just chains, binders, and his hands.
He built it, and they came.
Within a couple of seasons, the pits housed a hundred
cars for Friday night wars on the dirt quarter.
It was actually pretty warlike.
I remember calling Charlie because I had heard about the
track and wanted to go way up there to race, but my car was kind
of a weapon. I asked him if it was open comp. I could hear him
smile over the phone. “Lew,” he said, “We’ve got two rules up
here: The driver has to sit behind the engine and the driver
can’t be drunk. But
this is weekends in northern New Hampshire, so we sometimes have
to make exceptions on the second one.”
I told him I’d be right up.
Charlie also built a beautifully symmetrical banked asphalt oval
right next to the dirt track and was inducted in the New England
Auto Racing Hall of Fame..
But it was clear that by this time even he was getting a
bit weary. A few
years back, he sold the whole facility and began wintering in
Florida. Quite recently he lost his balance and became
He did not come north for this summer.
Today, if you take a peek through the outbuildings at the
fairgrounds, you can see the legacy of Charlie Elliott. There’s
old equipment and engines, some cobbled together for something
quite divorced from original purpose.
There are horses from merry-go-rounds of many, many
summers past and funky old cars built for totally memorable
kiddie rides. It’s a walk through American history and
Ken Smith, Charlie’s partner from NESMRA days, says, “That man
was just one of a kind.
He ran his life chasing big dreams, and most of them came
I just hope Charlie will make it up for the Fourth next summer
so he will know with all certainty that Canaan is one of them.
|(Dick Berggren Photo)
© 2012 Lew Boyd, Coastal 181
If you were interested in this
Tearoff, you might enjoy the books below: