By Amaris Castillo
Gerald Wooldridge never got the chance to race on the Dracut Speedway. He was too young.
Decades after the popular racetrack at Broadway and Loon Hill roads closed in 1955, he still clings to the memories surrounding it -- how his father would bring him and his brother to the track on weekdays, and how he'd watch as drivers zoomed past.
Wooldridge, 79, doesn't want anyone to forget where the Dracut Speedway was once located.
Though the lot is now technically the site for the brand-new Circle Health Dracut, Wooldridge said the long-gone racetrack should be recognized as a historical site.
And for those clueless about where it was, or even that it existed, he wants to fill them in, too.
That's why, for the past few years, the Dracut resident and longtime midget-car racer said he has been working on a monument in honor of the track established and operated by the late Alexander Benoit, the father of Wooldridge's ex-wife.
According to Town Manager Jim Duggan, the monument will be installed near the corner of Broadway and Loon Hill roads sometime this fall.
"It's to honor my father-in-law and let these people that are racing now come see what it was," Wooldridge said recently as he sat in his home. "Some of them don't even know where it was and they're in their 50s."
The track was permanently closed in 1955 after a tire fell off a racing stock car and bounced into the grandstands, killing a spectator.
Wooldridge said he ran with the idea for a Dracut Speedway monument after some friends suggested it. He organized fundraisers to help raise $1,000 to pay for it and, last week, shuffled through photos eagerly to find one that shows what it looks like.
"SITE OF ALEX BENOIT'S DRACUT SPEEDWAY, 1946 TO 1955," the monument reads. On the back of the monument is an image of two racers in action -- one with the number 44 on his car in honor of Benoit, himself a midget-car racer, and the other with the number 45 in honor of hometown favorite Hermie Delisle.
Wooldridge expressed some frustration that the monument hasn't been installed sooner.
Duggan said of the delay, "We've always felt it's important to recognize the history of an important part of the community of many years ago. There's been a direct understanding from the very, very beginning that we would have to wait until after the construction of Lowell General before we can actually identify a site for the monument. I made it perfectly clear with the designers and the project managers of The Arbors and Lowell General that we're going to be identifying a spot for what was once an important venue for the community."
Rich Vinal, a Dracut resident whose grandfather, Richard H. Vinal, was a frequent spectator at Dracut Speedway, supported a fundraiser for the monument several years ago.
"I'm very happy to hear that it is actually moving forward," said Vinal, 32. "As a child, my grandfather, who had gone to the track, had told me stories about all the different kinds of race cars. I'm just glad that a piece of Dracut history is being preserved."
Amaris Castillo's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.