Craig Murto: Cumberland Raceway enjoys new life

Three years after it was shuttered and destined to meet bulldozers, Maryland’s Cumberland Raceway will once again roar to life with the sound of horsepower and dirt racing.

Formerly known as Rock Allegany County Speedway, the facility, at the Allegany County Fairgrounds, will reopen as The Greater Cumberland Raceway on April 15. Originally opened in 1924 as horse racing facility, automobiles began racing on the track in 1967. The best of the best raced at Cumberland, as even Mario Andretti competed in a Sprint Car at the picturesque facility.

When the facility closed, some loyal fans were outraged. Fundraisers were held to raise money to bring the track back to life. Some reports claim that the reopening of the track demonstrates the power of bake sales and spaghetti dinners.

Dirt racing is said to be climbing out of a recession, and The Greater Cumberland Raceway appears to enjoy a recovery of its own. New clay is on the racing surface, and guard rails around the track were replaced. The track will operate under a non-profit, The Greater Cumberland Raceway LLC. A full schedule of racing is planned from April through October, so make plans to visit the scenic raceway in 2017. Visit www.thegreatercumberlandraceway.com for more information and a full schedule.

The Super Bowl was a great game, but race fans saw some great racing when Supercross competed at Oakland, Calif. The popular motorcycle series, sponsored by Monster Energy, is most likely the most difficult form of motorsports for the athletes involved.

Justin Hill took the win and the point lead on his Kawasaki in the 250 class. In the 450s, Eli Tomac charged to the win on his Kawasaki, passing defending champion Ryan Dungey on a KTM with only a few minutes remaining in the race. It was the first time in two years that Dungey lost a race in which he led.

But before fans attribute the recent victories by Hill and Tomac to Kawasaki bringing a better motorcycle to the track, think about the sport and the actual races themselves. Dirt motorcycle racing doesn’t limit racers to a single line around the track, especially on motocross or supercross circuits. Yes, the manufacturers compete, and try to bring a superior product. But in supercross, a superior product means little if you can’t get the most out of it.

Every form of motorsport requires intense concentration and sharp eye-hand coordination and quick reflexes. But one’s body takes a beating in supercross or motocross, much more so than in any other form of motorsport. Physical conditioning proves to be a benefit in every form of motorsport, but lack of conditioning will always be a detriment if you race motorcycles, especially on dirt.

A number of studies have been done on the physical conditioning of motocross riders. Some suggested that successful riders are among the most conditioned athletes in the world. Motosport.com, in a 2013 article, states, “Studies of motocross riders in past years have compared riders against athletes from demanding sports such as NFL football, professional basketball, track and soccer with results showing that riders, overall, were at a higher level of physical fitness. A 2002 study confirmed the previous results.”

Racing motorcycles may not hurt if one wishes to eventually race cars. Mike Hailwood was considered one of the best motorcycle racers of all time, and he went on to a career in Formula One. John Surtees also was a world champion on two wheels, and he won the F1 World Driving Championship for Ferrari in 1964.

Joe Leonard won the flat track title in the United States, and is in the motorcycle hall of fame. He also successfully raced IndyCars and nearly won the Indy 500.

Ricky Carmichael is considered the best to ever race supercross. Some may remember that when he attempted to have a career in NASCAR, he was met with so-so results in the Camping World Truck series.

But now retired Cup competitor Ricky Rudd began his racing career on two wheels as a motocross competitor, and he was a regular winner on the NASCAR circuit. And Jimmie Johnson, arguably one of the best to ever race in the Cup series, also began his career on two wheels.

Be sure to show respect for two-wheeled competitors; you never know which one might become the next star on four wheels.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident