WOW Trail advocates have lawyers, too

Both sides lawyer up in WOW Trail debate


LACONIA — Both sides in the debate over whether a public recreation trail should be built adjacent to two private, gated communities said Friday they have retained legal counsel in case the issue ends up in court.

At issue is a proposed 5-mile extension of the Winnisquam-Opechee-Winnipesaukee (WOW) Trail in a state-owned railroad right-of-way that skirts Paugus Bay and the communities of South Down Shores and Long Bay.

Some residents fear the trail would cause them to lose privacy. They also worry that some trail users might trespass or engage in crime.

Gretchen Gandini, executive director of the nonprofit organization supporting the extension, released a statement Friday saying attorneys William Philpot Jr. and Samantha M. Jewett have been retained.

"While we regret having to take this step, we understand the reality before us," she said. "We look forward to the trail's continued expansion with a spirit of cooperation, but recognize that we must be prepared for the alternative."

She said she hopes a court fight isn't necessary.

"There's still lots of room for conversation," Gandini said. "I'm hopeful. We have lots of good friends in South Down and Long Bay."

Bruce D. Miller, president of the South Down Shores homeowners association, said his group also has obtained the services of attorneys. He said litigation would be necessary if an alternate route for the trail is not found.

"We would be delighted to talk to them about an alternate route," he said.

Backers of the extension expect to propose their plans to the city within a few months. The City Council could ultimately ask the state for permission to use the rail corridor to extend the trail.

Trail backers say the railroad right of way, which offers unobstructed views of the bay, is the best route.

A scenic railways uses the tracks in the tourist season through a lease with the state Bureau of Rails. Unused or little-used rail corridors have been used for biking, walking and running paths across the country.

Proponents say crime is not a problem on the existing section of the trail, and wouldn't be a problem on the extension.

The 10-foot-wide trail now runs from the Belmont town line to Elm Street in the Lakeport area of Laconia. In addition to the proposed extension to Weirs Beach, proponents hope to ultimately build a section that would take it all the way in to Meredith.

Pre-prom activities emphasize making good choices

Pre-prom activities emphasize making good choices



BELMONT — “We care about you” was the overall message of the day as Belmont High School played host to a series of presentations emphasizing the need to make good choices.

Coming just a day before prom night, safe driving was a major emphasis yesterday, with Virginia Fuller of Exeter relating the story of daughter Chelsea’s death in September 2010, which she said might have been prevented if Chelsea had been wearing a seat belt.

Many school districts in recent years have taken measures to make sure students remain safe before and after proms, ranging from simulated crash scenes to after-prom parties where the focus is on movies or games as an alternative to parties where drinking or drugs might be present. Parents of Inter-Lakes students, for example, hold an after-prom party at the Meredith Community Center.

In Gilford, the high school uses its live broadcasts to issue messages about making positive choices while enjoying prom, graduation, and other year-end activities.

“We also send a personal message to the students through email,” said Principal Anthony Sperazzo. “A joint message from Gilford Together (a community group seeking to prevent substance misuse) and the Police Department also went home to all parents.”

This year, Belmont High School teamed up with the injury prevention team at the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock and developed a full-day series of presentations that included Fuller’s talk, as well as a discussion of safe driving by 24-year-old Nascar driver Melissa Fifield of Wakefield. There also were hands-on activities, such as virtual goggles and simulated driving, a mobile command unit, and golf cart driving.

During lunch, students had an opportunity to visit the After the Crash Career Fair with tables providing information on employment challenges and counseling, as well as a chance to speak with paramedics, police, sporting groups, and more.

Fuller, in a live talk and a video safety message, spoke of how Chelsea’s death had changed her family’s life and told the Belmont students, “Had she been buckled in, this wouldn’t have happened. Parents worry about these things for a good reason.”

She cited statistics showing that 74 percent of the fatalities from automobile crashes were not wearing their seat belts.

In Chelsea’s case, the 17-year-old was going out with two friends when the car she was driving hit a sign near the Amesbury exit on Interstate 496 in Massachusetts and flipped over, becoming airborne and sending Chelsea over the steering wheel. Another passenger, Chantay O’Brien, 20, of Fremont, sustained injuries that included impaired sight.

“I was working and got the phone call,” Virginia Fuller said. She was so shaken, she asked for a police escort to the hospital, but was unable to get one.  It was a long drive, and devastating.

“Life is so different for me and the family,” she said. They had to refocus on those who remained.

“I can only hope you make good choices when you get (behind the wheel) and buckle up,” she said.

Later in the afternoon, students heard from Fifield, who has been a Nascar driver for four years and has been named Most Popular Driver three times. Having been racing for half of her 24 years, her message was “dreams can become reality” with the additional caveat that, to do so, one has to make good choices.

“The race track is safer than being on the road,” she said during an interview prior to the start of activities. “The safety equipment in a race car differs from a regular car’s safety features. When I get behind the wheel of a regular car, I make sure to buckle up.”

Fifield had early lessons in the dangers of driving from her father, Wakefield Police Chief Ken Fifield.

“I’ve been a cop for 28 years,” the chief said. “Melissa grew up in a cop’s family.” As a result, he said, she would hear stories of the terrible fatalities and injuries he had to deal with. “Some of that stuff you bring home,” he said.

“Melissa wanted to pursue safety in her way. She didn’t want to be a cop, and I didn’t want her to be one,” he said.

Melissa said she has wanted to race since she was 5, and started with go-cart races. Her racing career began when she was 12, and she went on to a national tour in the Allison Legacy Series before going on Modified regional tours and getting on the Nascar circuit.

While racing, she has been an advocate of making good choices and avoiding distractions and impairment. She recently signed a contract with the state to act as a spokesperson for the Click It Or Ticket campaign.

Chief Fifield said he is pleased with the Belmont program using the term “crash” rather than “accident” because “Most crashes are preventable. They’re not accidents; they’re crashes you cause.”

“Life’s too important to throw it away on a stupid decision,” he said.

Participating in the pre-prom career fair yesterday were LRGHealthcare; the state Department of Corrections; Riverbend Choices; Young Living Essential Oils and Whole Health of Concord; Grace Wellness Center; Align Physical Therapy; Pike Industries (safety equipment); Highland Mountain Bike Park; Apache Camping (rock climbing); and the Belknap County Sheriff’s Department.

Museum Catches the best of New England auto racing history


Dick Berggren, president of the North East Motor Sports Museum, pushes a Sprint Car into position at the North East Motor Sports Museum in Loudon. (Roger Amsden photo for the Laconia Daily Sun)


LOUDON — The North East Motor Sports Museum has yet to officially open its doors. Yet there's already a buzz that the treasure trove of short-track racing history in New England is destined to get even bigger and better in the not too distant future.
President Dick Berggren, a longtime national television race reporter and an owner and contributor to Speedway Illustrated, said so many people want their cars exhibited at the museum that there's a long waiting list, which has him eyeing an 8,000-square-foot expansion to the 10,000-square-foot facility built near the southern end of New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
The museum is slated to open to the public on June 12.

He says that the project, 10 years in the works, came about as the result of a conversation with the late Vic Yeradi, who used to oversee New Hampshire Motor Speedway's Vintage Celebration and had a large collection of open wheel race cars.
"He told me we were losing our history and needed a museum to keep it alive," said Berggren, who through all his years as the lead pit reporter for Fox Sports never lost touch with his oval racing roots.

When he stepped down in 2012, he said "I've always traveled to local tracks where I still enjoy sitting in the stands with a hot dog in one hand and a beer in the other, watching the local heroes. I can't get enough of local level racing so I'll do more of that now."
Berggren said he traveled to auto museums all over the country to see how preservation efforts were doing and absorbed one valuable lesson.

"Take on no debt, people told me," he said, "and that's what we're doing here. Thanks to something like 500 contributors and lots of donated materials and labor, we'll be opening to the public on June 12 with no debt. And it won't be long before we expand so we can have more room to show more cars."
The 20 or so which are on display already are very impressive. There's a Lotus driven by businessman Bill Binnie, a two-time winner of the 24 Hours of LeMans, and the Ford Mustang which Joey Lagano drove to victory in the Daytona 500 in 2015.
There's also a display honoring Pete Hamilton, the first New England driver to win a Daytona 500, who took the checkered flag in 1970 while driving a Plymouth for Richard Petty's team. Hamilton, who died in March at the age of 74, also won both races at the Talledaga Speedway the same year.
One of the cars on display has a special significance for Berggren, the Spirit of 76 super modified, which was sponsored by the Mug Restaurant in Center Harbor. Berggren raced the car, which was built in Meredith by Dave Bennett, Skip Ambrose, Jim Caverly and John Berry and made its debut in the spring of 1975 at the Beech Ridge Speedway in Scarborough, Maine. Other drivers included Bobby Turner, Jerry Dolliver, Lee Smith and Dick McCabe. Dolliver was the only winner with the car in its original configuration. Bennett upgraded it in 1990 and won three feature races that year in Rumney.
The car was stripped and set outside for 20 years before it was restored. Pete VanSneiden started the restoration, which was completed by Jim Martel and his son. Scott. Other contributors were Gene Trask, welding; Justin Belfiore, graphics and lettering; Kevin Macorelle, machine work and Scott Heil, who saved the original bodywork and painted the car.
Another historic car is the number 33 Cody family Coke machine, which was built by Don Carey at the Keene Coca-Cola bottling plant and was driven to Claremont Speedway championships in 1957 and 1958. The car was sold to Henry Merrow in 1961 and he made Art Cody his driver. The car then won championships in Claremont and at Fairhaven and Vergennes tracks, both in Vermont, in 1963.
When overhead valve engines made the car obsolete, it was parked in a field for 26 years before Art Cody in 1995 cut down the tree which had grown through the rear window and took it home to restore it. What remains today is the original car except for the engine and radiator.
The museum also contains two cars owned by Ray Boissoneau, who owns 32 race cars and is the largest collector of historic New England race cars.
Boissoneau, who grew up in Laconia, has been an auto racing fan since the 1950s, when he used to watch races at the old Gilford Bowl, which was located near the Laconia Airport. He recalls towing his soap box derby car to which he had affixed a Briggs and Stratton engine to the race track with his bicycle and then taking spins around the track on off nights.
"The police used to stop by and see what I was up to. But they said I wasn't doing anything wrong and left me alone. I can't imagine that happening today," he says.
Boissoneau, who is the curator at the track, has a midget racer which was driven by Joe Sostillo, a legend in the midget racing world from the 1930s through the1960s, and was restored by Joe Fourie. "It was a basket case when he got it but he was able to bring it back to what it looked like when it was racing," says Boissoneau. He also owns a car driven by Johnny Thompson, a national champion in midgets and sprint cars.
He says that he is driven to collect the vintage race cars by the knowledge that much of what he grew up with is being lost to history.
"When a race car driver dies, his stuff, the trophies, the scrapbooks, the helmets and the racing gear is put out in the trash. I would drive to those streets on pickup days just to see what I could save," he said.
Boissoneau has raced in Loudon since it was Bryar Motorsport Park and has also taken part in the he 24 Hours of Lemans, and the road course in Monaco. He's competed in nearly every class of racing and won a number of trophies, but today he limits himself to the vintage races at the Speedway.
The museum will be open on Saturday and Sunday, June 10 and 11, to paid museum members and those with free admission coupons from the Gypsy Tour. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
From Monday, June 12 through Sunday, June 18, the museum will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Motorcycles are part of the display and are headlined by Eddie "The Savage" Sarno's big-engine Buick powered drag bike, a fearsome homemade rocket on two wheels.

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Pete Hamilton is honored at the new NH Motorsports Museum. He was the first New England driver to win a Daytona 500, driving a Plymouth for Richard Petty's team in 1970. (Courtesy photo)