Running in circles – Nostalgic Latchkey Cup draws huge crowd

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#44 Mark Smart, #60 Sam Grad, #20 Alan Darrah, #5 Fabian Smith and #0 Mike Frank race in the Modified class Sunday afternoon during the Nostalgic Latchkey Cup on Meredith Bay.  (Karen Bobotas/for The Laconia Daily Sun)


MEREDITH — The Nostalgic Latchkey Cup, which celebrated the decades during which auto races were held on the ice of Meredith Bay, was an overwhelming success on Saturday, with close to 100 cars competing and an estimated crowd of 1,200 or more.

“It went amazing,” said Fabian Smith, a member of the Lakes Region Ice Racing Club and one of the drivers who maneuvered a vehicle around the third-of-a-mile oval course.

“We get a good turnout at our regular races; we were blown away by the turnout [on Saturday].”

Ice races were held on Meredith Bay starting in the 1950s and into the 1980s. The Latchkey Cup, named after the town’s identity as the “Latchkey to the White Mountains,” was started in 1984. The event was once a fundraiser for the Norris Cotton Cancer Center but the money collected is now contributed directly to local people in need.

For many years, the Lakes Region Ice Racing Club has raced on Lees and Berry ponds in Moultonborough, where the ice is thicker and more predictable. But 2018 is the year that Meredith is celebrating its 250th, so the Latchkey was brought back to Meredith for one more run.

Saturday’s race featured seven divisions of racing — Smith finished in second place in the “Modified” class — and spectators either drove onto the lake from the boat ramp at Hesky Park or they walked, snowmobiled or took all-terrain vehicles to the course.

With the success of the event, Smith said he would like to see racing continue on Meredith Bay.

“Personally, I’d like to do this once per year, but you’ve got to have the right ice, the right cooperation. But, who knows?” Smith said.

On Saturday, all factors were working in favor of the race. The cold start to the winter made for plenty of ice, and the weather on race day wasn’t too cold, windy or rainy. The robust attendance was a welcome reward for the team of organizers and volunteers, Ice Racing Club members as well as the small group of people, including Steve Durand, who are planning events this year to commemorate the town’s quarter-millennium milestone.

“We started working with Steve Durand on this four years ago. All the stars lined up for us, it was an amazing show,” said Smith.

“It was awesome, the crowd was phenomenal,” said Durand. “It was a huge success.”

The race gave residents a taste of what winter in Meredith was like for a previous generation, and raised money that Durand said “will go right back into the community.”

Like Smith, Durand couldn’t rule out the chance that the Latchkey might find a more regular home in Meredith again. Not every year will see conditions as favorable, and Meredith Bay is already a busy place in the winter, with popular events such as the Meredith Rotary Club’s ice fishing derby and a pond hockey tournament taking place on subsequent weekends.

“I don’t dare say, because ice conditions are so unpredictable, and you don’t just put it together overnight,” Durand said.

Whether that can happen or not, the Nostalgic Latchkey Cup will remain in the memories of many spectators and racers, including Smith, who said it was the largest crowd he’s ever raced in front of.

“It was the highlight of my racing, I’m going to be honest with you,” Smith said.

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Steve Durand preseented the winning trophies to the top three finishers in the Sprint class during Sunday’s Latchkey Cup on Meredith Bay.  (l-r) Steve Durand with 1st place finisher #73  Jake Williams, 2nd place #01 DJ Mills and 3rd place #11 Tunk Berry.  (Karen Bobotas/for The Laconia Daily Sun)

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Spectators were able to get an up close look at the Modified and Sprint cars lined up along the track in between races during the Nostalgic Latchkey Cup on Meredith Bay Sunday afternoon.  (Karen Bobotas/for The Laconia Daily Sun)