By Mike Smith
A year ago I wrote an article for NHTF.com about the demise of our stone dust track, the last one being used in NH to host high school track meets. I wrote the pieces as a lament to an old friend, as I had become fond of our old track and the “history” it held. Over the previous ten years we had created our unique brand of track and field, removing those events that were difficult to impossible to host on our dirt surface and adding events that we don’t see often in the sport. So no 300 meter hurdles (damn near impossible to host without lanes!) and the addition of some medley relays.
And it’s demise wasn’t simply out of neglect. No, actually part of its demise was the fact that over those ensuing ten years the maintenance department and myself had worked meticulously to bring the quality of the surface “up to snuff” after a winter of imbedded footprints (by human and animal alike) and the usual upheaval that happens to all things made of earth thanks to our New England winters. Each time we prepped the surface (making it both safer and more conducive to run well) by dragging it to fill in the holes and knock down the humps, a little more stone dust migrates off the track surface and on to the surrounding grass. Do this for ten years plus and you work yourself right down to the base material.
In 2019 I deemed the surface too unsafe to host meets. As a track official, I simply felt that with 60% of the track showing through with ¾ inch gravel, the track surface was beyond both my interest in hosting as well as the potential for not being able to prep it to satisfactory conditions. We still used it for practice when we could (it’s still too soft to use November through April) but we put no additional effort in smoothing it (as that brings up the base material.
I had been after the district for the better part of 6 years to seek the improvements necessary to continue to host meets, as I had grown to love our unique brand. But with a change in every administrator above me at least once, the condition of the track degraded year by year. Possibly I had made a mistake by addressing the issue by saying the track was in need of an upgrade, when I really should have been saying it needed to be brought back up to standard. Regardless of the reasons, it wasn’t getting attention. The condition had gotten to the point where I simply did not feel in good faith I could ask teams to come to our unique style of meet and run on a track that wasn’t fit for hosting a meet.
However last year with Covid, I had some big concerns on the availability of meets, and was worried that without a track in use we might have few meets in which to race in. Wanting to meet that potential need I came up with an idea where I would create a loop with an inverted curve (think bean shaped) that would measure out as 400 meters. And it was while I was creating this loop, measuring and remeasuring, I came to the realization that I might have seen my last race on Mascenic’s dirt track. Hence the piece “Farewell Old Friend” posted to the NHTF.com website last April.
I’m happy to say I was wrong. While I was surveying my new grass loop for the 2020 season, there had been some forward progress on a new surface. I had done some research into how much material might be needed to “do it right” and the estimation was approximately 200 yards and $4000 in material, with additional cost to putting it down right. A friend of mine suggested a paver but being outside the loop I had no direct involvement or supervision over the project as I could only wait and see.
This August a local company showed up to the track on a Thursday afternoon and began to put down the “inside lane” of the finishing 100 meters. I knew this because when I went past the school (as I live within spitting distance) I could see the machinery up there. The next day, by the time I was done work, the entirety of the oval was topped with a fine, grey layer of natural running surface. I swung up to the track, walking the edges (we stayed off the surface for workouts until the beginning of October to allow it to set up and settle) of the track, quite satisfied with the work. I dashed off a quick letter of thanks to those involved and began to plan.
This spring we look to host a combined meet for high school and middle school athletes on May 14th along with a couple of middle school meets. I’m sure the day before those meets I’ll be losing my mind like I usually do, trying to get it ready. And the day of them, I’ll be out rushing around to make sure the facility is looking it’s best and ready for racing.
But I damn sure know there will be at least a moment I’ll stop, reflect back, and take it all in. There will be a touch of nostalgia along with likely a queasy feeling in my stomach, with the likeness of a phoenix rising from the ashes. The last dirt track used for high school racing in New Hampshire has returned.
And it is good.