Get Your Kicks on Rte 6
Get your kicks on Route 6
07/13/2007 03:08 PM EDT
By Katherine Imbrie
Journal Staff Writer
Are you one of those who think of Route 6 in Seekonk simply as a place to shop at Big Box retail stores? If so, you’re missing out on some of the kicks — most of them accompanied by the roar of internal-combustion engines — that this fabled stretch of blacktop has to offer. The mile-and-a-half of Route 6 that runs between the intersection of Route 114A and the Rehoboth town line is packed with opportunities for hot summertime fun on wheels.
Granted, you may have to do some driving. Route 6 is, after all, a busy surface road, not an all-in-one amusement park like the late, lamented Crescent Park in Riverside or Rocky Point in Warwick. Still, it boasts many of the attractions that once lured people to amusement parks — notably, vehicles that kids (and fun-loving adults) can drive.
At the west end of this busy stretch of highway is the Seekonk Grand Prix amusement area, and at the east end is the granddaddy of car-racing tracks in these parts — “The Action Track of the East,” the Seekonk Speedway.
Grand Prix fun for kids
You’d have to go all the way to Atlantic Beach Park in Misquamicut to find a wider array of arcade games and go-kart tracks than you’ll find at Route 6’s Seekonk Grand Prix amusement area. With four tracks, the theme here is definitely cars and driving. And it’s just a 10-minute drive from Providence.
Grand Prix occupies a sprawling multi-acre site that also includes an indoor game arcade, a miniature golf course, and an outdoor pool filled with “bumper boats” — the aquatic answer to bumper cars. Even so, it’s easy to miss: the whole complex is tucked inconspicuously behind a strip mall in front of Lowe’s and next to Sam’s Club.
The most popular driving track at Grand Prix is the Family Track, a miniature road-course that twists and turns like a genuine Formula One race track, diving under a waterfall, over bridges and through tunnels. The one-mile track is long enough that kids (who must be at least 54 inches tall to drive on it) can get the feel of turning, braking and accelerating on the straight-aways. Some cars are single-seat, others have two seats. Because drivers are so close to the road and in open cars, the ride feels faster than the approximately 25 miles-per-hour the cars are actually going.
For more seasoned drivers, there’s the Slick Track, a fast oval that’s kept slippery with sprayed-on silicone so that drivers can feel the thrill of spinning out around the corners. All the cars are single-seaters, and 12 of them go out on the track at a time. Slick Track cars go faster than the Family Track cars, maybe as fast as 30 miles an hour. Drivers must be at least 5 feet tall.
A Kiddie Track is an oval sized for children shorter than 54 inches and older than 4 years. Single-seat cars on the small track go only about five miles an hour.
Last — and many people’s nostalgia favorite — is Bumper Cars, the classic amusement park ride, where intentional bumping is part of the fun. Drivers must be 4 feet tall, and two can ride in one car for the price of one.
Seekonk Speedway is the real deal
The Grand Prix is a great place for kids (and adults) to feel the fun of driving and racing go-carts, but the real experience — with real cars — is just a mile to the east on Route 6. On weekends from May to October, the Seekonk Speedway offers action-packed Thrill Nights and other special events to round out its regular racing schedule.
Opened in 1946 by Anthony Venditti on what had been a chicken farm at the Rehoboth town line, the Speedway enjoys a local notoriety as the oldest continuously operated family-owned race track in the country. It is now owned by Venditti’s son, Francis.
The Speedway is not an official NASCAR track, but for those who love it, it might be something even better. The oval track measures about one-third of a mile — considerably shorter than standard NASCAR tracks, which typically run a mile or longer. It’s also wider than many NASCAR tracks. That means that drivers need talent and skill to win at Seekonk, says track spokeswoman Cindy Delicio.
“Here, it’s not just, ‘If you’re the fastest, you win.’ People say, if you can win at Seekonk, you can win anywhere. And it’s true. We’ve had NASCAR drivers come out of here.”
Even if you’re not a car-racing devotee, the Speedway is an entertaining night out. Despite the tight turns, the cars really do zip around. And if you like watching cars get banged up, there are the demolition derbies, in which drivers destroy each other’s cars in a frenzy of automotive mayhem. At “Thrill Nights” and other special events held several times during the summer, crowds of up to 15,000 can barely stay seated on bleacher-style benches as they yell and scream for their favorites in Spectator Drag races, Enduro races, Figure 8s, and Demolition Derby free-for-alls.
To top it all off, three times each summer, the Speedway puts on its famous fireworks displays, widely considered to be the best in southern New England.
At the Fourth of July Thrill Show July 1, the Speedway action started at 5 and continued to around midnight with a program that included one of the most popular Speedway events: Spectator drag races. These are races for which anyone age 18 and older can sign up to race a “street legal” (inspected and registered) car. For the July show, 103 cars raced in pairs in single-elimination rounds. (The winner stays for another round; the loser exits in ignominy to the parking lot, frequently disappearing in a pungent cloud of burning rubber that wafts over the crowds in the stands.)
Crowd favorites on that night were a beige Volkswagen Bug that made it to the second round, and a hot-red Corvette which won the night easily for driver Jose Rodriguez of Fall River, who went home with a big Speedway trophy and a check for $100. (The next Spectator Drag races will be the Labor Day Thrill Show, Sept. 2.)
Speedway Thrill Nights are on Sundays, but on Saturday nights during the May-to-October season, the whine of racing cars is a signature sound of summer that can be heard miles away in Barrington and Warren. Four Speedway divisions — pro stocks, late models, street stocks and sports trucks — race from 6 p.m. on Saturdays.
Normally, racing at the Speedway takes place on weekends, but next Wednesday there will be a special attraction: The third annual “Modified Madness” Show. The event will feature open-wheel cars (Midget racers to Pro 4s), which are some of the fastest cars to race at the Speedway.
Not as dangerous as it looks
When you’re watching a Speedway demolition derby or drag race, you have to wonder: Why isn’t everyone getting hurt out there? After all, the drivers are tearing around the track, rubber wheels smoking, fenders and other car parts end up scattered around the track, and when a car gets too badly battered to go on, a tow truck rumbles out onto the track to push the metal carcass out of the way of the other cars.
Cindy Delicio, who has worked at the Speedway for 30 years and still gets excited to watch the races, says it’s important to realize that the Thrill racers are “regular cars with regular tires. They’re not going that fast. They can’t get up that much speed because of the size of the track.”
On top of that, in the case of the Spectator Drag cars, “those are the driver’s own cars, or they belong to someone they know. Many of them are high-end cars, so the drivers are not going to go out and try to purposely hit another car or the wall.”
And in the Demolition Derbys: “There are so many cars out there at one time, they can’t go very fast. These are cars that are ready for the junkyard, and someone says, ‘Well, let me just have some fun with it, do something with it that you can’t do on the street.’ ”
Asked if she doesn’t think that racing at the Speedway might actually encourage illegal drag racing on real streets, Delicio said she doesn’t think so. “As long as Detroit has been putting out cars, people have been wanting to see which one is the fastest. It’s just something that people are going to do, and these kinds of races give them an outlet. Because, no matter what, you know as long as there are kids and cars, they’re going to do it. And it’s fun! They’re not doing this for $10,000, they’re doing it for their moment of glory.”
And all that burning rubber and the clouds of smoke as the loser leaves the track?
“Oh, you know 90 percent of that is just showing off and getting the crowd going. He’s just trying to hold onto his 15 minutes of fame, you know?”
Seekonk Grand Prix, 1098 Fall River Ave. (Route 6, intersection of Route 114A), Seekonk. (508) 336-8307.www.seekonkgrandprix.com. Open daily, April to November, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Rides on the Family Track, Slick Track, Bumper Boats and Bumper Cars cost $4.75 (or $20 for a book of 5 rides). Kids Track rides are $4 per ticket. Height and age restrictions apply.
Seekonk Speedway, 1710 Fall River Ave. (Route 6), Seekonk. (508) 336-9959. www.seekonkspeedway.com. Races and shows Saturday and Sunday nights May to October.
Tickets for regular races are $12 for adults, $4 for age 13 to 15, free age 12 and under. Thrill Night tickets cost $20 for adults, $5 for children age 12 and under. A complete schedule is on the Speedway Web site.