Hagerstown track a cut above rest

Occasionally, people will ask Hagerstown Speedway owner Lisa Plessinger whether she enjoyed the races that night.

And more often than not, she’ll laugh.

“People might think you get to enjoy races because you’re there, but you’re actually working,” Plessinger said. “It’s actually a little more work than it is enjoyment. I wish it was more enjoyable, but there’s always business to be taken care of no matter what. There’s always someone who needs something, someone who lost something, someone who locked keys in the car, you name it.”

Plessinger was quick to add, though, that her association with the speedway that began when she poured fountain sodas as a 10-year-old has mostly been a labor of love for the independently owned track.

Driver Alan Sagi can relate.

Sagi’s late father, Frank, was the track’s announcer for 39 years, and the only race he missed in those years – whether it was a stock car race or a turtle race – came when Alan Sagi’s grandmother died. Alan Sagi grew up at the track, idolizing drivers like Altoona’s Johnny Grum.

Sagi began racing in 1982 as soon as he turned 18 and hasn’t looked back. Some races stand out above the rest for Sagi, like the night he won a 100-lap race after severe engine problems nearly forced him out of the race before it started. But his crew fixed the engine, and despite having to forfeit the start position and starting dead last instead because he wasn’t on the grid in time, he ended up winning the race.

Another night, he said, he was involved in a 21-car pileup and broke seven bones in his hand and wrist. While Sagi was in the ambulance, one of the crew guys ducked in to say his car could be fixed.

“I said, ‘I can’t drive. I have a bone sticking out'” Sagi said.

Sagi advised his crew to have another crew member finish the race, but race officials nixed that since the race had already started.

“So I told the guys in the ambulance I’d be back in a half hour,” Sagi said. “He told me I couldn’t drive. I told him I didn’t have a choice.”

Sagi took an ice pack and duct taped it to his hand, took the lead with two laps to go and won the race.

“I remember my father standing there interviewing me, and my girlfriend at the time, I caught her out of the corner of my eye giving me this evil look. When she took me to the hospital, she said that was one of the dumbest things I’ve ever done.”

Sagi, a three-time champion at Hagerstown with more than 50 feature wins under his belt, has raced at more than a dozen tracks, and he said Hagerstown’s half-mile red clay oval is a cut above the rest.

“Hagerstown is wide,” he said. “It’s always been known for having plenty of open room to race and always known for having a really smooth racing surface. Surface wise, that track is usually head and shoulders above the rest.”

Hagerstown receives no money from the state, Plessinger said, and since the track is independently owned unlike the many county- or fairboard-owned tracks, funding has been even more of a challenge.

“With the economy and the way things are, we’re still surviving,” Plessinger said. “It’s not easy. We’ve owned the speedway for 34 years and been here for 60. We’re surviving. Are we doing strong? Well, we hope to get back to doing strong.”