When the Bedford Fairgrounds Speedway celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2011, a huge question hung over the historic track. The then-race promoter had just announced his departure, and the future of racing in Bedford was very much in jeopardy.
Enter Joe Padula III.
The Hagerstown, Md. native literally grew up at the Bedford Speedway in the 80s and 90s, following his father and race promoter, Joe Padula Jr. around the track from the time he was three years old into his teens. So when presented with the opportunity to take over racing in Bedford, Padula felt like he was coming home.
"Bedford has always had a special place in my heart," he said. "This race track is a beautiful facility and the history is phenomenal. When they were having trouble, I didn't want to see it close, and I thought I could bring something positive to the table."
What Padula brought to Bedford was a fresh enthusiasm and a new philosophy that has been embraced by both racers and fans. Instead of focusing on expensive, national series, Bedford Speedway now showcases more local and regional racing, making it more affordable for race teams to enter one of the five divisions each Friday night, and more affordable for fans, especially families to attend.
"We want to make an investment in the guys who live within an hour-and-a-half of the track," said Padula. "It's a big change, but it's better for them, and better for me."
The 2013 schedule includes 25 events, focusing on the Friday night shows, many with special family-friendly themes. Holiday weekends bring extra laps and extra money, and there are a few special events on the docket, like a pair of sprint car races and vintage nights, featuring classic, restored race cars.
But perhaps the most important change Padula has brought to the track is his infectious love of the speedway and the sport.
"I had the best childhood ever," he said, recalling the times spent on the flagstand, in the pits and the grandstands with his father, taking in the excitement and learning the ropes.
Today, the roles are reversed; his dad comes to the race track every week to relax and watch the races, enjoying his retirement and his son's success.
"I find myself doing and saying things that he would have done in 1996," said Padula III. "His attitude and way of doing things, I don't need a lot of original ideas, because what he did worked."
Sports of all kinds are passed from generation to generation, father to son. With a family legacy of commitment to the Bedford Speedway, Joe Padula III works to grow the facility's future while preserving the history of the storied track, where many generations of fathers and sons have shared racing moments and memories.
"I think this place is the Yankee Stadium of motorsports," he said. "Being here and riding around on the same dirt as guys from 50 years ago who also raced at Indy it's the coolest thing in the world to me."
Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column appears on Tuesdays.