<%@ Language=JavaScript %> ..:: Maryland Int'l Raceway  -  Budds Creek, MD  ::..

    


Maryland Int'l Raceway  •  27861 Budds Creek Road  •  Mechanicsville, MD  20659

301-884-9833 (Office)  •  301-884-9878 (Fax)  •  info@mirdrag.com

 
  2011 MIR Legends Hall of Fame Inductee
  


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Joe LaRoque
June 9, 1931 - April 13, 1990
Original Owner & Builder of MIR

All great places start from the early pioneers who forged them out of nothing. MIR is no different. The man who converted a remote Maryland farm into this great facility is Joe LaRoque. The success of MIR over the years is built on Joe’s early efforts, and his fingerprints can be seen at MIR to this day.

After working for the State Road Commission and as a sign painter, Joe started his own trucking and excavation business. Joe and friends in the “Maryland Sinners” car club built a ‘32 Ford Roadster that they raced at local tracks. The combination of Joe’s work and racing experiences started to come together in ideas for a different way to build a drag strip.

In 1964, Joe traveled to California, rented a small plane, and observed some tracks from above. He found Bakersfield the most appealing. The layout of the pits and fire-up lane made perfect sense in his mind. In the golden days of top fuel, the cars had to be push-started. At most tracks, they would go down the track, turn around and go back to the starting line, and then turn around again to race. The fire-up lane at Bakersfield solved this problem. And Joe brought that idea back to Maryland. The MIR fire-up lane is still there. It’s the lane right behind the spectator bleachers. For years it was used as a staging lane; today it is used as a manufacturing midway during major events at MIR.

Joe and his wife Alberta looked at an Amish farm on Labor Day in 1964. They made a deal to purchase 150 acres and started construction in late 1964. After more than two years of work, 36,000 loads of gravel, and a staggering cost of $350,000, St. Mary’s Drag-O-Way was completed. At 5,000 feet long and 100 feet wide (now 60 feet with two 20-foot aprons on each side), it was the longest and widest purpose-built track in the country.

Joe’s very first event on opening day in July 1966 was a big one -- the NASCAR Top Fuel Championships run by Tod Mack. There were 40 top fuel cars in attendance and some strange new altered wheelbase contraptions called "funny cars." This huge event was the predecessor of many, many successful drag racing events over the following decades.

Much like the Miller family today, Joe's entire family worked at the track. Alberta and kids Rita and Cindy worked the concession stand. That concession stand (on the spectator side of the track) is still in operation today. Tommy, Jean, and Mike did whatever was needed. Then as now, the track was a labor of love.

Joe LaRoque’s efforts to build a state of the art drag strip way out in the woods of St. Mary’s County never led to much financial success -- it was awful hard for many fans to get there on the single lane roads of the day -- but his pioneering efforts led to what has become one of the top drag racing facilities in the world. Every time a racer goes down the track or a fan sits in the bleachers to enjoy the racing at MIR, they owe a debt of gratitude to Joe LaRoque and his family -- the drag racing pioneers of Budds Creek.

Joe's daughter, Rita, wrote a letter to Royce to give a perspective of what it was like growing up at the track:

To: Mr. Royce Miller, President
Maryland International Raceway

From: Rita M. LaRoque

Date: June 17, 2011

Re: T.J. “Joe” LaRoque
Hall of Fame Inductee

My oldest brother, Tommy LaRoque, informed me about ‘Legends at Budds Creek’ to be held at Maryland International Raceway in June, 2011. And, at that time, my Father would be honored and he will be inducted into MIR’s Hall of Fame. Thank you so very much for honoring my Father for all his efforts and creativity that were involved in the construction of the original raceway which has evolved into Maryland International Raceway.

I then wondered if anyone remembered ‘St. Mary’s Drag-o-way’, the original name of Maryland International Raceway, when my Mom and Dad (Mr. Thomas ‘Joe’ LaRoque and Mrs. Alberta LaRoque) opened the track, along with 5 kids. At that time, I was 8 years old, the youngest of the family, and saw my surroundings through the eyes of a child. It was the time when the Rolling Stones song ‘I Can’t Get No Satisfaction’ really meant ‘I Can’t Get No Super Traction’; when the radio advertisements would blast “SUNDAY, SUNDAY, SUNDAY!”, and when our favorite jackets were red satin with St. Mary’s Drag-o-way embroidered on the back. That’s when ‘A Coke was a Coke’ and I played the slot machine at Stone’s Store across the street whenever I got the chance.

Sunday would mean work for the family and we would all pile into the big ole’ Buick, with Dad driving down 301 from Clinton, going about 85 mph if not faster to the track. Driving through Waldorf and La Plata; at that time, not much was built as I can remember: the Twin Kiss, motels, and a country store or two. There were air horns on the Buick and God help the Amish or anyone else if they were on the road in front of us. Dad would blow the air horns and scare the ‘H’ out of them. There were few fans in St. Mary’s County that lived close to the track, especially when the Jet Cars came to town. The sounds of the loud engines rumbled and echoed throughout the countryside.

While the track was being built my oldest brothers, Tommy, Gene and Mike were with Dad a lot, but I wasn’t. However, one day after they had finished putting-up the guard rail I was walking with my sister, Cindy. But, she wasn’t walking on the track; she was walking on the guardrail pretending it was a balance beam. She slipped and gashed her knee wide open. I ran as fast as I could the whole length of the track to get help. My heart was pounding so hard I almost collapsed. Cindy still has a scar on her leg to this day from that fall.

Mostly, Mom and I were always in the concession stands. I helped with cooking the burgers, ringing up the orders on the cash register, making change and stocking cigarettes. “Winston tastes good like a cigarette should.” (Not sure if Winston Racing was around then.) I cooked the fries and poured the Pepsi; made hot chocolate – and boy was it hot! It would burn your tongue – I know, I drank quite a bit of it on the colder days at the track. I also ate a lot of pickles. Mom, now 79 years old, said, “Your Dad called the cheeseburgers ‘Bert’s Burgers’ and wanted to name the concession stands ‘Bert’s Burger Shack’.” Bert is Mom’s nickname; short for Alberta. It saddened both Mom and I when we heard the concession stands were torn down and wished we had just a piece of the old building. A piece of something the family had built.

I was pretty much the runner too. If we ran out of cheese or pickles or whatever on the spectator side, I would ride my bicycle over to the pits and get what we needed. I had jumped the fence and ran across the track to the pits before, but Dad caught me and yelled, “Don’t you ever cross that track again! You hear me!” I was in big trouble! I wasn’t allowed in the pits very much after that, especially after a race team by the name of ‘Purple Passion’ let me ride in their car down the track (as they were racing). Dad caught wind of that one too – not only was I in trouble; the Purple Passion was too, and I never saw them at the track again. But, I never forgot that ride down the track in that purple car – WOW!

Selling ‘Drag News’ was the best. I would put my apron on and walk up and down the bleachers yelling “Get your Drag News, Get your Drag News!” It was only a nickel then, but I felt I had the best business in town. A little white dog with a black ring around his right eye would sometimes appear and follow me. I named him ‘Ringo’.

One day I kept the time in the timing tower. I kept the time for a couple of hours (unknown to my parents). I don’t remember who it was that got me to do this for them, but I was having a blast. The old timing clocks would read a number and then you had to go to a chart to get the actual time. Then you had to reset the clocks and fill a card out for the driver and push it down a chute. I was doing okay during the time trials, but then the actual racing started and well I guess you know the rest of the story. I didn’t get too far behind before my Dad caught me. After he got it straightened out he just looked at me, shook his head and laughed. Eight years old – what can you say? He did however want to know where the guy went that was supposed to be in the timing tower. Honestly, I didn’t know, but he let me work the clocks a couple times after that. I loved being in the timing tower.

When the Jet Cars came to the track I was a little afraid. They were really loud and the fastest of the fast. I stood on the top of the bleachers as they would almost fly down the track with the fire blazing behind them. The bleachers shook and being so little, with the sound roaring and rumbling, I was shook off the bleachers to the ground. The driver of the Green Monster stayed at our house one night and I got to talk with him. As I sat on his lap, he told the story of the jet car exploding to me and Dad (he had lost his leg sometime before in an explosion). Unfortunately, forty plus years have passed since that time and pictures I once had have been lost.

Then the rain came. It seemed every weekend it would rain. I remember all of us, my brothers, their friends, and me, sweeping and sweeping the track to get it dry. We would all have blisters on our hands trying to get the track dry. We would have foot races just to keep the fans busy until the track dried. Unfortunately, every time a big event was scheduled at the track it would rain. People needed to be paid; drivers needed to be paid. Drivers would be lined up at our house to be paid and it would still be raining. It was a great loss to all of us when we said ‘Good-bye’ to the track. Mom cried many a tear. I always thought it was the rainy weather which made it unsuccessful for us, but all in all, I don’t know the reasons the track failed for us. As a young girl, the only thing I knew was we didn’t go to the track anymore.

During the course of my life I moved to the Midwest. On visits to Maryland, whenever the raceway was mentioned in my conversations with Dad, he would just smile. I told him one day as we were talking that the raceway is on the map. He said, “It’s on the map!”, and just smiled. In 1990, I moved back to Maryland and a very short time afterward, unfortunately, Dad passed away. There have been several times I have visited the track since to watch my brother Tommy or nephew Travis race. Other times I’ve driven unto the track property and stopped briefly just to sit and look around in silence with no one there. Sometimes I stop along the road and look down at the track being nostalgic. Maybe deep within I’m hoping to catch a little of my Dad’s spirit. He was the original builder and owner of the track. Without him, Maryland International Raceway would have never existed. Thank you for honoring him.

Sincerely,

Rita M. LaRoque

 

 

 

 

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