Clearing a new path

Sunday, January 13, 2002

BLODGETT, Mo. -- He was the symbol for a man in his element.

A SEMO Motor Speedway hat bearing the logo of his new project covered his head, a racing firesuit covered his body.

Fifty feet away, a $1,500 high-powered racing lawn mower whipped around his racetrack and sprayed chunks of dry dirt toward a cluster of bystanders.

Around him: 23.5 acres of his dream come true.

Meet Jerry Wolsey, one of America's newest -- and possibly one of its most ambitious -- racetrack owners.

"This is like home for me," said Wolsey, looking over the property alongside Interstate 55 near Blodgett, Mo. "I've been around racing all my life, and this is what I've always wanted to do. And now I'm getting my feet wet fast."

Wolsey leads a group of four investors, which includes his son Jerry Wolsey Jr., into the motorsports business, a project undertaken in November when they completed their purchase of the speedway. The package included the one-fifth mile dirt oval track, a motorcross track and room to build more. Already in the works is a sand drag racing strip on the northern edge of the property just off Highway U.

A longtime fan and former racer, flagman and track employee, Wolsey has completed a busy schedule that includes two visits by a national midget car series, two antique and hot rod car shows, special events for go-karts and mini-sprints and a date in May with the U.S. Lawn Mower Racing Association.

It's a switch for Wolsey, who works with his son at Security Services of America. Wolsey has been in private investigations for 13 years and in law enforcement for 26.

"This is a test for me, but I like challenges," said Wolsey, 50. "This is my sport. Racers are good, down-to-earth folks. I like being around them. It's like a family."

The grass-roots level of racing also appealed to Jerry Wolsey Jr., who will juggle his pursuit of a masters degree in criminal justice with a full-time job and the role of operations manager at the track.

Among the first projects for the owners: Expanding the oval track's seating to hold 1,200 fans, adding lights, painting the wall around the track and putting up 450 feet of new protective fence.

"By the time we open in March, it will be a different place," said Wolsey Jr., 26. "Not too many people know we're out here, but we have some good sponsors who will help us really get the name out there."

George Herrin discovered the track Saturday in a test session for the USLMRA event. He left impressed.

"It's an awesome place, big and fast," said Herrin, 39, a lawn mower mechanic from Hohenwald, Tenn. "Our group generally doesn't like to run a complete oval like this because you go too fast, but this was a treat."

Wolsey said top speeds on the track could reach up to 80 mph. Mowers in the USLMRA event could reach about half that speed on the short track, although other divisions of the series in its May stop will be slower but more affordable for local competitors.

"Bringing mowers here is an example of what we want to do," Wolsey said. "It's a nice facility, we push for family entertainment and we want to distinguish ourselves.

"It's hard work, but I'm loving it."

jhall@semissourian.com

(573) 335-6611, extension 174

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