A truck applied water, and tractors dragged the dirt.
These were the routine tasks being performed to prepare the Frederick Fairgrounds track for Saturday’s Barbara Fritchie Classic main event. But they weren’t enough.
Someone had to remove the groundhog.
The animal wandered onto the track right before the day’s biggest race started. The brown, furry creature seemed friendly enough, but it also was evasive as people tried to get it off the track. Eventually, someone picked it up by its tail and took it to the grass infield.
Unlike the groundhog, Jeremy Higgins couldn’t be caught.
After jumping in front right away, Higgins pulled away from the other six riders and won the Expert Twins main event by a huge margin at the 93rd running of the Barbara Fritchie Classic.
It was the first Fritchie Classic main event checkered flag for Higgins, a 23-year-old Rochester, New York, native who first competed in Frederick in 2008 and began riding motorcycles when he was 3.
“We had the training wheels off of my dirt bike before I had ‘em off of my bicycle,” he said. “I could ride my dirt bike, but I couldn’t ride my bicycle yet.”
Higgins was just glad he could ride his motorcycle on Saturday. After having six of his races rained out this year, Higgins had good reason to think he would be washed out again when he traveled to Frederick from his home just outside of Hershey, Pennsylvania.
“We drove down in the rain, unloaded in the rain, sat here in the rain,” he said. “And then all of a sudden, it rained hard for half an hour. It was pretty much a make-or-break point. And it cleared up, the rain stopped, we got up on the track.”
All the weather did was cut down on the amount of times the track had to be watered.
“Very seldom do we get a 79 degree day with a certain overcast nature, and it helped us hold the dust down,” said Richard Riley, who has helped put on the Fritchie Classic for years. “The Good Lord was our dust control this morning, and the faith that we had was rewarded.”
Higgins called the track “beautiful,” and he knows it well. At last year’s Fritchie Classic, he placed second in the Expert Singles race and won the Super Singles.
“I feel unbelievably comfortable here every time I come. One of my favorite tracks. I can’t get enough of it,” he said. “It’s cool to be able to do it on the Fourth of July and have all the spectators lining the fence on the back straightaway. I like that.”
While it was the Fourth of July, it seemed like Groundhog Day when a woodchuck got on the track.
“I was one of the first ones that noticed him coming out of the podium there,” Higgins said.
After the groundhog’s departure, Higgins wasted no time taking the lead on his Kawasaki. Starting in the front row on the outside, he had a clear shot to the top of the track, allowing him to build up speed for the back straightaway.
Higgins was never seriously challenged. Michigan native Danny Koelsch, who finished in second on his Harley Davidson.
“He got away from me,” Koelsch said. “With that said, I’m 45 years old, and I think I kind of wore myself out, too, trying to get by second place.”
Danny Koelsch slipped by Ben Evans into second place on the fifth lap.
“The challenge of racing is to adapt to where you can maneuver to a different line and get around somebody in front of you,” Koelsch said. “It was a little challenge, but I found the right line and got by him.”
Mike Poe finished third, Evans was fourth, and Jason Isennock was fifth.
Earlier on Saturday, Higgins won the Dash for Cash and finished second to Chad Cose in the Expert Singles final.
Cose, a friend and former teammate of Higgins, wasn’t able to challenge Higgins in the Expert Twins final. The California native was scratched from the main event after his engine blew up in the Dash for Cash.
Other winners at Saturday’s Fritchie Classic were: Jesse Long in Pro Singles and Pro Twins; Joey Alexander in Open Singles Amateur, 450 Amateur and Open Vintage; Dallas Baer in Senior 40+; Brandon Newman in 250 Amateur; John Long in Super Singles; John Rhodes in Board Tracker.
Newman, a 12-year-old from Medina, New York, who’s been racing since he was 4, just started competing against older racers a couple weeks ago.
“It was pretty hard because some of them had faster bikes. I just tried to ride as hard as I could,” said Newman, who felt good about his race. “I was pretty confident going into it.”