By Jay Young
BUSTI - If you happened to take a turn up the hill onto Kortwright Road in Busti around 7 p.m., Saturday, you didn't make it far.
That's because there were lines of cars on both sides of the narrow country road about a mile long, stretching from the entrance of Stateline Speedway through the trees and back down the hill-and a line of people to match.
After the death of longtime owner Frances Seamens in 2010, race fans from around the area were stuck in a limbo along with their historic Busti track.
With Seamans gone and many of the track's facilities falling into disrepair, no one knew if Stateline would ever be able to return to its memorable past.
"I was devastated," said Ashley Hammond of Panama, who grew up in a racing family. "But somewhere deep in my heart, I just had this feeling that nobody was going to let this place go. It is just too much of a crowd pleaser."
Hammond's gut feeling turned out to be more right than anyone could have guessed.
Over an hour before the first flag was scheduled to wave on Opening Day, fans from around the area were already lined up across the entire parking lot, waiting to catch a glimpse of the newly refurbished track and their favorite drivers.
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"My dad had raced for years and years, and I raced as the second generation," said former driver Bob Hazzard of Frewsburg. "I had been up here since I was a baby in 1964 and I have never seen, in all the years I have been coming here, I have never seen this many people in my life."
Stateline has now been given new life, thanks to the efforts of Bill Catania Jr. and his wife Lynne, who have leased the oval through Short Track Management.
Since taking over, the Catanias have renovated the majority of Stateline's aging facilities, including the bleachers, walkways and concession stand.
Stepping up to the track wall on Saturday, there was no doubt that the hard work had paid off.
Stateline is back, and it's been rebuilt to last.
"(Bill) has done a heck of a job here," said former driver Wayne 'Weiner' Anderson of Blockville. "This walkway here was just stone (before). You used to walk in mud (and) the boards on the bleachers used to sag. It's really nice, and you give him another year and this will be like a Taj Mahal for dirt track racing.''
It would be easy for a new owner to come in and take away the history and the old-school feel that Stateline has become famous for over the years, but that's certainly not what the Catanias have done.
They clearly understand what it is that brings fans out to Busti, and their new management has focused on improving function without changing character.
For former racers like Anderson and Hazzard, seeing the new track restored to its former glory is a payoff that they have been waiting years to finally see.
"I started here in 1986 and I raced here in 1989 in Spectator cars and Street Stock cars," Anderson said. "I was worried (about the track). I'm a full-time race fan and I'm here most every night. I have been coming here since I was 3 or 4 years old. This is where I come and I raced for a while and had a great time.
"The people are all the way down to Kortwright Road to get tickets and I haven't seen that in years. People who used to come to the races here years ago are excited about being here, about it being open.''
It would be one thing for lifelong race fans to be excited about Stateline re-opening, but it's quite another for them to see the kind of crowds that amassed on opening day.
The family atmosphere of the race track is a hard thing to recreate, but the Catanias have done exactly that, fans said.
"It is really a family environment,'' Hammond said. ''My son (Andrew) learned his numbers from the race cars. He's 6 and he has been coming here since he was five days old. He was born on Monday and was here on the track on Saturday, and that's the way it has been ever since.''
Even with all of the changes that have already been made, there is still a feeling amongst the racing faithful that the track's new ownership has plenty more to offer.
Spanky Hall, who has been waving flags at Stateline and other regional tracks since 1989, sees a bright future for one of his favorite places to officiate races.
"This is going to be a big draw tonight. You can't say enough good for the Catania family. They are going to make this place work.
"This, in the future, and probably the near future, will be one of the premier tracks. When you say 'Stateline Speedway' you are going to say 'Wow that place is it.'''
The key ingredient in this positive ownership change is that the Catanias are a racing family, just like their new patrons.
Their son, Matt, has been racing in youth classes for the past three years, and he likes what he's seen so far in Busti.
"I mean, we came here and it was all torn apart, boards falling over. We fixed it up, and it's just awesome," Matt said. "There was actually a trailer that pulled in here at 1 in the morning, and they having been pulling in ever since."
Right now it looks like there will be trailers and cars packed with fans pulling into Stateline Speedway for years to come.