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Racing brings atmosphere of fun, drama and danger to Devil’s Bowl

Benson — As I enter the pit at Devil’s Bowl Speedway last Friday, security guards wave pickup trucks pulling trailers through the gates as the stands begin to fill with spectators.
In the few hours leading up to the start, the pit has a palpable tension. Drivers and crew prowl the pit with urgency, faces shaded by baseball caps, gripping tools or cans of soda. Tires are inflated. Engines are primed, ready to go.
Drivers practice on the track until an hour before the start. It isn’t until the qualifying heats that they push limits and the pungent smells of burnt rubber and exhaust fill the pit and drift into the stadium filled with hundreds of weekly fans. 
On the straights, cars rip by at speeds exceeding 90 mph before entering the corners, a sight that’s as captivating to watch as it is dangerous. A photographer who gave me a few tips said she’s nearly been hit twice by cars spinning out of control.
I step back a pace or two, but the speed and noise in such close proximity puts a photographer’s instincts into high gear. After a typical race, I return home with as many as 600 pictures.
Devil’s Bowl Speedway sits at the southern end of the Champlain Valley in a wide field between a low green spine of hills and the border with New York. The field was farmland until 1967, when a half-mile dirt loop was carved into the ground. It was paved in 1973 and repaved in 2010.
Today, it is a NASCAR-sanctioned short track.  
The feature races end with a victory lap for the winner followed by an awards ceremony. Trophies are awarded to first, second and third place finishers, and accompanying photos follow.
On Friday, Emily Packard, 17, is one of those winners. In a 30-lap, start-to-finish romp, the East Montpelier native beats former winner Jamie Fisher of Shelburne and sets two records — she is the youngest driver to win a NASCAR Whelan All American Series in the Late Model Division, and she is the first woman to win the division. 
More excitement follows. In twin feature races for the Modified division, defending track champion Todd Stone of Middlebury claims his third victory of the season in the first round, and Vince Quenneville Jr. of Brandon ends a two-year losing streak by taking second. Chuck Bradford of Addison wins the Mini Stock division.
Addison County Sheriff Gerald Grant remains undefeated in the street-legal Spectator Races, driving his 2013 Toyota Tundra pickup to the win.
As the announcer interviews them, extended families stream out onto the track to congratulate their driver and have a picture taken alongside the car. Meanwhile, the stands empty, streaming out into the parking lot. Trucks and cars form a line of traffic inching north on Rt. 22A, heading home until next week. 

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