Hightstown, NJ — Bruce Ranger, who returned to racing in October following a three-year absence, will see a lot of new — and younger — faces when he participates in the third annual $25,000 North America Drivers Championship at Miami Valley Raceway. The 59-year-old Ranger is the elder statesman of the event, which features 30 drivers in a three-day competition that begins Sunday.
Nineteen of the 30 drivers are age 40 or younger, including 2018 Driver of the Year Aaron Merriman and North America Drivers Championship defending champion Trace Tetrick.
The others in that group are Simon Allard, Joe Bongiorno, Billy Davis Jr., Dexter Dunn, J. Bradley Harris, Travis Henry, Bob McClure, Frank Milby, Drew Monti, Anthony Napolitano, Jeff Nisonger, Dan Noble, Chris Page, Jeremy Smith, Tyler Smith, Josh Sutton, and Jimmy Whittemore.
Ranger, who drove nearly exclusively at Pompano Park in the five years prior to his now-abandoned retirement, is unfamiliar with many of them.
“A lot of them, it will be all new to me,” Ranger said, adding with a laugh, “I think I’d have a better chance racing with their fathers probably.
“I’m excited. It will be fun. Something different, for sure.”
Ranger has won 8,959 races in his career, which began in his native Maine in 1978. He enjoyed success in New England and the Delaware Valley before becoming the all-time leading driver at Pompano Park. He is in the Florida and New England halls of fame.
In 2015, Ranger decided it was time to retire from racing as the result of the wear-and-tear on his body. He returned to Maine with no thoughts of driving ever again. But last summer Ranger began driving the starting gate on the state’s fair circuit and soon found the competitive juices starting to flow.
“Nobody was more surprised than me,” Ranger said about his return to the sulky. “After about three weeks at the fairs, I started to get the itch to race again. It definitely wasn’t in my plans. It was really something. I can’t say it hasn’t been fun. It gets the adrenaline going again.”
Ranger has won 43 of 179 races since his return. His participation in the competition at Miami Valley will be his first action of 2019.
For the event, each driver has four randomly drawn horses and post positions on each of the first two programs. Following Monday afternoon’s results the top 10 in points will advance to Tuesday’s championship round and race head-to-head starting with a clean scoring slate over eight races on the card.
Thirty points are awarded to the winner of each contest race with 20-14-11-9-7-5-3-1 points earned for second through ninth place finishes.
Although Ranger is unfamiliar personally with many of the drivers, he respects them and what they’ve accomplished.
“These guys work hard,” Ranger said. “Look at Aaron Merriman. He drives well over 4,000 times a year. I don’t even know how that’s possible. He’s got to be tough.”
Ranger plans to remain in New England to race, although he would consider driving in Ohio this winter if he could get opportunities.
“Florida was real good to me, but I’ve earned my wings,” Ranger said. “I just wasn’t happy there anymore. It just wasn’t working for me. I enjoy the cooler weather and the seasons. I didn’t realize how much I missed them until I got back north. I do some outdoors stuff, some biking and skiing. I grew up doing that.
“I’m not sure how it’s going to go. There’s a lot of racing in Ohio. I’m going to see how it feels this weekend. If it looks like I can get work maybe I’ll stay and race for a bit. It’s pretty quiet in New England at this time of year. We’ll see what happens. It’s going to be fun. I was out of the loop for a while. At this point in time, I’m rested and not all banged up and burned out. It’s exciting to go.”