Zac McDorrThe old Sanford Speedway was a happening place in the years after WWII. A local used car dealer known as “The Flying Frenchman” provided old jalopies for local boys to race in. Frequent accidents provided entertainment for race fans, who flocked to the grandstand despite strong odors from the pig farm next door.

The death of a spectator led to the track closing for good in 1955.

By the 1970s, the weedy track was owned by an aging stunt man called Hawk Canyon, the “Human Battering Ram,” who lived in a trailer by the entrance. The walls inside were covered with fading newspaper clippings of his exploits, and local youths would stop by to hear tales of Hawk’s glory days.

His real name was Francis Gagnon. In the 1950s, he had been part of a group of racing show boaters known as the “Hollywood Stuntmen.”

Driving in circles was neither exciting enough for these fellows nor entertaining enough for the crowd, so they staged intricately planned accidents. Lug nuts were removed from tires so that wheels could break loose and fly spectacularly through the air. Cars would ram each other on cue, and the crowd would enjoy the resulting spin-outs, rollovers, and cars flipping on their roofs and bursting into flames. Injuries were common.

These antics led to a stunt driving career for Hawk. He would jump rows of cars, or simply land on top of them. He would hit a ramp with two tires, and then drive on with the car balanced on the other two. This stunt was so dangerous that one of his friends died trying it.

Years later the crowds were gone, and Hawk was alone with his overgrown racetrack in Sanford. He had grand plans to bring the place back to life, but it remains abandoned to this day.

Source: “Marvelous Mainers,” by Dave Silverbrand, 1984.