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87-year-old Belmont woman takes to New Hampshire Motor Speedway

Last modified: 9/2/2013 12:31:28 AM
Early yesterday afternoon, spectators in the infield of the New Hampshire Motor Speedway may have noticed a peculiar occurrence involving car No. 8 as it sped past the pit area along the eastern straightaway: a petite, wrinkled left hand performing a parade wave out of the driver’s side window.

Sped may be too strong a word. With an average 1-mile lap pace just shy of 2 minutes, the vehicle’s driver, Frances Anderson, was not the fastest motorist on the track yesterday – or most days, for that matter.

But Anderson, who lives in Belmont and turns 88 years old Thursday, seemed less enthralled with accelerating than with checking off one of the last items on an extensive bucket list, which has included trips to 45 states and more than 20 countries. There was the rafting vacation in Canada, the twin-engine flight over Alaskan glaciers, the Blarney Stone she kissed in Ireland, the hilltop fortress she hiked to in Israel.

“This is just another thing,” she said yesterday, shrugging.

The plan, conceived by Anderson and organized with

help from her five children, was this: eight laps around the track alone in a professional stock car, ideally topping out around 88 miles per hour, to commemorate her impending special occasion.

For a few hundred dollars on non-race days, amateur drivers can take to the track in Loudon. The process is involved – drivers are required to take a 45-minute safety class – and it can sometimes take a few hours after registering before drivers are allowed to slip into a car.

Anderson, who has two artificial hips and a pacemaker, had arrived at the infield about 11 a.m., and was still waiting for a vehicle by quarter to one. She wore a jumpsuit and sat in a folding chair in the pit area, an entourage of a dozen family members and close friends standing around her.

“I’m a little nervous,” she admitted. An employee had mentioned earlier two minor crashes that had occurred on the track in the morning.

Jon Haney, a driving instructor who had coached Anderson – when to accelerate, when to brake, how to maneuver on the track – said he wasn’t too worried.

“I’m more concerned with these young guys who play X-Box and come out thinking they know what they’re doing,” he said.

Haney said Anderson was the oldest woman to race the track.

Anderson’s daughter Patricia Bushey said her mother loves to drive, and doesn’t appear to have lost her edge with age.

“She can’t stand being behind little old ladies,” Bushey said.

As she sat, Anderson recalled some of the vehicle brands of her life: Studebaker, Hudson, Pontiac. She presently drives a Toyota. She often gives rides to friends who no longer drive, to the market, to shops, to lunch.

“We trust her,” Bernice Vincent, 91, a close friend who still drives but sometimes travels with Anderson, said of her skills.

Anderson moved from Connecticut to New Hampshire with her husband, Fred, 26 years ago. Though Fred died a few years ago, Anderson has not slowed. She said he would have wanted her to continue discovering life’s thrills.

Her son-in-law, Andrew Bushey, said Anderson has 11 grandchildren, and two on the way.

Just before 1 p.m., her car arrived at the pit stop. It was red and blue and had the name “Budweiser” emblazoned on the side. A young man with cut-off sleeves and a Chevy emblem tattooed on his arm helped Anderson into the vehicle. He fastened several straps across her body, and she glanced over at her support group.

“You know where my papers are,” she said, joking.

The ride itself was perhaps less exciting than her family had expected.

“I think she’s actually slowing down,” her son Fred Anderson said as she passed the pit area for the fourth or so time. A handful of other cars on the high side of the track whizzed past her.

Afterward, when Anderson emerged from her car, a crowd of mostly strangers waiting to drive themselves or witness others do so gave her an ovation. She hoisted a detachable steering wheel into the air and beamed. Then she found her old folding chair and unzipped the top of her jumpsuit. Her cheeks were flush and someone handed her a bottled water.

“I didn’t chicken out, did I?” she said, looking at a few friends.

“No, you didn’t,” they replied.

(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, jblackman@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)


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