When the 50th anniversary of Highland Rim Speedway was finally celebrated with the track's grand reopening on September 29, 2012, the grandstands were packed with fans, and the pit area was jammed with race cars. Race fans, as well as the track's new owners, businessmen Roger Cunningham, Jerry Criswell, and Buddy Williams, had been cautiously optimistic that the late launching of the 2012 season would be successful. Optimism stemmed from five months of hard work by the new owners and a bevy of volunteers who pitched in to help renovate the entire facility. Caution came because of the last owner's financial woes, as well as the track's reputation as a rough and tumble place where ignoring rules and fighting went hand-in-hand at almost every race.
In fact, at the extremely successful, standing room only reopening, most fans didn't realize the 50th anniversary of the Millersville, Tennessee, track came extremely close to not happening.
A pack of four Sportsman cars run together at Highland Rim Speedway, at track visited in t
Open Wheel Modifieds are found more often in the Northeast and upper Midwest, but the clas
Throughout its 50-year history, the Late Model division has been the marquee class at the
What fans did notice were renovated concession stands, restrooms, and grandstands. They noticed the updates to the sound system and could see the overall cleanliness of the entire facility.
"The renovations were something former promoters had been promising for years," driver Bobby Rippey said. "The new ownership group delivered the upgrades before the first ticket was sold. They showed their intentions right off the bat. That means a lot to the drivers and fans."
Lanny Adams, an announcer at the track for the past 17 years, who has seen what he describes as "the good, the bad, and the ugly" at the track, voiced his enthusiasm toward the new owners during the track's second event on October 6 of last year.
"I can truthfully say that the new owners have helped change the whole atmosphere here at The Rim this year," he said during a break in the racing action. "It is a true family atmosphere. Parents feel safe here with their children. In the past that hasn't always been the case. Now, people know that the new owners aren't going to put up with any rough stuff. That's one of the reasons we have had tremendous crowds at the first two races. People now feel safe about bringing their family to Highland Rim Speedway."
One of the key safety elements has been the addition of uniformed Millersville police officers. Officers Dustin Carr and Jeff Kerr, along with several other Millersville officers, patrol the grounds during the afternoon and evenings.
David Moyes (No. D-3) runs side-by-side with Chuck Davis (No. 36) during the Legends featu
One of the more unique looking divisions at the Rim is the Pro-4s. The expert class of the
The 2010 Pure Stock track champion, Tink Jackson muscles his way to the lead on the inside
"We have up to five officers here," Carr commented while keeping an eye on the large crowd, as well as catching a glimpse of action on the track. "We haven't had any incidents during the first two events and we don't expect to have any. The owners have asked us to come here, so we are working in conjunction with them. Although we certainly haven't had to use any force, we do have full arrest powers here and we will use them if necessary. I think the zero tolerance policy on alcohol, fighting and any rough stuff is appreciated by the fans and drivers. It certainly has changed from the way it was and we are glad of it. People can feel safe here with their children."
But a feeling of safety and a secure future for the track was in question as the 2011 season wound down. As the racing season sputtered to an end at Highland Rim, racers and race fans had good reason to eye the 2012 with a great deal of skepticism. The promoter of the track for the previous two seasons appeared to be in financial hot water. The actual owner of the track was in arrears on the bank note, as well as back taxes. The property was in disrepair. Drivers were angry with the promoter. Neighbors around the track were angry and demanded limiting racing dates and times. Even Millersville city officials seemed ready to bring the hammer down on the track after being at odds with the former promoter.
But before anyone could do anything, the auctioneer's gavel fell and the track was owned by the bank that held the note on the struggling facility.
Pictured left to right are the partners that brough the Rim back from the brink, Roger Cun
In February, the historic racetrack was auctioned to the highest bidder in a foreclosure sale. The highest bidder, in fact the only bidder, was the bank that held the note on the facility.
Several racers and wannabe promoters attended the auction but didn't raise a hand to bid on the property.
Whispers ran through the crowd that the track that had served as a proving ground for Bobby Hamilton Sr., Casey Atwood, and The Green brothers, hosted Bobby and Donnie Allison, Neil Bonnett, and Red Farmer, was destined to become a Wal-Mart warehouse facility. Would the whine of diesel truck engines and the whir of tow motors replace the roar of racing engines?
As the crowd left the auction on the cool February morning, Highland Rim Speedway's future looked bleak.
The Middle Tennessee and Southern Kentucky racing scene was certainly in turmoil. A bank owned Highland Rim. Beech Bend in Kentucky had closed its oval track, and even though the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway had been given another one year reprieve from the bulldozer, only six event dates were scheduled for the season.
But while things outwardly looked glum, behind the scenes several groups were trying to figure out ways to keep Highland Rim Speedway from becoming a warehouse depot. In early April, several members from two of the groups combined forces and formed a partnership tentatively named Save Highland Rim Speedway.
In true racer fashion, the partnership, consisting of Cunningham, Criswell, and Williams, went to the head of the pack in an attempt to buy the property from the bank.
"We initially thought that once we secured the funds to buy the track all we had to do was close the deal and we could begin making some renovations, set an opening date, and go racing," Williams said. "Well, it wasn't that easy. We found out that the SBA had a huge lien on equipment at the facility. That had to be addressed. We also had to clear up a problem with part of the property that had supposedly been sold by a previous owner. But, we overcame all of that and actually closed on the property in early May."
On an early October day, the Rim’s overflow parking was jammed packed with cars, a sign th
Post-crash, Hanna Garrett (No. 18) is tended to by the safety. A good safety crew is anoth
Fans and car owners, Steve and Beverly Cavanah say that the new owners’ group is doing thi
After setting an early July opening date, the partners began renovating the 50-year-old facility.
"That's when the real work began," Cunningham said, shaking his head as he remembered the partners taking a closer look at what needed to be done to the facility.
"It was a little of this and that and it all turned into a lot more work and money than we planned for initially. But, in the end, after moving our opening date several times, we are glad that we waited and made Highland Rim Speedway a first-class facility."
Drivers and fans couldn't agree more.
Steve Cavanah and his wife, Beverly are long time fans of Highland Rim Speedway. Cavanah has also been a driver and still owns race cars, so he has a unique prospective.
"The new owners are doing a great job," Cavanah said while watching the racing action from the stands with his wife. "Just take a look at the whole facility. Everything has been upgraded and renovated. These guys have gotten the whole community involved. They are out promoting this track all the time. Instead of being adversaries with local officials, they have become partners in the community. They work with everyone instead of against everyone. I'm looking forward to what they do next. I know it'll be something that will be beneficial to everyone involved. They are thinking of everyone, not just themselves."
Ricky Sanford, who has been racing at Highland Rim for over 30 years, said he likes the way things are now being handled at the track.
"I think Jerry (Criswell) and this bunch are going to do really well," Sanford said. "I like the way they are enforcing the rules and the way they have fixed up the facilities. Even the restrooms have been rebuilt."
Sanford compared the present ownership group with two other successful Highland Rim owners, Neil Chaffin and Ronnie Baucom.
"I think both Neil and Ronnie did a good job, but I think this present group can do even better," he said. "It's 100 percent better now than it has been in the last several years. In fact, I only live 10 minutes from here and I'd stopped coming."
One of two front wheel drive divisions at the Rim, the FWD Mods are a step up from the Rim
Veteran Rim racer, Tommy Climer says that the new management is proving that short track r
A happy Scott Thompson celebrates his win in the Super Stock feature.
Other drivers echoed Sanford's sentiments.
Former track champion at Highland Rim and Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway, Tommy Climer also commented on the changed atmosphere.
"It's totally different," he said. "Now, you know you're going to go through tech several times, so if someone gets disqualified, then that's just the way it is. I race in both the Sportsman and Late Model divisions here at The Rim, and I have a lot of fun. My dad, James, has won a lot of races here, and still owns a car that Jeff Higdon drives in the Late Model division, so I have a little added incentive to do well. I can't say enough about how glad I am that Buddy, Roger, and Jerry stepped up and is proving that short-track racing can be successful if you do it right. You have to respect the drivers and the fans. Give the drivers a level playing field, the fans a safe environment and reasonable costs, and you'll be successful."
Criswell said the partners have a five-year plan that includes upgrades to the track and facilities each year.
"Since we actually own the track we can afford to put our profit, assuming there is one, back into the track," he said. "This is a long term investment. We want a good safe environment for drivers, fans, and their families. We have an opportunity to do it the right way and with the help of the Lord, we will.