As we continued our AMSOIL Great American Circle Track Tour of the Southeast United States, we next visited a couple of very unique venues. Bowman Gray Stadium was a diamond among a pile of rocks, so to speak. It stood out that much. And Carolina Speedway was positioned just right very near a large metropolitan area. Both of these tracks had some surprises in store for us.

By this time in our Tour, we had seen about the same type of promotion, refined in some places and not so refined in others. There were some tracks that had potential to grow given the right plan, mostly because of the growth of the surroundings, and others that seemed doomed for the same reason. Much of the future of any racetrack depends largely on who runs it and how they do it.

To give a quick recap of where we had been up to this point, we first visited Lanier Speedway in Georgia northeast of Atlanta, then on up to camp at the Tom Johnson Camping Center in Marion, North Carolina, and over to Tri-County Speedway for the Friday night races. We then loaded everything up and hit the road to Lonesome Pine Raceway above Bristol, Virginia, for the Saturday night show. The next morning we traveled up I-81 to stay at a neat campground in Edinburg, Virginia, in the middle of the Shenandoah Valley.

From that base camp we visited Southside Speedway outside Richmond, Virginia, for a Friday night show and then we bussed on up to Old Dominion Speedway, one of my old stomping grounds. We missed Winchester Speedway due to a rain-out before once again packing up and moving south again to the Tom Johnson grounds. From there we visited Hickory Speedway for the USARacing show and then the next weekend on to a track that we were not in any way shape or form ready for.

Bowman Gray Stadium
From the very beginning upon driving up to and looking over this racetrack, we knew we were someplace special. This stadium turned into racetrack, sometimes, had even more in store for us. It's a football stadium, but has a long history of racing too, dating from 1949.

Big Bill France, along with Alvin Hawkins, opened this track way back then and the future stars of racing cut their teeth here on this exciting quarter-mile bullring. Iconic names such as Richard Petty, Junior Johnson, Richard Childress, David Pearson, Glen Wood, and Richie Evans and families like the Allisons, Earnhardts, Myers, and more raced here.

To say this place drips with history would be an understatement. If we were to search for where our roots of short track racing grew from, Bowman Gray would be one of the starting points. But that and the fact that its premier class was the Northeast-style pavement pounding Modifieds was building up to be one great Saturday night of racing.

We met with Gray Garrison, the promoter for this track and a descendant of the original owners. He told of how after WWI and the Great Depression, the stadium was built by workers under the WPA (Work Projects Administration) program and is now a part of the Winston-Salem (NC) Sports and Entertainment Complex owned by the city.

The week before, on opening night, many fans had to be turned away because of lack of a place to put them. It was standing room only, even the aisles were full. The count was somewhere north of 18,000 people in the stands. The night we were there was very close to that number with the stands full and the 4-foot wall surrounding the upper portion being lined with spectators, the seating capacity of 17,000 was surely met.

I met a few old friends too and talked a bit with Brian King who used to run Late Models but switched to the Modifieds four years ago. He was as happy a racer as I've seen. He told me he had never considered racing at BG, but tried it once and is now a regular. The racing action is intense. One thing that has always been known within this region, if you can win at BG, you can win anywhere. It is tough. Junior Miller showed us just how tough it can be. I think he hit everything but the lotto that night.

In the crowd were groups of fans for many of the drivers and their cheers were just like those of football fans during a game, only there were more than two teams playing. I have never seen as electric a group of race fans in my life. Just like high school or college football fans, these people were not about to miss one "game" of the planned 19 race season, lucky for Mr. Garrison.

The race was also commercialized completely, and I don't mean that in a negative way. There was a nightly event sponsor and many sub-sponsors who ran radio style commercials during intermission periods. Every means of capitalizing on the success and large attendance was utilized. And I had a feeling that those supporters of this track got their money's worth many times over.

All in all, we came away with a whole new feeling about short track racing and what it could be under certain circumstances. Can we duplicate that success elsewhere? I don't know, but some of that formula could bring a measure of success to some tracks that need it. Overall, it involved making the fans aware of the drivers and causing them to choose a favorite. I did notice that the track had a big screen TV normally used at football stadiums, and Daytona. When a driver was introduced, his/her photo appeared on the screen, allowing the fans to identify with each person and the team. How much are those big screens anyhow?