Our AMSOIL Great American...
Our AMSOIL Great American Circle Track Tour took us to Bowman Gray Stadium where we witnessed huge numbers of fans filing in to pack the grandstands and see pavement pounding action from the big bad NE style Modifieds.
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
This is only half the crowd...
This is only half the crowd at Bowman Gray Stadium. There was standing room only and whole sections dedicated to one driver/team that cheered like they were at a college football game. This had to be, by far, the biggest money maker of any regular weekly show we've ever seen in short track racing.
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.
At one end of the "field,"...
At one end of the "field," above the field house is a giant TV screen that is used to show the drivers' head shots during introductions before the races. It also displays replays of the action and commercials for the many local companies which sponsor each class and the overall night of racing. To say they were good at maximizing the potential would be accurate.
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?
This was one unique innovation...
This was one unique innovation at BGS, the use of a portable winner's circle. The sponsor's representative for each race would be driven out to the finish line for the trophy presentation. How cool is that. What I would like to see more of is a podium style of reward for the top three drivers. This gives much more exposure to the teams' sponsors even if you don't win. And finishing in the top three is an accomplishment.
A surprise was seeing Danica...
A surprise was seeing Danica Patrick at BGS, even if only on a T-shirt. It is becoming apparent that interest in her is gaining momentum. Nearly half of the huge crowd at BGS were female, so it is only natural that they would cheer on one of their own. It has to be a money maker, think of the possibilities.
The track itself at BGS was...
The track itself at BGS was very flat, but that didn't mean there wasn't side-by-side action in all of the classes. The Modified racing was incredible if not stupid. Certain drivers literally beat and banged their way to the front, and you know who you are. Other than that rude and unnecessary display, there was a good bit of skillful driving and close action. The fans did not leave disappointed. Maybe that is why this track is so successful. Hmmm, a flat racetrack, multiple grooves, big, bad Modifieds, excellent promotion, all = very large crowds.