Our AMSOIL Great American Circle Track Tour took us to Bowman Gray Stadium where we witnes
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.
This is only half the crowd at Bowman Gray Stadium. There was standing room only and whole
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.
At one end of the "field," above the field house is a giant TV screen that is used to show
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 at BGS, the use of a portable winner's circle. The sponsor'
A surprise was seeing Danica Patrick at BGS, even if only on a T-shirt. It is becoming app
The track itself at BGS was very flat, but that didn't mean there wasn't side-by-side acti
Carolina Speedway had a very good turnout for both the racers and the fans. Being close to
For our first dirt venue of the Tour, we visited Carolina Speedway, just 16 miles by crow flight from the center of Charlotte. On April 23, when the USCS Winged Outlaw Sprint Cars came to play, they filled the stands until the parking overflowed into the pasture across the street which happened to be the property of the previous track owner. At some point, the local law enforcement halted the influx and closed off all parking, turning patrons away.
The 4/10-mile track was built in 1962 and an early promoter partner was the legendary Humpy Wheeler. Clint Elkins, is the general manager for the track today along with Mark Gibbons and Larry Lee, a group who recently took over the track management and are committed to improving the experience for both racers and the fans.
We had seen a similar success at places like Eldora for special events, but for a local dirt track, it couldn't have been better. On this night, there was a very decent turnout and lots of entries. And this was one of the, if not the, cleanest short tracks we've been to. A lot of attention was paid to keeping the place tidy, landscaping, and ongoing cleanup during the event.
The track itself was high-banked and fast. It did dry out before the feature race which provided a lot of dust in the air and single-line racing. Clint told me that plans were in the works to reduce the banking to help create more side-by-side racing and slow the cars down. It seemed to me that there was just too much sand mixed in with the clay and once the track dried up, all there was left was sand which blew into the air creating a sandstorm.
A track with more clay content will turn black and maybe rubber up as the night goes on, but not completely dry out. Dirt racing is dirt racing, but when the fans have to shower the sand out of their hair and clothes after an event, it diminishes the enthusiasm. We need to look at all aspects of our facilities and try to make not only the racing better, but the fans more comfortable as well. If that part is ignored, the numbers will dwindle.
A surprise was how fast and exciting the Legends cars are on dirt. We mostly see them runn
The makeup of the race teams here included some Cup team members and shop workers from the many nearby Sprint Cup team shops. It's only natural that the people who work in racing participate in racing. We see lots of those guys and gals on asphalt tracks around this area, but it was refreshing to see them racing on dirt.
I think when Cup drivers like Tony Stewart and Ken Schrader participate at the local level on the dirt, and both have raced here, it sends a message that connects big time racing with its roots and that always has a positive result. I see big things in store for this track and with the push toward improvement by the aforementioned trio, it can only get better.
On this leg of the Tour, we definitely saw larger numbers of fans and a good count of racers. We continue to see the lower classes growing in numbers with even the Legends cars running on the dirt. Tracks have multiple classes of four-cylinder cars including front- and rear-wheel-drive. We also see young drivers in top divisions as usual and big money teams showing up at smaller venues.
I think it helped Bowman Gray to run the big Modifieds as the premier class. They were definitely more exciting to watch than the asphalt Late Model cars we see at most short tracks. That is not an indictment on my part, but a call out to the track promoter to find ways to make the racing action better. Single-line racing and winners who are a half lap ahead at the end do little to generate a thrill for anyone.
Maybe we should invert the field more. We did see that being applied at some tracks and, believe me, it shakes up the racing and also the points chase. Of course, we might see a little sand-bagging in qualifying if that order were reversed, but if you reverse the last week's finishing order, you would see the fast cars at the rear.
For shorter races, the mid-pack and even some back of the pack cars could experience leading the race, at least for a while. There is a lot of incentive for this process and it is good for the racers and the fans. On our very first Tour visit to the F.A.S.T. series in Florida, fast qualifier Wayne Anderson was asked to start at the rear for an additional $500 if he won. He did and still won, but watching him come up through the pack made for a good show.
Whatever the new plan is for each track, we do know that they need to keep shaking things up and refining the plan. Short track racing needs to be so exciting that fans talk about it with their friends at work and around the neighborhood. That brings in new fans and even entices some of those to participate at some level. What are your thoughts?
Coming up next month we visit with the folks at Cherokee Speedway, a dirt track that was reconfigured some time ago into a smaller and hopefully more competitive track. And then we take in the action at the resurrected Dillon Speedway for our last racetrack visit of the first half of the 2010 AMSOIL Great American Tour.
I've seen rear covers before-Scott Bloomquist popularized them years ago to hide his obvio
Numerous classes of four-cylinder cars were running this dirt track, a trend we witnessed
This is one unique setup we saw at Carolina Speedway. ColeVision Videography put together