The last two stops on the first half of our 2010 Tour covered both genres, dirt and asphalt. It was fitting that one represented what could be termed "old school" racing while the other definitely represented "new school," being a renewed facility, updated to modern standards, and a model for others to come. We'll explain why.
Some of this trip provided plenty of excitement. From climbing and descending steep mountain roads with our 40-foot motor home and our double-stacker 28-foot trailer, to squeezing into small camp grounds and maneuvering to get out again, but you know the drill. On our trip to Cherokee Speedway in Gaffney, South Carolina, we left our RV Park around 1 p.m. from the northwest side of Spartanburg, South Carolina, headed East on I-85. We were barely out of town when all hell broke loose.
A super-cell storm formed right over that area in about 15 minutes, I know this because I checked the radar before I left our campground and it showed nothing. We were struck with high winds, marble sized hail, and a downpour that cut visibility to less than 50 feet. Truckers were even pulling off the interstate as did we.
Cherokee Speedway represents...
Cherokee Speedway represents true history in short track racing and was an early venue for some of the pioneers of NASCAR racing. Now it's struggling to find its future in a region with plenty of dirt tracks to offer.
The winds were so strong and consistent, blowing across the interstate that the bus leaned over at least 10 degrees and stayed there for some time before the rain let up and we could get moving again. Once we got to Cherokee all was clear. The bulk of the storms moved northeast and skirted the speedway. It was time to go racing.
At first glance what we saw of this 53-year-old racetrack was one of respect while at the same time regret-it looked and was old, needing some paint, and the facilities were not the best of what we had seen over the past seven weeks. The family that runs the track, Lennie Buff and his son, Seth, and the people who worked there were wonderful. And we didn't miss the point that this track had some serious history to it.
Some of our finest stock car drivers cut their teeth and raced here years ago. Names like Dale Earnhardt, Bill Elliot, and Donnie and Bobby Allison were just some of the future NASCAR stars that enjoyed the racing here when NASCAR had the right idea and included races on dirt within its schedule. And new stars are being born here, like Jonathan Davenport, who won the more recent Southern All-Stars Series Grassy Smith Memorial race.
A few years ago, the management...
A few years ago, the management at Cherokee Speedway shortened the track from a 1/2-mile to a 3/8-mile distance. It moved Turns 1 and 2 in, but left the start/finish line with the flagman's stand where it had been for the 1/2-mile configuration. Each straightaway was shortened by 330 feet and the flag stand is now 165 feet or so from the center of the front straight. This means that you now take the checkered flag at the entrance, or somewhat beyond the lift point most of the time, into Turn 1. It does get exciting on that last lap.
The racetrack started out as a full 1/2-mile track and stayed that way for a long time until several years ago when it was shortened to 3/8-mile. It is interesting that when Turns 1 and 2 were moved in to shorten the track, the flag stand was never relocated and is now positioned very close to the entry to Turn 1, as is victory circle.
So, to take the checkered flag, the drivers must stay on the throttle, maybe later than they should, until they cross the finish line. This makes for some very interesting finishes as the cars try to get whoa'd down going into Turn 1 at the finish.
The track held moisture well...
The track held moisture well due to the methodology for applying water that was unique. Other tracks should study the process that works to prevent the track from drying out and creating a dust storm that isn't good for racers, the racing action, or the fans. Read about that process in the body of this article. The track is fairly high banked and very fast. In fact, it was too fast and ended up being a one-groove track with little ability to pass. Future changes include lowering the banking to promote more multi-groove racing action.
We talked with Seth Buff about how he groomed the track and he explained that they had somewhat of an advantage they had discovered in the process of wetting and packing the track. They learned that when using standard water trucks designed to be driven on the streets, the tires are somewhat narrow and pack the clay too well. A smaller width tire puts more pounds per square inch of the heavy load of the water truck on the racing surface and tends to over pack it, preventing the water from penetrating very deeply into the clay.
The owners purchased an older-model agricultural tanker truck that had very large and wide tires for that very reason. You don't want to over pack your fields when spraying liquid fertilizer. So, when this track waters the clay, the wide tires, with a low amount of pounds per square inch force on the racing surface does not over pack the dirt.
What I think happens is that when the track is watered with the new truck, the moisture can seep deep into the clay since the dirt particles are not tightly packed. Then, as the race progresses, the moisture that exists below the surface will rise and keep the track from going dry and slick. The dust clouds that we experienced at Carolina Speedway and are present at other dirt tracks were non-existent at this track.