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.
This is the water truck that...
This is the water truck that Cherokee purchased. The key to its success is the use of large, agricultural tires that provide less pressure on the surface and less packing. This allows the water that is spread onto the track to penetrate deeper into the clay and the track stays moist much longer.
It's attention to details like this that makes or breaks a track. But history and clean air alone can't make any facility successful forever. At some point in time, money must be spent on renovations and upkeep. I would have moved the flag stand to the center of the front straight for no other reason than to allow the spectators to be able to see who won. As it is, the left side of the stands can't tell who crosses the finish line first because it is so far down the track.
The racing is very fast here and unfortunately one lane. One slogan for this track states that, "Where Three Wide Is A Given." What we saw was a fast top groove and no chance for any of the cars to pass down under without losing speed and not being able to complete the pass. After the first couple of laps, the field was frozen and there was no change in the order.
Seth spoke about plans to change and lower the banking angle as a way to slow the speeds and increase the ability to pass. We agree that would be a great way to make the racing more exciting and provide opportunities to drivers who, for whatever reason, end up having to start at the rear, but are fast enough to win. And as we will see with our next track, renovations don't necessarily have to break the bank.
Dillon Motor Speedway
At Dillon Motor Speedway,...
At Dillon Motor Speedway, owner Ron Barfield took over a track that was in deep disrepair and transformed it into one fine facility. In the process of removing trees that had grown there, he took out dirt in the infield to lower it some 4-5 feet. This helps the fans see all of the racing action along the backstretch. Many tracks will disallow race trailers in the infield for that reason. This does help.
We were scheduled to visit Anderson Motor Speedway on our swing through South Carolina for a Friday night race the week after Cherokee, but that race was rained out. We had arrived at the track at 3:30 p.m. and not a soul was there. The next day we traveled down to Dillon, South Carolina, to the race at Dillon Motor Speedway, an ASA Member track. Ron Barfield and family took over this track only four years ago.
Dillon was established in 1964, and then abandoned around 1998. Ron and his gang purchased it in 2006. They did a complete overhaul and it's now a wonderful example of what a short track should be.
Ron told me that when they bought the track, it was completely overgrown and they even had to remove trees from the infield. In the process of doing all of that, he decided it would be a good idea to cut the elevation of the infield by around 4 to 5 feet. This makes the view from the grandstands better and the fans are able to see all of the action down the back straight.
Many of the structures needed...
Many of the structures needed for the track, such as this really nice score board, were purchased used at a deep discount. This added up to much less cost and investment allowing more profitability. If a track can't be profitable, then it will eventually die out.
Ron had run a trucking business before buying the track and had saved up damaged siding and roofing material that had been discarded from some of the loads he carried. When it came time to erect the various buildings that would be needed in the infield, he utilized those materials and saved a ton of money. The units look great, like they were built from new materials.
The timing and scoring sign was another secondhand purchase but again looks like new. The light poles were obtained in the same manner and do the job quite well. All in all, Ron spent a lot less money than would have been required if someone had come in there and purchased all of the amenities new. The key to profitability is to keep a low cost of construction so the note on the property is low or non-existent. Then you need to maintain the property in first-class condition. That way, the fans enjoy coming to visit a clean and well laid out facility and the racers appreciate having a nice place to race. And this track is a racy one. There was plenty of action with passing and fighting for position. As is always true on these types of tracks, the better setup was the one that was more consistent and ended up winning in each class.
When we arrived, it had started...
When we arrived, it had started raining. Not one to be defeated or lose hope, owner Ron Barfield took to working to dry the track. Talk about rubbering up the track. These large tires were smokin'. The rain stopped and the teams put on a very good show.
To complete our 2010 AMSOIL Great American Circle Track Tour, we will be traveling around the westerly portion of the Southeastern U.S., making our way up through Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama and winding up at Rockingham Speedway for the season finale of the ARCA series.
We'll take in Eldora for the World 100 Dirt Late Model cars, the Topless 100 in Batesville, Akansas, the USAC Sprint and Midget show at Salem, Indianna, as well as action at many more racetracks across this rich racing region. We will continue to study how each track is run, what the racers are doing, and the general health of our sport within this region. And we will report all of that back to you. Stay tuned.
All of the buildings needed...
All of the buildings needed for tech and storage were constructed out of discarded materials. When Ron got done, they looked like they had been designed for their purpose. All of them looked great and his overall cost of construction was very low.
The Late Model Truck class...
The Late Model Truck class was very popular at this track and across the region in general. I noticed that most of the trucks were tight as evidenced by the steep steering angles used in the middle of the turns. This truck with Coy Beard driving, was one of the better ones, showing signs of soft springs and a large sway bar. Luckily, the track was smooth and accepting of these types of setup. He finished Second out of 16 trucks.
One area we try to evaluate...
One area we try to evaluate at every track is safety. At Dillon, they had a new model, dedicated fire truck outfitted with a quick response crew and the latest in fire fighting equipment along with an ambulance crew standing by. At some other tracks we visited, safety was almost an afterthought. We were not real happy to see that. Let this be an example.