We are back on Tour and over the next two and a half months will be visiting the remaining racetracks on our schedule throughout the Southeast. Once we are done in the first week of October, we will have covered an area including the eastern seaboard up through Virginia, north and south from Florida to Ohio, and east to west from the Carolinas to Texas. That's a very large area and it involved putting lots of miles on the motorhome.
The second half of this groundbreaking trip got off to an ominous start when coming out of Jacksonville, Florida, we were sideswiped by a semi getting onto I-10. The hit took our left side mirror off the bus and damaged the CareFree awning on the left side slideout. We were doing about 30 mph and the semi was doing about 65.
Once we got a new mirror installed and the CareFree removed to keep it from flapping in the wind, everything else went well. We stayed overnight at South Georgia Motorsports park and continued up the road to our RV Park in Clarksville, Tennessee.
Highland Rim Speedway
Levi Jones in the Tony Stewart-owned...
Levi Jones in the Tony Stewart-owned AMSOIL USAC National Sprint Series entry gets ready to be pushed off for qualifying. Two traveling series visited Salem Speedway for our Saturday night Tour event. We weren't disappointed.
It was here that we made our first racetrack stop at Highland Rim Speedway in Greenbrier, Tennessee. Bobby and Stephanie Hamilton, of NASCAR fame, purchased this track at the end of last year partly to provide a venue for those racers who were put out when Nashville Fairgrounds quit having weekly shows. It was a bit of a challenge for them, but what we saw we liked.
The number of racers was above average and for the most part it was grassroots, Saturday night racing-complete with "clans" of race teams and the fan base to go with it. The track is very competitive with multi-groove racing and fierce competition.
The track used to be known for having lots of fighting among the competitors, but Bobby has put his foot down and will ban anyone who fights, either at the track or down the road at the local convenience store. Yes, he caught on to the fact that when fighting was banned at the track, teams took it down the road thinking they could have their fun anyway. Not so. If word gets back to the track management, you are banned for a period of time.
The crowd was a good size...
The crowd was a good size for our Highland Rim visit. There is a lot of local interest to the point of whole families regularly coming to the track for more than 20 years. The stands are filled with special interest groups cheering for their favorite drivers and jeering at their least favorite ones. The race control box and some "sky boxes" are specially modified mobile homes that have been lifted atop steel girders and trusses behind the grandstands. Most of the seats were occupied on this Saturday night.
I spoke with several members of the fan base and learned that certain teams/drivers have a local fan base who are very passionate about their favorites. When I was at Link Automotive getting some needed warrantee work done on the bus, the girl who takes care of the paperwork said she and her whole family had been coming to the Rim since she was three. They were known as the "turn four gang." And she was not shy about telling me about the driver she liked and the ones she didn't.
That's what tracks need, a fan base who knows the drivers and teams and who root for those they relate to by the place they live or just plain who they like as people. When drivers get booed, it's just as strong a draw as when they get cheered. There is no bad publicity in racing.
Another thing I saw that doesn't happen at every track is the attention to the younger attendees. There were fun centers, like they have at McDonalds, where the kids could bounce around and play with each other. Trust me, not all kids love to watch racing and to make it a family outing, everyone needs to go along. There was even a clown at the front gate handing out lollipops.
This group was gathered in...
This group was gathered in support of the Williams teams. We saw lots of cars with Williams logos on them. We sat in the stands behind this group and I can tell you they had a blast all night. When going to the races becomes a social event such as this, you can be guaranteed consistent attendance levels. What is needed is to entice those who regularly come to invite their neighbors and friends.
The racing action was great. Although there were lots of four-cylinder classes, those guys raced like they were in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. And it was mostly clean racing to boot. In the Late Model race, where the Late Model trucks are allowed to race with the cars, the battle up front was between a couple of cars and a truck.
In the four-cylinder truck race, there was a side-by-side battle going on and coming out of Turn 2, the outside truck got into the wall, rode the top of the wall with the outside tires, and then came down off the wall going into Turn 3 while losing only about a half truck length. He was on the throttle all of the way down the back straight with only two wheels on the pavement. That's good stuff.
We came away from the night's events with a feeling that down-home, grassroots racing is going to be just fine. There may need to be some adjustment in what classes are run and maybe the rules concerning combining classes, but that's what racers do anyhow, they invent. If we need to reinvent short track racing, then let the games begin.
Our next scheduled stop was to be Bloomington Speedway, but if you had been following the national weather across the Midwest and South, you'd know we were going through a major heat wave about that time. When the heat index rose above 100 degrees, race officials and series directors for the scheduled events at Bloomington canceled the Friday night races. So on to Salem.
Just because the car is stock...
Just because the car is stock does not mean it has to look like a junkyard extract. This is one of the nicest race cars we've seen in any class. Racers take note, put some time into the appearance of your car and you might be more apt to convince sponsors to come on board.
Most of the cars that race...
Most of the cars that race at Highland Rim come to the track on open trailers. Here is a sample of the many assorted types, all cheap and convenient. It harkens back to yesteryear when all race cars traveled on open trailers, even in Winston Cup.
This driver had an unusual...
This driver had an unusual style of entering the turns. He drove in very high, cut the wheel and drove more straight off the turns. What has been termed "diamonding" the corner has taken on a new meaning. Oh, by the way, he won the race.