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.
At Salem Speedway, cars, trucks,...
At Salem Speedway, cars, trucks, haulers, or other vehicles are not allowed in the infield. The teams must drive the pit boxes, and so on, into the track and then leave. This makes for a very clean scene and a clear field of vision for the race fans, as well as the teams. Heck, the spotter doesn't have to leave the pits.
I had been to Salem Speedway about 10 years ago for an ARCA race because I was in the area and I had a couple of friends racing there. What I saw amazed me and still does. Salem is just over a full half-mile track with high banks. But that doesn't tell the whole story. To drive Salem is to learn how to get up on the wheel each and every lap.
Turns 1 and 2 are fairly normal with the banking around 14 degrees, but Turns 3 and 4 are a little different. Half way up the turn, the banking is like 1 and 2, but from there on up it goes to more than 20 degrees and it's about one lane wide too. Entering Turn 3, most stock cars go straight up to the wall and turn left.
What is amazing is that the car sticks with so violent a maneuver. Once you learn that, the rest is easy, or so they say. And the history at Salem is storied. Great names such as AJ Foyt, Troy Ruttman, Parnelli Jones, Bobby and Al Unser Sr., Curtis Turner, Benny Parsons, Bobby Allison, Darrell Waltrip, Mark Martin, Rusty Wallace, Alan Kulwicki, Ken Schrader, Tony Stewart, and Jeff Gordon all came here and won.
This night we had Sprint Cars running. The AMSOIL USAC National Sprint Car Series with its non-wing Sprint Cars ran along with the MSR Xtreme Sprints (Must See Racing) winged Sprint Cars.
Handling was the key, as usual, in both series, but one interesting thing presented itself. We published an article about race car aero in the Aug. '09 issue, that in part made comments about Sprint Car wing angles and how many teams run much too much angle in their wings. That article, hopefully, had an influence on what we saw at this race. What we saw at Salem told us that there are many different ways to run a winged Sprint Car.
When will someone come up...
When will someone come up with another design for a Sprint Car steering system? There is so much bumpsteer in these cars that when going down the straights and hitting bumps, the front wheels wobble back and forth like they were not attached to the steering link. I have seen Quarter Midgets with rack-and-pinion systems mounted on the straight axle that worked to eliminate bumpsteer. Come on guys, let's get creative.
We expected to see about the same wing angle on all of the cars, but not so. Some angles were very low, seemingly appropriate for this fast, high-banked track and in line with suggestions made in the article, and some were high like we're used to seeing in the past. Interestingly, the front runners all had lower wing angles.
These races were considered some of the more significant events run at Salem. Along with Sprint Cars, the schedule shows ARCA cars-twice, the Frank Kimmel Street Stocks Nationals, and the International Outlaw Figure Eight Series all have races scheduled for 2010 at Salem.
One thing that interested me was the high level of safety showed at this track. The safety crew for Salem is on par with many large traveling series whereby it has a dedicated fire response truck staffed with suited professional fire fighters. For this event, probably due to the USAC involvement, there was a medi-vac helicopter present in the infield the whole time, ready if needed.
I got an email from Jake Luker, one of the firefighters who was working this race and he said that both Indiana and Illinois have motorsports safety certification for firefighters. He is also working on developing a Power-Point training program for use by the local level safety crews at racetracks. We are very interested in that and will be following his progress. It might be something we could provide to tracks through our website.
Another interesting thing to note about Salem, and this is like a few others we've seen, is that no race haulers or trailers are allowed in the infield. The teams must move their pit equipment and tires to pit road and then exit the speedway infield. The USAC teams have come up with an innovative way to transport their toolboxes. They build the boxes into/onto a motorized cart, such as a Rhino or similar, and then drive from the hauler to the pit and back.
A solution to the problem...
A solution to the problem of not being allowed to have your race trailer in the pits is mounting the toolbox onto a motorized cart. This Tony Stewart-based team put all of the necessary tools into a custom pit box mounted to the cart. The team just drives it into the track and back to the hauler in minutes.
The track configuration at...
The track configuration at Salem is unique. Turns 1 and 2 are fairly normal with about 14 degrees of banking. Turns 3 and 4 are different. Down low, half the track is about 14 degrees while the upper half or less is upwards of 20 degrees and that is where you must run, up against the wall, in order to be fast. The Sprints are especially fun to watch do this because they are so fast through the turns anyhow and then to have them run up that high is exciting to watch. For those of you who haven't run here, go down the back straight, drive straight up the Turn 3 banking until you get to the wall and then turn left and stand on the throttle.
The safety crew at Salem is...
The safety crew at Salem is second to none. The guy in the red fire suit is a Captain for a volunteer fire department in Indiana and works this track as well as IRP and Indy. He emailed us about a presentation program he is putting together to instruct and teach racetrack safety crews.
We are going to be very busy in the coming weeks and months. Next stop is the Topless 100 in Batesville, Arkansas, and then on to Paducah, Kentucky; Crossville, Tennessee; and then to Eldora for the World 100 Dirt Late Model event. After a short break and vacation, we will be moving through Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, and finally to Rockingham for the final of the ARCA series.
We hope we can provide some interesting accounts and information during all of our travels. We are compiling critical facts and figures that may give us a unique insight into the health of short track racing today and what is in store for our sport in the future. As always, stay tuned and let us hear from you if you have any thoughts or suggestions about our Tour.