It was a long run from our last stop at Eldora to the big state of Texas so we took our time. Making stops in Clarksville, Tennessee, and Hot Springs, Arkansas, made the trip bearable. And we picked an RV park once we got there that was to be one of the most fun out of the entire Tour.
Lakeside RV Resort located on Lake Livingston near Onalaska, Texas, was a place we could rest ourselves. It was a bit out of the way due to the fact that we had to re-align our schedule when we discovered that one of the racetracks near Houston didn't have an event the weekend we needed it. So, we would be camped right on the lake for the next week and this rare time spent not traveling would be well used.
That was OK, because after we visited the U.S. National Dirt Track Championships, we were able to rest ourselves before moving on to the last stop in Mississippi. It had been a long trip spanning more than four months in two segments and covering some 12,000 miles total.
Texas Motor Speedway
The modern stands and dedicated...
The modern stands and dedicated sky boxes and press box loom in the background at the Texas Motor Speedway Dirt Track. It has been proven that a large facility like this one can put on a great show while attracting a good number of participants and spectators.
We really didn't know what to expect when we arrived at this relatively newly constructed dirt track outside one of the premiere NASCAR facilities in the country. Built similar to The Dirt Track at Lowe's Motor Speedway, I knew it would be a well-built facility, but some aspects of it surprised me.
First off, and I will further explain the significance of this later on, there was no police security on duty at this event. Literally, every race I've been to had local police or sheriff's officers on site to make sure nothing gets out of hand in the stands or the pits.
I know when you go to a large track to watch a NASCAR race anywhere in the country, there are dozens, if not more, of officers on duty to watch over the sometimes-drunk crowd. It only makes sense. Not so here.
What was here in abundance was a huge number of Modified class cars representing two classes and a sprinkling of Late Models, 22 to be exact. The paved pits were full and more cars were parked in the grass pits adjacent.
The pits were full of more...
The pits were full of more than 100 Modifieds and four-wheelers. Some teams had, I counted, four four-wheelers in tow. Isn't it great that we are allowed to use these handy machines to get around in? Enjoy it dirt racers, most asphalt tracks don't allow them.
The three classes were the Limited Modifieds, Modifieds, and the O'Reilly Auto Parts SUPR Late Model Championship. All three main events would prove very competitive and exciting to watch. The Late Model series is mostly composed of teams out of Texas and Louisiana. And most of the Modified teams were Texas-based, although a few teams made the trip from Oklahoma and beyond.
We parked our Tour bus right outside of the asphalt pit gates and right at the entrance to the grass pits where a group parked nearby would bring new meaning to the term "grassroots." I would later on learn how much "fun" this group could generate.
The facility was run much like what you would expect from a primarily NASCAR track, but the attendees made it a dirt event separate and apart from the big
track overtone. A crowd of more than 8,000 watched as some of the best racing we've seen unfolded.
The track itself almost looks like it's oiled. The dark dirt, common to this region, is not necessarily clay in composition, but is heavy. Deep ruts developed in the second groove in Turns 1 and 2 and high in Turn 4.
For many of these racers,...
For many of these racers, it's the first time running a big track like this one. For the Modifieds, making gear changes involves changing out the whole rearend and scenes like this one were common throughout the pits.
You're never too young to...
You're never too young to learn the art of tire prep. This Limited Modified team member took care to dress up this stock tire before the action got under way. This class put on a great show with multiple lead changes through the heats as well as the main event.
Simple attention to details...
Simple attention to details like this fence within a fence, make tracks not only more comfortable for the observers, but safer too. The smaller spaced fencing catches the larger chunks that could, and would, tend to knock people out. A few of these dirt clods actually injured a few drivers at Lowe's Motor Speedway Dirt Track earlier this year.
The fire fighting and safety...
The fire fighting and safety equipment at TMSDT was top of the line. I'm not sure that is the latest in lightweight, fireproof shorts or not. Maybe with the high heat index we experienced this summer, the fire crews took to wearing less under those hot firesuits.
The fast way around the track was through the middle of Turns 1-2 and running high off of Turns 2 and 4. Unfortunately, this is where the track got rough. I soon learned from watching a few of the heats, that if a driver kept the car up high, it was smoother there and he could keep his momentum up.
There were only a few smart ones in all of the races who figured that out. The rest fought the ruts and gained and lost ground to the ones who ran high. The bottom was just not productive for speed although it was smoother there too.
It was interesting to see some of the Modified cars launch off the ruts and to see "daylight" under all four wheels at times. And all of that bouncing around took its toll on the equipment. I saw at least four cars whose radiator hoses came off and spilled all of their coolant.
I thought about that. The weight of the coolant in a large hose must be significant. When the cars hit those holes, the forces would certainly put a lot of stress on the fittings and clamps. I wondered how many of those who lost their hoses had double clamped them?
We thought we'd found the...
We thought we'd found the perfect parking spot where most of the racers would have to pass by on the way to and from the track. What we didn't know was that the area where I am standing to take this photo was the epicenter of a large and loud gathering of celebrants and the party went on till 5:30 a.m. the next morning. Yee haw!
After the races, we settled into our motorhome while the "grassroots" teams celebrated outside. They celebrated, and celebrated, and...well it went on till about 5:30 in the morning. Along about 3 a.m., one of the drivers fired up his Modified and began spinning donuts in the grass. I told my wife, Karen, "That can't be good!"
The next morning I went outside and the Ft. Worth police were there writing up a report on the five, new port-o-lets that were damaged, one being destroyed, within 100 feet of the bus. And most of the teams had left. I would guess there were more than a few drunk drivers on the road judging from the way the beer was flowing.
The lack of security contributed to the whole thing getting out of hand. And while talking with a vendor at the track I learned that a similar party had occurred in the spring race here, so there was a history of this happening. Oh well, boys will be boys. I hope no one got hurt.
We made our way back to the Lakeside RV Park after a not-so-good night of "sleep" for a much needed rest. Our next race was up the road in Mississippi and we would need an overnight stay on the way there. Meanwhile, we had a whole section of the park to ourselves along with the pool and hot tub.
"The Baddest Bullring In The...
"The Baddest Bullring In The South," as it's billed, was a fresh breath of air and really showed what a hometown track should be. The two primary tracks around Columbus, Missouri, are this one and Magnolia Motor Speedway. The Columbus Racing Alliance was formed and is run by promoter/manager Johnny Stokes to eliminate conflicts in scheduling between the two facilities. And it works just fine.
We rolled into town for the 21st annual Magnolia State 100 race at what is billed as the "Baddest Bullring in the South" just outside Columbus, Mississippi. To say this track was unique would be accurate. From the "cut out of a pasture" feel to the custom, individually erected "sky boxes" that lined the track, you could feel a certain local attachment to the venue.
When a racetrack has a serious connection to the community, it shows. This was admittedly a big event that drew name drivers and teams from the top ranks of Dirt Late Model racing, but it had even more. It had the support of the surrounding community and that is what makes it special.
This track only runs limited local and several major events each year, the biggest being this one. We counted a total of just 10 events on the website schedule. Since racing in this area is shared with Magnolia Motor Speedway, the Columbus Racing Alliance was formed in order to schedule races without conflict between the two facilities.
Johnny Stokes manages both area speedways right now and has been instrumental in making both racetracks a success and removing conflicting goals and scheduling. Johnny is a hands-on promoter and it shows. Everything about this race was carefully orchestrated and overseen by him. Every time I called Johnny, he was either working on preparing the track or on the way to do some other task associated with the promotion or preparation of the event. We rarely see promoters actually work.
One unique feature of this...
One unique feature of this track, and one we haven't seen before, were these homemade sky boxes built by individual teams and sponsors. The view is fantastic and the members of each "club" enjoy a vantage point free from flying dirt and clods. It just adds to the whole ambience of this fun little racetrack.
A few big name teams arrived hoping to win the $25,010 purse. Names like Billy Moyer (no, we're not following him around on purpose!), Wendell Wallace, Shane Clanton, Chris Madden, and Steve Francis headlined the show.
As I walked around the pit area, I couldn't help but notice individual, elevated, homemade sky boxes, about 20 of them across the backstretch and around to Turn 1. Each one had the name of a team or sponsoring company painted on it.
This is exactly what I refer to as community support. Each of these companies must feel a unique connection to the track. Each has a "lease" on a piece of ground on the speedway property, and a great view of the races.
The races were very competitive and in the end, Mike Marlar from Winfield, Tennessee, bested Shane Clanton, Billy Moyer, and 70 other cars that showed up for the win. Mike has been on a rampage this summer, recording multiple wins and mostly Top 5 results when not wrecked or having engine problems. This is one up and coming driver in the top division of dirt track racing to watch.
The End of A Journey
The track at Columbus was...
The track at Columbus was worked in well prior to the feature events. The banking had progressive angles built into it so that different lines could be run making the competition even better. I liked the fact that not only did they water and turn up the track, but they shaped it carefully with this motor grader as well.
And so, as we left the Columbus area, we felt several emotions. We were first of all exhausted and tired of traveling. But as we made our way toward Florida and home, we couldn't help but reflect on how unique this Tour has been and the great amount of friends we've made.
What we gained can't be fully explained here and so we will submit a full report on the whole of the Tour in the May issue of CT. But be sure that we took a whole lot away from this experience and were able to take in a ton of information that we still need to sort through. I call it information in the can-there when we need it.
I hope that we can successfully compile all of our experiences and observations into a composite review that will lend some insight into where our sport is and where it's going, at least in this particular region. And most of all, we hope to influence in a positive way where it ends up. Be looking for our final review of the entire 2010 AMSOIL Great American Circle Track Tour of the Southeast in the next issue.
This team prepared its setup...
This team prepared its setup by putting the car on scales on what was the only hard and flat surface available. Many dirt tracks lack a good place to do this, so this was one more check mark in the plus column for this track.
All of the drivers sat at...
All of the drivers sat at a long table and signed autographs for the many fans at Columbus. This is a nice touch and one that keeps the families coming back. The kids were very excited to be able to get up close and talk with their favorite drivers.
Just one more unique dirt...
Just one more unique dirt fan we ran across was not about to miss either the race or the Mississippi State football game. It was a home game played just down the road in Starkville against Georgia and they won. Lucky for this family, it was played in the afternoon.