It's Sunday night. At least it is when I am writing this although it will be Tuesday night when you hear it and, perhaps, even later when you read it. Easter has been a beautiful day in Columbia, South Carolina, even if the wonderful spring weather was not considered. It was a day celebrating the Victory over death offered to Christians through the resurrection of The Christ, which we celebrated today. It was, of course, a day for family and that is exactly where your Legend was, with family. I hope each of you experienced a wonderful day as you celebrated, and to our friends of the Jewish faith, I trust your Passover was experienced in the tradition of your ancestors as it is a beautiful part of Jewish heritage.
Last week, as I was lamenting to a friend that I was out of topics for the Legendtorial and there wasn't even a race this weekend. My friend told me I should celebrate the fact that short track racing is alive and well in the South. Our discussion concluded with my thanks to him for the idea and I set out to explore just how well the short track racing is doing. My friend had already told me that the C.A.R.S. circuit had run in Kenly, NC a couple of weeks ago and had two fields of 30 plus cars! That certainly caught my attention. Based on what I had personally experienced in my last several outings to the short tracks this was a boost to hear.
I attended several races a couple of years ago at a short dirt track which is currently the closest operating track to my home, although it is an hour away on a good traffic night. My experiences there were enjoyable, to a degree, but what I found to be the problem was multiple classes of cars, some classes with only three cars. There were so many classes and so many heat races and feature races that I never once stayed until the end of the program, always leaving by midnight with still two or three features left to run. After all, I'm getting to be an old man who needs at least a couple of hours of sleep a night.
I also went to a paved short track, about 90 minutes from home, and saw some really good racing at a reasonable price but, again, the show dragged on and on. The schedule called for qualifying to start at 7:00. My first trip there, qualifying didn't start until after 8:00 for the main event. It was almost 9:00 p.m. when qualifying wrapped up and then the minor divisions (three) had to run their heat races and features. The main event, a 50 lapper for the big boys finally got started close to 11:00 p.m. The racing was great, and the win was decided on the last lap between three cars running under a blanket. Couldn't have been a much better event. I was out of there just after midnight. My second trip to the same venue was much the same experience with the exception that only five cars showed up for the main event. Three of those cars were the three that gave such a good finish the week before. The other two would have been hard pressed to maintain the minimum speed limit on the interstate highway. I haven't been back. I have not, in fact, been to any race at any track in over two years. If I go through this year, it will be the longest dry spell of my 63 years in the sport.
I've told the story hundreds of times how I was taken, as an almost 6-year-old, to my first race at The Historic Columbia Speedway in late summer of 1952. Over the next 25 years that the track operated, I was there almost every Thursday night, or whatever other night they raced. When I was in the Navy, I would even take leave to be home for the Grand National events and any of the 200 lap Late Model Sportsman events run there. As a teenager, Lil Bud Moore, Tiny Lund, Billy Scott. Joe Penland and Ralph Earnhardt were all heroes of mine in the weekly races. As time progressed, such notables and Sam Sommers, Harold Fountain, Butch Lindley and Harry Gant would entertain me.
I absolutely loved the Columbia Speedway! I wrote a story once, entitled "My Name is Not Important" which related a Columbia Speedway story. I have asked my Editor to attach a link to that story here because it sort of explains how a race track can become important to someone who becomes a part of the history of any track. I hope you all will read that along with this Legendtorial. (Link: http://racersreunion.com/my-name-is-not-important-tim-leeming/ )
Now, back to the topic. Yeah, I know I go astray more often than not, but when talking about racing, I have a million memories I want to share. But the topic is that the short tracks, according to my friend, are alive and well in the South. After my research following that conversation, I have to agree that such is the case in many instances, but not all. I can remember when I was a youngster going to races with my uncle, we could attend races in my state on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and could travel over into North Carolina or Georgia for Sunday races. We had a least five tracks operating within an hour's drive of home and that was BEFORE interstate highways. I have discovered that there are nine tracks operating in South Carolina for the present season and at least two of those are on such shaky legs it is a question as to whether or not they will run a full season. In North Carolina, there are several tracks, and, of course, Bowman Gray always has a packed house but I have to wonder how much of the attendance is due to racing and how much is due to the side-show which has been made so well-known over the past few seasons.
When I was growing up at Columbia Speedway, the weekly races had two divisions for the most part; Late Model Sportsman and Limited Sportsman, sometimes designated at "Hobby Division". The shows were always great, in both divisions, every week, and it was only in the latter years of operation that attendance became an issue. Grand National races at the track brought all the big boys and would fill the grandstands and infield to capacity. But, of course, the Premier Circuit no longer runs the local track scene. So, do the local tracks still have a reason to exist? Do such tracks contribute anything to the sport?
Let's be clear here. The local tracks, the short tracks, serve a purpose that can't be matched by the tracks we see on television each weekend. Some short tracks are NASCAR affiliated, though certainly not with the support they enjoyed back in the day, but many are independent operations, often run by families. Like the ardent fans of Bowman-Gray, some of these local tracks have rabid fans that believe their track is the reason racing exists.
As I write this tonight (Sunday) I am looking at a list of four young men, the youngest of which is 18 and the oldest 26, all of whom want to be race drivers. They are trying to obtain funding necessary to race on these short tracks and all four of them have potential to at least achieve a local hero status and, perhaps, one day, one or two of them may be NASCAR Champions. In order to even consider such, they must start somewhere and that somewhere is the local short track closest to them. For each of them, it is a dream, such as the dream I had, but without that local short track there is little opportunity the dream will ever have a foundation.
I like to think, as my friend said, the short tracks here in the South are active and enjoying success. I will keep tabs on those I can throughout the season to see what may happen. There are series such as K&N, the C.A.R.S. series, and others that will be presenting shows all around the South. The cars being raced these days are far different from those I grew up watching. The drivers are, for the most part are a different breed of men, and some women, but the essence of the sport remains the same. The smell of the racing fuel and the smoking tires is much the same, whether dirt of asphalt, and the rabid fan is still the rabid fan.
Let's face it, folks. NASCAR, with its top two series, has managed to lose a huge portion of its dedicated fan base, having replaced those fans with the on and off fan with so many other options that going to races is not as it was for me or so many like me. Add this wishy-washy fandom to the cost of attending one of the NASCAR major shows and it is soon evident that many simply can't afford the option of going. As for the television fan, I frankly don't think someone who has never been to a race in person can become a fan simply through television. There is nothing on television close to the sounds, sights and smells of actually being at the track. Throw in the never-ending commercials and poor commentary by less than professional broadcasters and you have the same entertainment value as the local news.
The fan of the local short track racing is, in my opinion, quite different. He or she is well versed in the names and backgrounds of most, if not all, of the drivers in the field. Many are in the stands because the guy driving number 10 is their neighbor or otherwise a friend. Maybe the guy in number 12 is also a friend. Just maybe the guy in number 20 is a total jerk and the one who will get all the boo-birds in action. For the local short track fan, it is a personal matter. Just ask the folks at Bowman-Gray.
In just a few minutes, we are going to welcome Randy Myers to the show. Randy is from a family of pioneers in the sport of NASCAR racing and he remains involved in the sport. He is currently promoting the four tenths of a mile track known as ACE Speedway in North Carolina and I'm going to let him tell you what it is like to be a local short track promoter. You've heard from me, a fan, someone who grew up with racing and who grew up with the short tracks, just as Randy did, but Randy is now in the promoting end of it. I'm sure he can give us insights we haven't considered. We need to know what it takes to keep the spirit of the short tracks alive and well. I think Randy can, and will, support the theory that the local short tracks must always remain a part of the racing scene. For each driver that makes it to NASCAR's premier series, there are 100 more of the local heroes across the country who race, work, support their families, and contribute so much to the sport through their participation. It is through their efforts that new fans are brought into the sport of stock car racing and it is through those fans that the sport has a reason to exist at all.
I hope this "one more time around" has inspired each of you to explore your local short track. I know I'm going to try to make a few races this year. I've told Randy I will come up to ACE for a race at some point. I owe Randy Myers a lot, but let the record show I have already bought him the lunch I owed him!!!!