No, no, this has nothing to do with the book, movie, or television series about High School Football in Texas. You know about High School Football in Texas, right? More Holy that Joel Osteen's Mega Money Church. From what I understand from friends in Texas, during High School Football Season everything else shuts down on Friday Nights so everyone can attend the game of the local high school. I have been told the battles in the parking lots after the games are sometimes much more intense than the action of the field. But, tonight, I'm talking about Friday night lights that ring a 3/8 mile asphalt track in the upstate of South Carolina, known as Anderson Speedway.
I had never been to Anderson Speedway prior to this past Friday night, although I have heard many good things about it over the past few years. With the help of the trusty driving directions website on-line, I was able to map my way right to the speedway. My trip took me up I-26, I-385, and then I-85 west. Once exiting I-85, it was an instance and immediate change from the harried traffic of the Interstate system on Friday afternoon to the pastoral setting of a two-lane highway meandering alongside a beautiful horse pasture with the horses the only ones visible to observe the passing of the Silver Legendmobile.
Just as my direction service had promised, the sign for Anderson Speedway appeared before me and I made the right turn onto the narrow road leading me down to the speedway property. It was still early afternoon, about 3:00 p.m. so I parked within twenty feet of the grandstand entrance. As there was no one in the ticket booth, I walked in, climbed the steps, and came out at the top of the concrete grandstands to be greeted by the sight of an absolutely beautiful, well-maintained racetrack. As I looked into the infield, I was amazed to see it completely full of some haulers, but mostly racecars.
In spite of Jeff’s often reprimands about carrying a Sharpie with me at all times, I did not have one on my person Friday. Therefore, I cannot, with certainty, list all the divisions that were scheduled to run that night but the Allison Legacy Series was there, the East Coast Flat Head Fords were there, the local Division Modifies, which I believe were called the B-Main Modifies, the Front Wheel Drive class, and the Koma Unwind Modified Series. It was the Koma Unwind Series that had me make the trip to begin with because Randy Myers in heading up that group. I can't name all the drivers that ran in the Koma Unwind Series Friday night, but two names that will ring a bell with anyone would be Burt Myers and Jeremy Mayfield.
The track held qualifying for all divisions and it was quite a treat to watch the local drivers go out to qualify. Qualifying was started timely and was interesting as to the closeness of times in every class. I was absolutely amazed when the Koma Unwind series qualifying started. Watching those cars circle that track in 15 seconds, not to mention watching how they handled the turns was breathtaking, and I've been around many racetracks and a lot of qualifying. Those cars stuck to the track as if they were on rails.
It had been a long hot day by the time things were getting intense and I had a two-hour drive back to Columbia, so I did not get to hang around and see the end of everything but I know those who did were treated to a special show. Every class, with the exception of the front wheel drive class had fourteen or more cars. I do believe the Allison Legacy Series had almost 30, but don't quote me on that. Those cars are fun to watch as young drivers get the chance to strut their stuff. Donnie Allison was at the track and he pointed out that several current cup drivers, including Joey Logano and David Ragan came through that series.
Please allow me just a few personal observations. First of all, as I have already indicated, Anderson Speedway is a first class operation. I didn't get to meet the lady who owns the track, as she was far too busy to slow down long enough to have a discussion with me. The track is beautiful, the concessions are awesome and very reasonably priced. Grandstands are superb and the restrooms are large and very clean. Truly a first class facility.
I met several wonderful and interesting people at the track. When I first arrived and went to sit down, I had been seated for only moments when a lady carrying a folding chair asked if she could sit behind me. Of course, that was no problem and as she unfolded her chair to sit, she began to tell me that her 13-year-old grandson was working on the crew for the number 88 in the Allison Legacy Series because it was being driven by his best friend. She talked on and told me the entire story of that kid's thirteen years on the planet, but being a proud grandparent myself, I willingly indulged her.
Soon after the story of her grandson, a young man, whom we would later find out was 8 years old, came and sat with us. At first, I assumed him to be another grandson of the lady in the chair, but when she asked his name, I discovered this boy was at the track because he lived close by and because he loved racing. The lady (I never did get her name) and I engaged the boy in conversation and discovered he is a full-fledged race fan. Full-fledged that is, as to Anderson Speedway. The only NASCAR driver he had ever heard of is Richard Petty so that opened a door with me for more conversation. After about 30 minutes, the young man told us about his school friend, also 8 years old, who had died from cancer just two weeks before. He voice sort of choked and his lips quivered as he told the story and the chair lady and I just looked at each other, speechless. After a while, the kid disappeared but he kept returning throughout the evening just to check on us.
Later in the afternoon, a man, his wife, and two teenage boys walked up and asked if the seats next to me were taken. I told them no and as they sat down, one of the boys began to tell me about his day. Seems the family had spent the day at that amusement park on the NC-SC line that now has this roller coaster that defies explanation. As the young man began to tell me about that coaster, the father jumped in to tell me he had ridden it twice! His FIRST AND LAST time. As the evening progressed and I watched the interaction between this family, I was very impressed by the closeness of all four. Obviously, the teenagers loved and respected their parents and all four of them love racing. It was a treat to watch this family enjoy the evening of racing.
One last mention of special folks in the grandstands. Down near the front, close to the track, a young couple had their little baby girl. She was obviously less than a year old with a headband around her head. Each time an engine would start, that little baby would be held up to a standing position by her mother, on her mother's legs, and the baby would jump up and down in excitement. Looks like a lifetime race fan in the making.
As the racing was getting underway, I looked around to almost full grandstands. So many racecars some had to be pitted outside the track off turn four. Everyone and I do mean everyone I observed was happy, smiling, and talking. I did not observe a single NASCAR Cup Driver t-shirt, nor any other display of NASCAR driver preference. I did see, however, several caps and t-shirts for the local drivers appearing on the track that night. Made me feel really good, and really special to have been a part of that evening. It seems, as someone, perhaps Bopper has said, stock car racing is alive and well at your weekly short track regardless of whatever may be happening on the speedways where Xfinity and Sprint Cup run. I will tell you that my experience Friday night is among the best of all my memories in the 63 years I been around the sport. May not be number one, but definitely ranks in the top ten.
As I said earlier, it had been a long and hot day so I bailed out early and headed back to Columbia. Traffic at that time of night was much less than what I had experienced in the trip up. Gave me lots of time to reflect on the day, the racing, the fans, and all that I experienced Friday. I'm not sure what time I finally got to bed but I do know that I fell asleep almost immediately. No one will ever guess what it was I dreamed about that night.
Saturday morning, as I was drinking coffee and checking e-mails, my phone rang. My caller ID showed me it was Randy Myers calling. He began the conversation by apologizing that he didn't get to see me after the race to talk although we had spoken before the race. I explained that my advanced age had required me to leave early and get home to bed. Randy then tells me he had not gotten to bed until 4:30 a.m. It was now 11:15 and Randy was in Virginia at Glen Wood's 90th Birthday party!!!! So much of the "advanced age" argument.
I related this story tonight because it is important to all race fans to know that there are local tracks the caliber of Anderson Speedway that still put on a great show at a great facility at reasonable prices. Also, because I want any of you who will be anywhere near a track when the Koma Unwind series visits, to be sure and go out. What a treat to watch those cars compete and when you throw in the local talent in the local divisions, you can have a wonderful evening with friends and family. So much of how it used to be that made me become such a part of the sport to begin with. Friday night was truly a way to honor the past, embrace the present, and dream for the future.
Wish I had stayed around 'til the end. I used to always hang at Columbia Speedway until the lights went out and the silence of the evening settled in as the last wisps of the dust from the race settled back onto the track. Oh, those Friday night lights!!!