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Kingsport Speedway looks to build on huge season opener

Jeff Birchfield • Apr 3, 2018 at 4:39 PM

Last Saturday's season opener at Kingsport Speedway was a success by any measure.

A large car count, great competition and a nearly packed grandstand all led up to a memorable day of racing.

Kres VanDyke and Zeke Shell raced hard for the featured Late Model Stock win in a rivalry that checks all the boxes. Virginia versus Tennessee, Chevy versus Ford, the red car versus the black car and two guys who are more outspoken and genuine than any of today's NASCAR Cup Series drivers.

Kingsport Speedway general manager Karen Tunnell posted a message on Facebook showing all the cars parked around the facility and thanking the racers and fans who showed up. It was a well-deserved moment of celebration for all those involved with the race track.

What are the secrets to Kingsport's success when so many other tracks are struggling? Many of the tracks around the area, including Lonesome Pine Raceway, Motor Mile Speedway and Newport Speedway, have either no plans for racing this season or are just running special events.

With Saturday's crowd, it's easy to forget that Kingsport was in the same boat a decade ago.

Much of the credit goes to the track's promoters for the 3/8-mile concrete oval. Former NASCAR Cup driver Robert Pressley leased the track from owner Joe Loven and built a great foundation with exciting racing and tough competition. When Ervin Stiltner and his son, Keith, took over with Tunnell as the GM, they've continued to build on that success.

Tunnell continues to evolve in her role, and she deserves a ton of credit working to spruce the place up. She brought in the talented Willie Estep, who has extensive experience in racing. They came up with a paint scheme on the wall to resemble that of the track's glory days in the 1970s when it regularly hosted top Late Model Sportsman races.

For a weekly racing program, these are also glory days with 10-12 competitive cars in the Late Model division capable of winning on a given weekend.

But as great as the featured race was, the best race of the day was the Pure Street class where the drivers truly have a handful racing cars on street tires. It's the kind of action which has fans longing for more, and it's likely if the weather holds out, another huge crowd will likely be on hand this Saturday to watch it.

DIRT TRACKING IT

Sneedville driver Jordan Horton led flag-to-flag to capture the Steel Head Late Model feature at Volunteer Speedway last Saturday night. David Crabtree charged from fifth to second, while Barrett Lowe finished third, John Tweed was fourth and Layne Clifton was fifth.

Rusty Ballenger of Seymour captured the Crate Late Model feature after a scary moment for Jonesborough driver Bobby Mays. Starting the race in fourth place, the throttle on Mays' car hung up on the backstretch and he slammed against the outside wall around turns three and four to bring the caution out.

Another Washington County driver, Tim Byrd, suffered tough luck when he was running second and then had to drop out with a mechanical failure on lap 7. But there was no slowing down Ballenger, who passed pole sitter Trevor Sise for the lead on lap 16 of the 30-lap race.

Jason Welshan charged to second, ahead of Sise, Vic Hill and Chris Chandler.

Matt Tharp of Luttrell got by another Sise brother, Zach Sise, on lap 7 of the 20-lap Sportsman Late Model race to take the win. Zach Sise challenged Tharp the rest of the race, but never could get back in front. Jed Emert rounded out the podium finishers.

Gary Blanken of Russellville captured the Modified Street win, while Lee Merritt of Knoxville recorded the Classic victory.

Volunteer Speedway takes this weekend off before the annual Scott Sexton Memorial on April 14. The 52-lap race is a tribute to the No. 52 which the Pigeon Forge racer was famous for having on his cars.

HOT SUMMER NIGHTS

Two Johnson City riders were among the winners in round 1 of the Hot Summer Nights Supercross Series last Saturday at the Appalachian Fairgrounds.

Landon Sheesley (85-150 cc, air-cooled) and Alton Clark of Johnson City (ATV Novice Extra) captured wins. Other local winners included Jake Hillman of Jonesborough (51cc, 4-6), Madison Hensley of Gray (Women 85cc Up) and Derrick Howlett of Limestone (ATV Expert).

Jerry Gillis of Limestone was runner-up in the ATV Novice Extra class. Justin Carberry of Jonesborough finished runner-up in 85cc beginner, 9-15, finishing one spot ahead of his brother Jacob.

Round two of the Hot Summer Nights Series takes place this Saturday at the Appalachian Fairgrounds.

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