Make no mistake, Kingsport Speedway is back.
The track located just past Sullivan North High School drew a bigger crowd for 14 of the 18 weeks of NASCAR Weekly Racing Series action this season than it did for a special UARA Late Model race in 2010 when the track reopened after eight years of being dormant.
Under the direction of former Sprint Cup Series driver Robert Pressley as the track promoter, the historic track attracted large car counts througout the season. In the featured Late Model Stock division, the track routinely had fields in excess of 20 cars.
Pressley said one reason for the high car count is the racers knew it would be an even playing field when they showed up.
“We’ve got it where the big-buck teams don’t come in and out-money everyone with tires,” he said. “We have a two-tire rule, a shock rule, and a lot of the other race tracks are looking at it. Whenever you can keep the price down for our racers, they’re going to be here.”
The support classes had good fields as well, particularly in the Street Stock and Pure 4 divisions. Pressley believed the racers were skeptical at first that he was really committed to his new role as a promoter.
Once, they saw Pressley was committed and actually listened to their concerns, they found the 3/8-mile concrete oval a terrific place to race.
“A lot of them the first year wanted to see if we would be there the second year,” he said. “Towards the end of the year, all of our car counts came up because they knew it was for real here and we plan to be here for years to come. Everybody in the Tri-Cities is doing what they need to, to keep the track open.”
The competition was fierce throughout the season. On different occasions, Nashville-area driver Daniel Pope III clashed with local drivers Nate Monteith and Zeke Shell.
Johnson City driver Shell won two races early on, and led the Late Model points midway through the season. However, it was Monteith who ultimately won the championship with Shell the runner-up.
“The first of the year was really tough and then Nate got on a roll and won four races in five weeks,” Pressley said. “At the end of the season, everybody caught back up to him.
“Our fans, we have to thank, they were absolutely great. We had the best car count of any late model race track around, and our fan base, I have nothing, but good to say about this year.”
No one had the year of Tyler Goodwin in the Legends class. The 16-year-old Daniel Boone High School student won 16 of the 18 races he entered.
While the season was a major success, there are challenges heading into the third year of the track being reopened. At the forefront is safety. Street Stock driver Mark Hawkins hit the wall where the track entrance is in turn one, and his crash was reminiscent of a couple of the worst accidents in Bristol Motor Speedway history.
“We’ve reinforced the wall all the way around the race track,” he said. “The pit gate, everybody remembers Michael Waltrip’s and Mike Harmon’s deals at Bristol, who would have though it would happen here? That is the priority next year. We’ve put a new gate up, and we’re going to make it better.”
Volunteer Speedway finishes its racing season with “Championship Night at The Gap” this Saturday.
Headlining the season-ending program will be a $3,000-to-win Super Late Model (40 laps) event. There will also be a $1,000-to-win Pro (Crate) Late Model race and $500-to-win features for the Modified Hobby, Open-Wheel Modified and Mini Stock divisions.
The pit gate opens at 4 p.m. and the grandstand gate opens at 5 p.m. Hotlaps are tentatively scheduled to begin at 7 p.m., to be followed by qualifying and racing.
Seth Street of Cedar Bluff, Va., won the featured Bracket 1 division at this past weekend’s Super Chevy Show at Bristol Dragway.
Chad Dotson of Mill Spring, N.C. drove to victory in Bracket 2, and Josh Curtis of Warrenville, S.C., took the Sportsman crown.
In Junior Dragster action, Jackson Bailey of Princeton, WV, defeated Alexis Whitaker of Telford in the Division 1 final and Bluff City’s Austin Roberts came out on top in Division 2.
Bristol Dragway returns to action this weekend with the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series. Eight classes of racing will run during the event, with competition in the same Sportsman categories featured during the Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals. Competition Eliminator, Super Stock, and Super Comp are some of the featured classes.