The Coeburn, Virginia, track shut down as an asphalt facility in February and was purchased by local businessman Bobby Hill in August. He immediately began work in transforming it into a dirt track with plans of running full-time in 2019.
After a number of successful tests at the 4/10-mile track, the decision was made to go ahead and have the dirt-racing debut this Saturday headlined by a $1,200-to-win Late Model feature. Other divisions racing include the Crate Late Model, Open-Wheel Modified, Street Stock and Pure 4.
Pit gates open at 9 a.m. with the grandstands to open at 11 a.m. Hot laps start at noon with racing scheduled to begin at 2 p.m.
"We were excited to open up what we feel like will be one of the premier dirt tracks on the East Coast," track manager Terri Ann Funk said. "It will be a good track for the local drivers so they don't have to go so far away. We feel it will be a boost to the local economy. There has been a lot of work that has gone into it and we hope it pays off."
The Coeburn facility has a rich history as an asphalt track. When it opened in 1972, the track hosted a Grand National East Series race won by former NASCAR Cup Series champion Bobby Isaac in the famed No. 71 K&K Dodge. NASCAR Hall of Famers Bobby Allison, Buck Baker and Richard Childress were among the other drivers in the race.
NASCAR legend Harry Gant won a national Late Model Sportsman event there on June 4, 1977 — beating Jimmy Hensley and Kingsport's Gene Glover to the finish line. The race also featured Late Model national champions Jack Ingram and Butch Lindley, and Johnson City drivers Connie Saylor and Brad Teague, the 1974 Lonesome Pine track champion.
Alan Kulwicki and Dick Trickle won races in the ASA Series in the 1980s. Fast forward to today and with the only other dirt-track event in the region Saturday at 411 Motor Speedway outside Sevierville, speedway officials are looking for a good turnout.
"We are hoping for a good car count," Funk said. "If the Lord blesses us with good weather, we feel like we will have a good turnout. Pepsi is sponsoring the race, so we have some pole awards and championship belts as part of the prizes. We wanted to get one race in to see what we need to work on in 2019. The comments from the drivers from the practice was amazing, calling it the nicest dirt track in the area."
They are promoting more than racing with a family day with five bounce houses for the kids. They have already booked a pair of Christian music concerts for next season. On the racing front, they have been in talks with the World of Outlaws and Lucas Oil Series about bringing other big Late Model races to the track.
"We have high expectations," Funk said. "God has blessed us with the sheer ability to get the track and we hope to produce a high car count and also a place for faith-family based entertainment."