Johnson City Press: Kingsport Speedway, Clay Valley set for openers
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Kingsport Speedway, Clay Valley set for openers

Jeff Birchfield • Mar 19, 2019 at 4:42 PM

Kingsport Speedway has its season opener set for Saturday and it's the same day the former Lonesome Pine Raceway will debut as the Clay Valley Speedway dirt track.

Both tracks have held open testing the previous two Saturdays and there were over 30 cars in attendance at Kingsport at the March 16 session.

Kingsport Speedway general manager Karen Tunnell believes it will be another banner year at the 3/8-mile concrete oval track where gates open at noon Saturday with racing starting at 2 p.m. Tickets are $12 for adults with kids 12-and-under free.

"We've got a lot of exciting things going on this year," Tunnell said. "When you saw the Saturday test, it looked like race day. We could have gone ahead and had a race Saturday."

With the track sanctioned by the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series, the featured Late Model Stock looks to be extremely strong again this season. If you're looking for an early favorite, a good place to start is the three most recent track champions.

Zeke Shell returns in the black No. 1 Ford ready to defend his championship, but there should be plenty of competition from Kres VanDyke in the No. 15 Chevrolet, who battled him all last season.

Two-time track champion Ronnie McCarty plans on splitting time with Lance Gatlin in the No. 5 Ford, but that car should be a contender every time on the track with former track champion Wade Day helping with the team.

Nik Williams, who was the hottest driver at the end of last season, will also be a favorite.

It's not just the featured class that makes Kingsport Speedway so entertaining. There is great racing in all divisions — Mod Street, Pure Street, Mod 4, Pure 4 and Classic. In addition, the track is trying to develop more young racing talent and get fans more involved in the action.

"Every division, it's like our car count every year gets better," Tunnell said. "You see the new talent rolling in. Now we're opening up the go-kart track and will have rental karts every day of the week. We will have racing karts over there on Saturdays. We will have the go-for-it spectator racing which will be called 'Wacky Wednesday' on the big track.

"Ronnie McCarty is one who came from the go-kart track in a Mini-Cup car and went on to win two Late Model track championships. We're trying to build the next generation of racers at Kingsport."

Kingsport Speedway has gotten attention far beyond the Tri-Cities. It was recently featured in Speedway Illustrated magazine.

Shell was honored at the NASCAR national awards banquet in Charlotte. In addition, he along with his wife, Amber, and Tunnell were recognized recently in Nashville by Governor Bill Lee after Shell was crowned Tennessee state champion.

"It's an honor to meet the Tennessee governor and represent Kingsport Speedway, let him know what's going on at this end of the state," Tunnell said. "Zeke did a great job representing Kingsport and we look forward to seeing him be a contender again for his title this year."

THE EAST COAST’S CLAY COLISEUM

Clay Valley Speedway begins its new life as a dirt track Saturday.

This racing program will feature the track’s five weekly divisions of competition in action — Late Models, Crate Late Model, Open Wheel Modifieds, Super Stocks and Four Cylinders. This first race is not a points race. Pits open at 9 a.m. with a driver’s meeting at noon and racing scheduled to begin at 3 p.m.

TWO-WHEELERS GET MUDDY

The 32nd annual Thor Mega Series gets underway at Muddy Creek Raceway this weekend with several age groups and divisions. 

A complete listing of the classes from Pro divisions to Beginners are available on the track’s Facebook page. Muddy Creek will host six of the 15 rounds of the Mega Series with I-81 Motorsports Park to host an event in August.

QUALIFYING MESS

The NASCAR decision to change from single-car qualifying to go to knockout qualifying similar to Formula One was supposed to add interest and excitement like race day.

Instead, it has been a disaster, highlighted by Friday's situation in California when Austin Dillon won the pole when no one came out in the final round of qualifying early enough to post a lap speed.

"Having the last 12 cars wait until they couldn't get a time posted on the board and kind of making a mockery out of the qualifying is not what we expect for our fans," NASCAR Vice President of Competition Scott Miller said. "It's an exciting show when they're out there on the race track, but obviously, we have a little work to do on our part to get a little bit better format so things like can't happen."

Obviously. The teams taking that strategy to the extreme have come close to creating a similar situation at Bristol. Instead of having cars on the track, the teams wait to the last second to post a fast time. Remember when the change was first announced. The talking heads were promoting it like how the drivers would even make it through qualifying at a place like Bristol without wrecking their cars.

To the old-school fans, it's confusing and boring. With the single-car qualifying you had the suspense of a fast car potentially being one of the last ones to go on the track. I hope NASCAR will make the right decision, ditch the current format and go back to single-car qualifying.

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