The namesake has been around a while. A few million years… Give or take a month or two…
Or more…

Racing has been going on for slightly less time than that. In geological terms it’s a flash but in the terms of laps and wheels it’s quite a while.

My first time to Natural Bridge Speedway for the 2024 season had me cross paths with a couple of guys that have been around there since the beginning. These two, with some friends along, were in their spots in front of the main concession and control building on the front straight.

John Emore had a batch of fries and some history. He spoke about coming there for the first race when he was about 8 years old. That was 70 years ago in 1954. The track was longer then and extended beyond and around some trees that are still there. The faint, but grown in, exit of turn four is still just visible. John pointed it out as his friend, Harry Johnson, confirmed the spot. Harry used to turn racing laps there, back in the day. Now they support the track and the racing that is on now.

John Emore (left) 70 years of coming to races. Harry Johnson (right) a featured racer in the “good old days”

It’s Friday, June 14th. It’s the first night of a two night event featuring the American All Star Pro Late Model series. The main AAS event is set for the Saturday. Friday featured the regional Sportsman and Late Model with open practice for the AAS teams on site.

John Emore, Harry Johnson and the other fans were treated to a show Friday evening with a full field in the two mains. Practices, qualifying and heat races started the evening.

For the facility, improvements continue. A new Victory Lane is on the fan side of the exit of turn four. The grounds had a new grooming and the parking and “outside” pit areas have been expanded. The 2024 management has been pushing forward with organization, promotion and event progress for fans on site. The entire facility has a look of detail.

If pressed, we could nitpick at some details. The fan experience is, of course, the focus and continues to be the priority. For the teams and drivers, the infield could use a supply of paper towels in the restrooms… And maybe a hosing down before race weekend…? Let’s be real… A reliable set of restrooms is a must for teams that are there all day and into the evening.

Infield concessions…? Just curious…

Yes… Nitpicking. The overall experience at Natural Bridge Speedway continues to push forward from being close to collapse just a few years ago. The people that have stepped up over the past few seasons have pushed and pulled the facility forward and have given the fans, and the teams, a place to enjoy and compete with a good show. Just ask John and Harry… They’ll tell ya!

I was just there for the Friday. The expanded features of Saturday had plenty of buzz leading in and all indications point to another successful evening.

Day One – Bridge 57 Weekend – Friday, June 14, 2024
Sportsman Top Five: Bryce Viar, Michael Ayers, Bryce Smith, Matt Duggins, Norman Dudley Jr
Late Model Top Five: Justin Williams, Logan Roberson, Joe Leavell, Billy Beachler, Jesse Quick

PHOTOS from Friday, June 14, 2024

Close quarters and tight racing mixed with long time veterans and new personalities made for some friction out in the hills of Franklin County. The Kenny Minter Classic / SMART Modified Tour brought the show on the track and the series stars added some post race heat. The Carolina Crate Modifieds added to the racing and the post race heat.

For the Friday leading into Memorial Day weekend, former and present NASCAR Cup stars Ryan Newman and Ryan Preece shared the spotlight with series regulars like Burt and Jason Myers, Joey Coulter, Matt Hirschman and Brian Lofton. It was the younger drivers, however, that made the front at the finish.

Luke Baldwin qualified fastest but the draw put him in the 2nd row behind Preece. Brandon Ward and Carson Loftin were on the outside in row one and two. The front order ran for the first quarter of the race but Baldwin pushed around Preece by lap 30. Approaching the midway point, the #77 with Preece had begun to falter. Baldwin held the front as Preece fell back to the back half of pack. Ryan Newman was in the third slot chasing Baldwin and Carson Loftin.

With a quarter of the race to go Baldwin had worked around Preece again to put the #77 a lap down. Ryan Newman had gotten by Loftin to hold the 2nd slot. The #21 of Jimmy Wallace brought a caution with 26 to go and gave Preece the free pass back to the lead lap.

The restart bunched and went high on turn two crowding Newman on the brake as Baldwin had to run high which gave Carson Loftin the opening to take the front with a bump on Baldwin. Newman fell back to 6th as Preece began the work to come forward. With 11 to go, Burt Myers was getting under Jonathan Cash and came out of turn two hard and sideways taking Cash with him as Preece braked and got by both of them.

The restart with 10 to go had Loftin and Baldwin starting the pack. As they came around turn 4 on the retart lap the #99 of Jimmy Blewett ran high and contacted the #77 of Preece spinning the middle of the field and putting Preece outside and back hard on the inside wall. A red flag stopped the race while Preece’s damaged ride was removed.

Tom Buzze in the #25 was on the outside of Loftin with 9 to go. Luke Baldwin and Danny Bohn had the 2nd row. The battle of bumpers was behind Loftin as he held the lead to the finish. Buzze fell back to 6th with Luke Baldwin, Danny Bohn, Joey Coulter and Ryan Newman set the top five behind Loftin.

Ryan Newman had an altercation with Luke Baldwin following the race. Or, perhaps, tried to as he was upset over some driving between himself and Baldwin. The elder Tommy Baldwin Jr. jumped in the middle holding Newman away from his son. The men shouted some harsh words as Newman insisted it was the younger Baldwin he wanted to talk to. They were separated and went on about the night.

The Legends field it was Chris Lilly with Ethan Truell on the front row. After 40 laps it was the same as Lilly took the checkers with Truell following.

The Carolina Crates closed the show with another heated run and even more altercations. The race ran behind Dale Ogburn, for the most part. With 12 to go Richie Cooper and Brian Webber turned sideways around turn four to bring a caution.

Ogburn and Cody Norman had the front for the restart. Ogburn again pushed forward while two through five were pushing each other for position. It went too close with 7 to go as Slate Myers and Paul Hall made contact in turn two and Myers went around on the pass.

It gets weird now… With the spin and scoring, the #14 of Slate Myers was set back several spots to trail the top ten. The caution continued to run as Myers did not respond to race control commands to fall back from the fourth position. He kept turning the circuit in the 4th spot until the black flag was pulled. Being told to exit he did fall back and a restart went under way. Ogburn again took the lead and the close racing bunched the field again as the #12 of Cody Norman on an outside pass position went loose and around. The mash up caused several cars to stop in a tangle out of turn two.

With cars stopped under a red flag with 6 to go, a crowd gathered at turn one as the Slate Myers crew and his father, Burt Myers, began a heated conversation with officials over the position, start and black flag issue. This led to punches thrown by someone and a bit of a free for all with officials and crews swinging. It cooled eventually with some bruises on bodies and egos but it also forced officials to call the race as run.

The Carolina Crate Modified finishing order top five: Dale Ogburn, James Blewett, Gabe Saavedra, Paul Hall, Jody Utt

Photos from the FoxFire Towing Kenny Minter Classic – May 24, 2024

Bigger, better, wetter…

Leading into event weekend the early to midweek rain forecast grew darker. The projected radar view of Virginia and into neighboring states looked like a bowl of spilled pea soup. The information coming from the organizers and the venue was hopeful yet cautious. HyperFest planners worked closely with Virginia International Raceway staffers to get the best out of what looked like a Slip-N-Slide on steroids.

This event, on the face leading in, looked similar in prediction to a certain music festival that is undergoing some hard scrutiny and an uncertain future. The difference is the scope and the planning outside of the actual race track.

Virginia International Raceway staff may be on hand but some events are hosted by the organizers who lease the track and facility. Such is the case for HyperFest and NASA Mid-Atlantic and a music festival that went way off course. The difference is that HyperFest looked ahead to the weather and made adjustments with caution in the forefront. The music festival had promoted the biggest and the largest and pushed the envelope of containment even if the weather had cooperated. Growth on foundation has made HyperFest a car party destination. Advertised growth without a real track record of success made the Blue Ridge Rock Festival flounder under its own weight with the weather as an added calamity.

A constant contact of planning for fans, ticket holders and vendors opened the week into the weekend. There were event bits moved forward and some cancelled outright. The ground was saturated and pooled so the off-road bits were taken off the schedule. The KONI Jet-Hot Downhill Attack and Motul / Speed Trend Burnout Contest were moved to Friday from Saturday. Fans were urged to be prepared with “shelter in place” plans and rain possibilities.

Club HyperFest (left) Motul / Speed Trend Burnout Contest (Right) Photos courtesy HyperFest

The oddity, as it played out, was the weather. Friday and Saturday were humid and cloudy. The rain did come but after sunset and hit or miss on evening activities. The toy ride KONI Attack hit just minutes after the rain did but added to the spectacle with no real need of water balloons from the gallery. The burnout lit up the smoke with lights and sound and the rain faded into the later hours.
Saturday was also mostly opposite of the previous forecast. The rain came but later and patchy as the lasers and lights lit the night over Club Hyperfest.

The racing… The drifting… The stunt and car shows and presentations went off under cloudy but dry skies. Fans that had tickets and fans that came as the weather opened up were treated to the show and shows that make HyperFest.

This party transcends the traditional car racing event. NASA Mid-Atlantic racing put on a full course show with cars from across the spectrum. Results can be found on the NASA website. Motorcycle high jump trick shows, tandem drifting, video gaming and RC drift with music and Paul Reed Smith guitars were tapped with ride-alongs and open fan participation. The weekend shaped up well beyond the damp predictions.

The baseline is that this is a “car” event that combines motors and a little mayhem. There is a sense of the unpredictable and the unhinged at HyperFest. It’s much like drifting… Going sideways but with control and style. The planning and the attention set the foundation for the weekend so there was flexibility to make adjustments as needed. That is why HyperFest makes moves forward and a music festival stumbles.

Look forward to the next HyperFest for 2025. Look ahead for the schedule at Virginia International Raceway for the remainder of 2024. IMSA, Fanatec GT and the VIR SpeedTour are big shows on easy tickets for race fans at VIR.

We have some photos from Haltech HyperFest. Just a few…

You can’t do everything… Right…?

It’s as much a coin toss as it is a measured batch of variables to select a track event for a race fan to visit. Time, distance and an interesting touring series may swing the scales.

Such was the case for Franklin County Speedway and the Grand National Super Series. The track is close and the series is one I’ve not checked out before. Similar in style to the CARS Tour, the GNSS hosts top tier late model stock cars with and drivers that bring skill and experience from the region covered by the racing schedule.

Twin 50 lap races for the Grand Nationals were set with dual Legends and Stock4 races. A Mini Stock was thrown in to split the twins.

This was also a chance to catch up with the ongoing changes and upgrades at Franklin County Speedway and get a look ahead for the upcoming SMART Modified visit on May 24. The schedule into the Summer and rest of the year is quite full for this little track that continues to bring good racing out back in those moonshine hills.

For the night of May 11, the racing was lively, a little wet or a minute and gave fans some “on the wall” excitement. The Grand Nationals and the Mini Stocks had red flag cautions with some wall contacts that brought the crowd to their feet. The Stock4 group had some hard chasing and final laps lead changes with big cheers over the engine noise. The Legends had double race wins from chasing the pole for the pass and twin top 3 results.

Despite the mid-event rain that paused the action the night at Franklin County brought the show that keeps this track on the map. Top three results are below.

Grand National Super Series (Father and son trade wins)
Race 1: Isaac Kitzmiller, Jason Kitzmiller, AJ Henrikson
Race 2: Jason Kitzmiller, AJ Henrikson, Isaac Kitzmiller

Race 1: Keyshaun Claytor, John Hinchee, Austin Gulliams
Race 2: Wes Givens, Jaden Austin, Gary Smith

Race 1: Chris Lilly, Daniel Silvestri, Ethan Trunell
Race 2: Chris Lilly, Daniel Silvestri, Ethan Trunell

Mini Stocks
Dennis Holdren, Scott Foley, Jeff Martin

GALLERY – Boone Tractor Mothers Day Special at Franklin County Speedway

There were 400 laps to make it work at Martinsville and the #24 driver, William Byron, took the lead with less than 90 remaining. A late caution pushed to overtime and a Chase Elliott charge but Byron came around to take the win and his second Martinsville Speedway Victory Clock.

The Hendrick drivers began a pit sequence with the #24 team making a call to come in first as the third quarter of the race was approaching. Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott came in a lap later and were there challenging at the finish but could not hold Byron in the Cook Out 400.

Denny Hamlin, fresh off the Richmond win, was leading before his pit 2 laps later than Byron. He may have had some juice for the Hendrick drivers but John Hunter Nemechek was caught up in a caution that pushed the race to overtime. The #11 came in for new tires but was stacked back in 10th on the restart to finish just out of the top 10.

The day gave Byron a series lead with 3 season wins. It was also a 1-2-3 finish for owner Rick Hendrick on a 40th anniversary of a first NASCAR win. (The first Hendrick win was also at Martinsville with Geoff Bodine in 1984) Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott were 2nd and 3rd. Bubba Wallace and 2023 series champion Ryan Blaney filled the top 5

Thanks to DoS Images for race photo coverage at Martinsville Speedway!

It is possible that NASCAR and Easter may be an egg in the basket too far. A handful of races were run on Easter in the “early days” of the series from 1953 to 1989. Then for over 30 years Easter marked a Spring break for the season. The dirt races at Bristol put Easter back in the mix and, this year (2024), the date caught up with Richmond Raceway.

Easter may have been a hard sell for NASCAR and Richmond. The start time was set as an evening race but it still pulls at holiday family time and the reality of Monday “back to work” for many whose jobs do not offer the Monday off.

The novelty of the dirt surface at Bristol may have put enough interest on the race to overcome chocolate bunnies and “traditional” family gatherings but Richmond did not have novelty or dirt. The rumblings are in the background of the possibility of losing a double race schedule. It is unfortunate that Richmond has been caught in a scheduling battle. It wasn’t long ago that Richmond was a focal point for early season racing and a “CHASE” finale with the Championship contenders put in place.

For the Toyota Owners 400, the race ran “mostly smoothly” after a mostly cloudy day had rain earlier that challenged the scheduled start. NASCAR pushed the green flag a few minutes and started the field on Goodyear rain tires. A competition caution pulled the field at lap 30 to swap back to standard racing tires. A couple of cautions outside of stage finishes allowed some shakeup but it was the final caution that pushed the race to overtime that brought the heat.

Martin Truex Jr was out in front when the final caution and restart shook it up for the finish. The restart had team mates Truex and Hamlin on the front row. Hamlin took an early nose out for rounding the first turn and kept the lead to the finish. Truex fell back to fourth. Joey Logano and Kyle Larson were second and third with Chase Elliott rounding the top five.

This was Hamlin’s second win of the season and his fifth Cup win at his “home track” in Virginia. Martin Truex Jr had some issue at the conclusion with his team mate and tactics on the restart but NASCAR did not issue any penalty for what could have been an early hit on the throttle.

Race photos supplied by DoS Images

Was it the weather? Did 24 hours alter the course of the race at all? The finish was a surprise for fans as much as for the winner in the SMART Modified feature for URW Community Federal Credit Union Race Day at South Boston Speedway.

The day was supposed to be Saturday. A wet forecast several days earlier that gave every impression it would be a soaker into the afternoon forced the hand of the speedway and the series to push it to Sunday.

Of course the rain was over by 11:00AM… But that did not change the decision that was, in all respects, correct for the circumstance. Race day was Sunday with blue skies and slightly chilled temperatures for all but about 38 minutes around 3:51PM or so when the sun pushed the thermometer into almost, but not quite, warmer.

The crowd, however, came in and filled in for a very hot show. Late Models were set as the opener with a season shakedown race of 100 laps. The official track opener comes up April 13 with Danville Toyota Weekly Series Opening Night. The Hornets ran their laps with the sound that gave them the name. Those little engines are running at the limit with no muffler and sound like something small and flying angry. The SMART Modified teams and drivers just sat back and watched the others run their lines while looking for an angle that might work.

The Late Models: Local track champion Peyton Sellers was on tap with other drivers familiar to SoBo and were joined by “visiting” challengers such as Mike Looney and Kyle Dudley. Dudley, Looney and a few others were taking on South Boston as their usual track (Motor Mile / Pulaski County) was shut down for 2024.

The Late Model opener was won by Craig Moore who had taken the lead from Trevor Ward a little over half way into the race. Ward took a spin from the position going into turn 3 and finished ninth. Moore has won at SoBo before in a CARS Tour event and took a borrowed car (from Jay Fogleman) to Victory Lane this time around. Mike Looney came across second, Blake Stallings finished third, veteran racer Stacy Puryear finished fourth, and Kyle Dudley filled the top five finishers.

The winner of 20 lap run of the Virginia State Police HEAT Hornets managed to navigate 5 cautions and keep the lead. Cameron Goble lead the field from the start to the checkered flag with Jason DeCarlo coming across in the second slot. Chris Barrett, Steven Layne and Jordaine Penick completed the top five.

NASCAR veteran Ryan Newman joined SMART and Whelen veterans such as Brandon Ward, Burt Myers, Doug Coby and Matt Hirschman and more to challenge and come away as the “King Of The Modifieds”. The winner of this race, likely to be annual event, came away with $20,000. The runner-up pulled a respectable $10,000 prize.

17 year old Luke Baldwin drove his Sadler-Stanley Racing Pace-O-Matic #7VA into Victory Lane and the “King” spot. He took the re-start lead with 26 to go and held the spot to the end. Matt Hirschman had a front running car but was caught in track incidents that cost him position and speed. The late race caution halted the race as Hirschman misjudged a corner and put several cars in jeopardy. He still managed to hang on for the second spot. Doug finished third, Jonathan Cash ran fourth and Anthony Bello took the fifth position.

Crash incidents took out Ryan Newman, Woody Pitkat and Jake Crum in the race with 6 running cautions and 2 red flag stops.

The SMART Modified race at South Boston is one of two modified events in a week in Virginia. The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour comes up the next Friday at Richmond Raceway.

PHOTOS – URW Community Federal Credit Union Race Day at South Boston Speedway