Oh the stories… The spin on the spins… The “behind the grandstands” commentary…

William Byron won the day late Daytona 500. Alex Bowman was right there with him for 2nd place. Hendrick Motorsports earned a 9th Daytona 500 win (Tied with Petty Enterprises).

“He wrecked half the field to do it!”
“They planned it – Byron drove right into the back of Brad!”
“Whatever – All the good ones got wrecked”

And other such talk. You’d think it was an election year with all the finger pointing conspiracy nonsense… (Wait… Oh… Yeah…)

To be fair (stop… we’re not in Canada) the drivers that got knocked about called it out as hot racing up front with laps winding down. Anyone not expecting someone to get loose and cause a super speedway “big one” just doesn’t watch racing very often.

Yes, Bowman gave Byron a push but was not lined up square and Byron went up and then down into Brad Keselowski. Side draft off the 22 of Logano seemed to catch the 24 and push it back down towards the 6 of Keselowski. The 6 spun in front of and around the 24. The 24 went below the line and caused the 38 of Todd Gilliland to check up and spin back into the field. Cars went into billiard mode and bounced about in smoke and rubber and metal.

The race actually finished under yellow. The restart put several up front with Byron being chased into the final laps. The 7 of Corey LaJoie, the 1 of Ross Chastain and the 2 of Austin Cindric got a bit touchy going for any advantage over the 24. The contact took them all off pace and kicked off the yellow just beyond the cut line for the 24 to set a re-start. The timing put Bowman just next to but a bumper back giving Byron the win.

Straight up I’m not a big fan of Byron. There is no doubt of his skill set with wins and growing performance consistency. It may just be the appearance of money and favoritism, real or not, of his somewhat sudden appearance and advancement through the upper tiers of NASCAR. It is not the digital iRacing heritage as that is actually kind of cool to come in that way. Perhaps there is a level of hard running late model drivers around the Country being skipped for shots at a seat while some much younger hit a streak of luck with bits falling into place at ease as if advancing levels in a video game.

Maybe it’s just the Liberty University connection. Have you been to Lynchburg…? If so, you’re not at all surprised by the Daytona “big one”. Everybody in Lynchburg drives like they expect God to save them…

The calendar has rolled… The IMSA Rolex 24 has rolled… The Busch Clash has rolled… Now there is a pause for football and everyone goes nuts. Even during the other event dates, the football story lines were weaving their way in. It’s as if racing was on the sidelines even when it was the main line.

Now, as Daytona is in the back field and the Super Bowl is on tap, once again it is time to ponder the popularity of the game of football. Take a moment to consider how many people actually play the game. Sandlots to high school it is a percentage who actually get on the field. From that group, only a fraction go on to the college level. Of that bunch, only a percentage go on to the NFL or other variations of the “pro” level.

Fun fact, by the way… The first Super Bowl was played in 1967. (Kansas City was in it, just for further detail. The Packers beat them…) The first Daytona 500…? 1959! Lee Petty won it…

Super Bowl 1 (1967) – Winner: Green Bay Packers [] The First Daytona 500 (1959) – Winner: Lee Petty

Dates and history aside, consider when, or if ever, you last touched a football. Maybe think of what football has actually done to improve anything for anyone that doesn’t actually play.? Helmets and pads and shoes and uniforms are lighter and safer but that is for the players. Few if any of these advantages spill over to the “civilian” world of common use.

On that, consider racing and your car. People drive or ride in a car almost every day. The car in the driveway has been heavily influenced and improved because of racing. Fuel economy, power, brakes, safety, aerodynamics, construction materials, tires… The list is extensive. Racing has made the “daily driver” a better machine.

So… Why…? Why does football eclipse motorsport in candid conversation?

Enjoy your game… Just remember… Your car will be there to get you to work the next day. What will the football do…?

Six wins pushed the momentum which carried over for three losses that made a fourth championship possible. That’s racing…

It was 2023 NHRA season closer in Pomona, CA for the In-N-Out Burger Finals in November. Matt Hagan, Robert Hight, and Bob Tasca III came in looking ahead to a possible championship. All three took the first round wins. All three dropped the second round. The racing points math added up with Hagan on top.

Matt Hagan is from Virginia with family ties to the Shelor dealerships in Christiansburg and, yes, the Pulaski County Motorsports Park (Motor Mile Speedway). As such, there was a VIP, fan celebration open house at Shelor Toyota on Saturday, December 16th. Hagan has done this before with championship celebrations but this one was just a little different. This one included NASCAR champion and race team owner, Tony Stewart.

Stewart is a 3 time NASCAR champion, an IndyCar champion, USAC champion and part of Stewart-Haas Racing and NHRA Tony Stewart Racing owner. The latter team includes Matt Hagan and Leah Pruett, who also happens to be Stewart’s wife. Tony is driving, of course, with the SRX series that he has a stake in and is also taking the wheel on the drag strip. When asked about preferences he said it isn’t about that. “It’s not about NASCAR over drag racing or even the speed”, he said. “It is liking the experience of driving and liking the car you’re in and being in that moment of it.”

Tony Stewart and Leah Pruett (center) with fans at Matt Hagan championship party

All three were present and pleasant and the fans came by to talk racing and get some autographs. The food was, in short, marvelous. (Yes, of course I had a few bites…) Hagan’s funny car was there and trophies were staged in rows with a huge Christmas tree at center. Helmets, suits and displays showcased a winning career.

Matt Hagan (right) with James Clay of Bimmerworld (Bimmerworld Racing / Dublin VA

Matt sported a proud mustache and a bright, white cowboy hat. Stewart and Leah sat together welcoming fans and guests as Matt stood center stage with the tree and trophies for photos.

As far as racing Christmas parties go this one was pretty good…

*And yes, there were questions asked about the future of the “Pulaski County” race track. The answers were along the lines of “we don’t know” and there are “still some plans to be settled” and “details are being reviewed”. The definitive answer is that there wasn’t one. We’ll all wait for 2024 and further news.

Thank you, Matt Hagan, Tony Stewart and Leah Pruett… And the folks at Shelor, for opening the doors and allowing the fans and friends to share some of those championships.

Photo Gallery – Matt Hagan Championship Party at Shelor Toyota – December 16, 2023

It is as much a tale of tenacity as it is of racing. A similar tale is going on just a bit north while the opposite is slipping back just a bit south.

Despite odds with economics and trends of entertainment, Franklin County Speedway continues to turn laps and is looking ahead to the 2024 season. The folks north at Natural Bridge are doing the same. Both facilities have had favorable seasons and their fans are hanging tough and even expanding. The view a bit south is not as favorable…

It is not looking so rosy in Pulaski County. This season has capped a three year run of operation under the “Rusty Wallace Racing” management. Despite the name and investment, the payoff did not present itself even with Tony Stewart’s SRX Racing, CARS Tour and SMART Modifieds making runs over the three year program. There was driver interest in the support classes but the “main event” Late Models were short on car counts and fan engagement. The 2024 season is changing on management and NASCAR sanctions for weekly series points racing. The schedule is up in the air.

So… What is Franklin County and Natural Bridge doing, on shoestring budgets, to keep fans engaged and, let’s face it, driving a bit off the path and coming back on a regular basis? The short is that they are working it and working it again. They are pumping out colorful and inviting promo and are dong it often. They are engaging fans and drivers on their social media. They are in front of their fans at the events and go a long way to show their appreciation.

Pulaski County (Motor Mile) has a current facility and a foundation in area racing history and should be above the black but hasn’t been able to catch the wave in a while. Granted, it is likely a bit more expensive to turn the profits at Pulaski but other facilities (Dominion, Langley, South Boston…) have done it to varying degrees. Pulaski has had some bank behind it, as well, with Motor Mile dealerships and NHRA Champion Matt Hagan having attachments to the ownership. Franklin County and Natural Bridge have smaller and dated facilities but are still pulling fan support with efforts on improvement. Their work is working.

Enough on economics… The November closing event and Champions crowning on Thanksgiving weekend at Franklin County had cool temperatures but broad racing fields and appreciative fans. The seating was sparse but the majority were sitting in warm cars overlooking the view.

From kids’ bike races to the “Any Car” showdown the show turned over with a good pace and some exciting jumps as the schedule ticked over. Highlights were in the large field showing of the Legends and the last lap bump of the Late Models. Other classes showed counts and controversy but it all added up to a fun, fast show for the fans.

Your cell phone might be questionable. The buildings might be a bit dated. The drive in is curvy and watch for critters but the show on the Franklin County track does not disappoint. For the “Leftovers” it was more so with regulars facing off against some visitors out for the fun of racing.

Rookie Winner: Paul Caldwell
Legends Race 1 Winner: Charlie Beals
Stock-4 Winner: Wes Givens
Late Model Winner: **Cory Pack was DQ’d for carburetor specs making *Daryn Cockram your Late Model winner. (Kyle Dudley and Daryn Cockram started up front. Dudley held the front spot until a late race restart allowed Bobby Gillespie to get around. Final lap contact by Dudley spun Gillespie stopping both in turn 4 allowing others to get to the checkers)
Outlaw-4 Winner: Josh Phillips
Super Street Winner: Jimmy Mullins
Stock-6 Winner: Joey Scott
Vics/Bootlegger Winner: Keyshaun Claytor
Mini Stock Winner: Brittany Cockram
Stock-4 #2 Winner: Jaden Austin
Legends #2 Winner: Chris Lilly
Any Car Winner: Nathan Wheat

FCS Legends Champion: James Folds
FCS Late Model Champion: Jonathan Hall
FCS Outlaw-4 Champion: Josh Phillips
FCS Super Street Champion: Jimmy Mullins
FCS Stock-6 Champion: Wesley Givens
FCS Stock-4 Champion: Wes Givens

Photo Gallery – Leftovers Race Day – Franklin County Speedway – November 26, 2023

The fans did not seem to be concerned. The drivers were there and ready to go. The weather offered some concern but cooperated for the best part of it. Granted, it could have been a few degrees warmer but for November you get what nature has in the bag.

The fans made it work with jackets, blankets or the comfort of their own cars overlooking the view of Natural Bridge Speedway. Competitors made it work with parking and pit sets on the hill off the back stretch. The track staff made it work with concessions ready to go, the track surface treated and ready to race and the schedule set for two days of racing.

This was the finale weekend for the American All Star Series (presented by PPM racing Products). This series races on tracks and draws competitors from Kentucky to Alabama and, yes, Virginia. The season turned laps on 18 tracks starting back in April at Bristol Motor Speedway (one week before the NASCAR Bristol Dirt Race). Points added up to champions being crowned at Natural Bridge.

The schedule was set for Friday & Saturday November 10 and 11. The weather earlier in the week was sunny and comfortably warm. However, that turned to Friday morning rain, a drop in temperatures and lingering clouds. The clouds faded overnight with sun overhead for Saturday but afternoon temps dropped to the 40s as the racing turned laps into the evening.

*Friday was not an option as I already had obligations in motion. There was a short schedule with Street Stock, Rookie and Late Model and open practice for Saturday Crates. Jesse Murray won Street Stock, Dakota Johnson won the Rookie and the Top Three in Late Model was Joey Leavell, Tyler Bare and Jon Dietz.

The impression continues to grow for NBS. The folks in charge continue to push this place forward focusing first and foremost on the fans who support it. The parking and staging areas were having some upgrades done, a VIP fan focused “suite” was open, lit and occupied and most notable there was a new and working scoreboard up in position over turns one and two. (No… I have no idea how long the old board had been dark and dormant.)

NBS also has a “reserved” parking system in place in which fans buy spaces so they can watch the race from their cars. As those temperatures dropped that seemed to be a “hot” option!

The track went hot a bit later than scheduled with qualifying and heat races for the main 60 lap Crate event. Once the laps started turning the afternoon and evening began to hum right along. The crown did not seem to mind that things were a bit off the clock and cheered from two crowded hillsides as the racing went on.

The Saturday races featured “Mini” Wedge Karts, Sportsman, Pure Stock and the Crates. The Crates were the main Saturday show with the four heat races, the 60 lap highlight, a “Dash for Cash” and the shorter “B” Main. The date was also Veterans Day and in tribute there was a “four wide” main event parade lap for the branches of the United States Military. For the fans, it was a great showing of talent from a wide region. For Natural Bridge Speedway, it was another crowd event for racers and fans to close the season with a rush.

The next year is certainly wide open. There seems to be a real foundation of care for this place that is shared among the organizers, promoters, racers and fans. It will be a pleasure to see what 2024 brings to Natural Bridge Speedway.

Racing Results Saturday November 11 2023 – American All Stars – Natural Bridge Speedway

Mini Wedge Top Three: Aty Evans, Brady Lilly, Emma Simmons
Sportsman Top Three: Bobby Thompson, Bryce Smith, Mike Ayers
ATC Bolts “B” Main Top Three: Greg Roberson, David Watts. Samuel Bryant
Pure Stock Top Three: Sam Hamilton, James Newton, Jacob McCormick
Pro Crate Main 60 Top Five: Logan Roberson, Will Roland, Cory Hedgecock, Russell Erwin, Joe Leavell
Powder Puff Winner: Britney Ayers

Despite Logan Roberson winning the feature, the “Dash” and the pole start, it was the crown of the AAS Touring Champion going to Jesse Lowe as the Weekly Champion title went to AJ Hicks. The Mini Wedge Title went to Brady Lilly.

Full Photo Gallery – November 11, 2023 – American All Stars – Natural Bridge Speedway

Strategy and determination ruled the track at Martinsville Speedway for the Round of Eight final elimination Xfinity 500. Unlike the bang and bump Xfinity series the day before where cars crossed the line backwards and on fire, the NASCAR Cup race of the same title series name was run closer to calculated endurance.

The final third of the race ran green as a run for the lead brought Ryan Blaney up to and around Aric Almirola with 22 laps to go. Blaney kept the #12 Discount Tire Ford out front for the win. This was the third 2023 win for Blaney, who came up originally from High Point, NC which is just a bit south of the speedway.

It was, however, a disappointing day for Joe Gibbs team mates Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex, Jr. The race started with Truex on the pole but a speeding penalty half way in put him back in traffic that he could not push through. Hamlin had a good run with a stage win and top five performance but could not clinch at the end. Mechanical issues the week before at Homestead had him at Martinsville with too many points down and in a “must win” to advance.

Ryan Blaney won the race but it may have been William Byron who won the day. Despite six wins, the late season points math had him below the cut coming into Martinsville. He fought with the #24 Chevy all day as his team kept him focused. He managed to bring it in leading the one lap back bunch which was just enough to clinch a spot for Phoenix.

Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell had Round of Eight wins for the advance and were “safe” at Martinsville. Larson and Bell finished 6th and 7th. Almirola hung on for 2nd, Hamlin was 3rd as Chase Briscoe and Joey Logano filled the top five.

The Championship is settled at Phoenix. Ryan Blaney, Kyle Larson, Christopher Bell and William Byron are in the mix for the Cup. Any of the others can grab a final win of the season. Will it be an upset…? Or will one of the Championship Four take the final checkered flag?

Photo Gallery – NASCAR Cup Xfinity 500 – October 29, 2023 – Martinsville Speedway

Saturday racing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series certainly turned the heat on at Martinsville Speedeay. There were cautions. There were stops. There was a chase for a championship on the line and the tensions were running hot from a full season of racing. Nothing set that stage more than the final restart in overtime.

Austin Hill and Sheldon Creed shared the front row on the restart as the team mates hit it forward. Creed gave Hill a bump in close quarters and had to check in the turn catching Hill’s bumper hard. The crowded turn three and four invited John Hunter Nemechek into the mix and cars started losing grip and going off . It was a crash-fest has Creed and Justin Allgaier came out of the turn. Allgaier and Creed came up the stretch wheel to quarters but it was Allgaier at the checkers.

Creed is on a different tack in 2024 leaving RCR for Joe Gibbs. Hill is making no secret he won’t miss Creed. We’ll have to wait to see if racing between the two next season has moments of heat.
For this season, both are out of the championship run.

The RCR team friction also benefited Cole Custer as he was points behind Hill but even though Custer crossed the line backwards and on fire he was now in front of Hill to make the round.

Allgaier came from spots behind to get the win at Martinsville and make the cut. He came into the weekend just a notch behind Hill and below the points line.

The “must win” setting of the race at Martinsville also set up friction between Joe Gibbs Racing team mates Sammy Smith and John Hunter Nemechek. Smith started on the pole and finished third but felt slighted by Nemechek after, as Smith saw it, Nemechek blocked a run and cost him enough to not make the championship advance.

The four drivers in the championship hunt are: Sam Mayer, Justin Allgaier, John H Nemechek, Cole Custer

There were a lot of damaged cars being hauled out of Martinsville but the final race at Phoenix will see four drivers in new cars racing against each other for the NASCAR Xfinity championship. Will one of the four make “must win” moves or will one of the other drivers on the track steal the glory of the last win of the season?

Photo Gallery – NASCAR Xfinity Dead On Tools 250 – Martinsville Speedway – October 28, 2023