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

It was eighth or better, for the most part. The finale race of the Whelen Modified Tour at Martinsville Speedway was focused for Ron Silk as his points coming in gave him a bit of a cushion. He managed to avoid catastrophe with a contact and spin about a third of the way through. His sixth pace run at the checkers kept his season points lead and the championship. It was his second (first in 2011) Whelen Modified championship.

Ryan Preece started on the front row beside pole winner Tyler Rypkema and kept his car either in front or in reach of it for the better part of the Virginia is for Racing Lovers 200. A total of ten cautions including three red flags shook the field up some but Preece managed his pace and his car well and drove it in for the win. Preece is no stranger to the modifieds but his Cup season with Stewart-Haas kept him busy so this was his first start in the Whelens for the year.

Photo Gallery – Thursday, October 26, 2023
Virginia is for Racing Lovers 200 – NASCAR Whelen Modfied Tour – Martinsville Speedway

There was a lot of action on tracks close by. There were oval Championships on the line at Pulaski County Motorsports Park to the South and the second day of a big, dirty Fall Classic weekend to the North at Natural Bridge Speedway.

Sometimes the choice is made for you… Pressure from family situations prevented a trip to either of these facilities with full schedules on for racing. For clarity, let’s just say that families going through a loved one struggling with Alzheimer’s and/or Dementia is an ordeal on many fronts…

However… It was determined that a quick excursion a little further North could be squeezed in and back to home ground in a rather expedient fashion. The remnants of a plan already in place fell into new order with a visit to White’s Travel Center in Raphine.

A long time friend from what could be a world away was there with what could also be determined as almost improbable. He and I performed together, traveled together and did any number of stand-up comedy shows in what memory serves as “the best of times… the worst of times…”.

Left – Pat Miller in “Maximum Overdrive” movie still. Right – Pat and myself (Steve) at White’s Travel Center with “The Goblin”

Mostly the “best”… As it were… But he also dabbled in a film career which is what brought me to Raphine. He was in a Stephen King movie which has fallen into a bit of a cult following status. The film is “Maximum Overdrive”. He is Pat Miller, “Joey” from “Maximum Overdrive”. I met up with him at the Large Car Magazine Truck Show as he was there in support of the replica of that “famous” Green Goblin Western Star hauling the “Happy Toys” trailer. The stories are his to tell but the truck is cool and as close to the original as is possible. (The original was destroyed in the movie…)

A photo gallery of some of the trucks on display and shared by their working drivers is below!

Winners. Racing, like any sport, places emphasis on winning. Club racing and enthusiast track events, however, showcase more than Victory Lane. The focus on these events is sharing the experience of driving and improving the road skills to advance that experience. The phrase “everyone is a winner” is almost tailored to club races and gatherings. Yes, winning is fun and all that but experiencing your car and skill in that setting is also quite exhilarating. For many, winning is not the reason or the goal. Having a performance based automobile and being able to experience the car for what it was designed for is the focus. Putting amateur and professional drivers and their vehicles in the same space creates a dynamic display of design, color and speed.

For a cool October weekend, SpeedTour set the stage for these shared automotive experiences. This event is a vintage car show within a varied range of racing. The “winners” here are not only the owners and drivers but the fans that are there to see these fabulous cars in action.

Virginia International Raceway has hosted this event (and the Heacock Classic before) for several seasons. The setting is as much of a vintage beauty as the classic cars that are in the show. For racing fans, the Trans AM series offers a pure spectacle of American muscle and speed. The F4, FR America and the International GT are right there for speed but also throw world class variety in the mix. Let’s be real… F1 at COTA is a bit pricey and IndyCar doesn’t get that close to us here in Virginia but the SpeedTour gives us a very close view with the F4 and FR America! It is an authentic open wheel race experience in a beautiful setting.

Of course, a big part of the SpeedTour event is the SportsCar Vintage Racing Association (SVRA) car show and vintage class racing. Ford GTs on track with an Aston Martin DB6, BMW 2002, split window ‘Vette and any number of MGs, Austin-Healeys and Sprites. Watching a classic Cobra race side by side with a vintage “whale tail” Porsche is almost as cool for the enthusiast fan as it is for the owner driver. As fans we get to enjoy these cars without that heavy maintenance price tag! It is a win-win for everyone!

Racing results can be found at the series websites: SVRA | Trans-Am | International GT | F4 US Champ | FR Americas

SpeedTour is a great showcase of Virginia International Raceway and an even better show of the variety of automotive design and progress. A photo gallery of the weekend is below!