There are racetracks across Virginia that have faded into dying memories and a few lingering photos. These places are plowed over for other development or just taken back by nature. It was very recently that a “lost tracK” was brought back from neglect and deterioration in North Carolina. The NASCAR Cup All Star race just ran at North Wilkesboro which has been refurbished and brought back after sitting, mostly unused, since 1996. For all real expectation, North Wilkesboro was done.
With tracks fading and many completely gone, stories of comebacks are very rare. It is also a bit of luck that tracks that have managed to escape the grip of time and scattered attentions remain open and running. The tracks that still race have been kept alive by any number of reasons but dedicated support, re-investment and management, plus a bit of luck, have played a big part.
We just visited Natural Bridge Speedway a bit ago. It’s a dirt oval in the midst of a “comeback” season. We now can put Franklin County Speedway on the 2023 list. This track, nudged back in the hills of Callaway, a few miles out of Boones Mill and Roanoke, has had its own share of setbacks. It has been on the brink of being a “lost track” more than once. Sheer determination and careful investment and some long hours have kept Franklin County in the mix of hot lap racing. Some big, touring series are on the schedule including the SMART Modified Tour which just ran the Friday of Memorial Day weekend.
How big of a deal is it…? Well, fans of modified racing will recognize names such as Burt Myers, Brian Loftin and Tim Brown (among others on the track). NASCAR names such Champion Bobby Labonte and Ryan Newman (both in the NASCAR top 75 drivers list) were suited up and racing at Franklin County. Those are NASCAR Cup stars, racing at a track that just a few years ago was struggling to keep water flowing for working toilets.
The cars and drivers were lined up on the track early to meet and greet with race fans. The front stretch was full and active as folks met drivers, got some autographs and a few selfie photos.
The Kenny Minter Classic featuring the SMART Modified Tour also had Carolina Crates, East Coast Flatheads and Virginia Vintage Racers on track with local Stock-4 drivers filling the evening. Whoever was in charge of the hamsters got them running on the wheels to get the track lights on but the overhead PA system apparently had a screw loose someplace and stayed quiet. The scoreboard has been dark for a while so, without the PA announcements, keeping up is just a bit difficult. Perhaps, just as a suggestion, some kind of display could be set in the main building…?
The 110 lap Minter Classic / SMART race ran just about 2 hours. The racing was hot and fast but cautions threw the wrench a few times with some holding laps under a red flag stop. Tim Brown held the lead for a good part of the first half with some challenges from Ryan Newman and Joey Coulter and Bobby Labonte throwing in for a round or two. Burt Myers kept himself in the hunt while chasing Coulter for the later laps and managed the lead in time to take the checkers.
Burt Myers had the win, Joey Coulter and Brandon Ward came in second and third while Ryan Newman, surviving slight damage that forced a pit stop fix, hung on for fourth.
The Carolina Crates hit a red flag snag as Tanner Young in the #33 crashed at the entrance to turn 1 which tore the car up and pulled a piece of the guard rail out. Young was OK but the rail post had to be removed. The 602 Carolina Mods finished their 62 laps with a top three of Jack Baldwin, Devin Steele and Cody Norman.
Vintage racing is always a fun watch with two associated groups taking the flags at Franklin County. Modified and Sportsman classes in the East Coast Flathead Ford Racing Association put their classic rides on display and to the test. The Modified winner was Jeremy Cox and the Sportsman winner was Wayne Lawson.
For the Virginia Vintage Racers, it was Barry Dalton in the Modified #05 and Shawn Otey in the Sportsman #10 that took the top spots.
The Stock-4 field ran between the SMART and the Carolina 602 Mods. The Hexed / Hinchee #20 took the class win.
Let’s be clear. Yes, we’ve made some lighthearted hits at FCS but that in no way should imply anything but respect for the work of the promoters and staff of Franklin County Speedway. The infrastructure there is being worked as time and cash flow allow. They have done a lot of work and continue to do so. For spectators, the show and the facility is ready for you. The place is a little rough around the edges and, if you look closely, you can be taken back in time a little bit. Bring a comfy, folding chair and be ready to take in some racing that showcases classic, short track tradition. That is part of the charm that makes places like Franklin County Speedway keep the lights on and the laps fast.