Memorial Day Weekend – It is a big traditional race weekend back on track from the 2020 Covid schedule shake up. NASCAR is back in familiar territory after going swimming at Circuit Of The Americas. Charlotte and the Coca-Cola 600 are on for Sunday, May 30. Earlier in the day, the Indy 500 takes the track for the tradition back in its place for the day before Memorial Day.

These are the big races that catch people with watch parties and cookouts or even bigger weekends with fans at the tracks in Charlotte or Indianapolis. However… It’s 2021 and we have DVRs and digital replay. If you really want to see the big ones on TV, but have something else to do at race time, hit record and your Monday is there for play back. As for something else to do…? Perhaps some local racing would be the fix.

Bottom line… There is some good racing at tracks across Virginia. (Tracks across the Country, for that matter) It’s not just that local tracks need the support or the local drivers need the fans in the seats, it’s about racing. It’s about the fact that racing at Charlotte or Indy is, at the most common denominator, just like the racing at your local track. The cars, the sounds, the drivers that make local stars and the teams and sponsors that support them are all a part of it.
The largest part is you… The fans that love racing in all of its forms and styles. With that, Memorial Day Weekend offers everything from local to really big national racing events. Fans will have no shortage of options. Go racing!

The racing culture in and around Roanoke, Virginia runs deep. There are drivers running local tracks, there is a deep fan base and there are folks who simply live within that culture day to day. One of these fellows has been deeply immersed in area racing for quite a long time. He is so often behind the scenes that his influence is experienced without notice. He’s a bit like mild mannered Clark Kent… However, he has no cape (that we know of), he simply has a love of the sport of racing and throws a super effort into what he does.

The man is Mike Paris. He doesn’t walk around with his “Race Day” game face on all the time. It’s more likely, if you passed by him walking about, you wouldn’t know from looking that he’s even a racing fan. He has a family. He has cats. He has a Porsche. But he’s not one of “those” Porsche guys… Given the chance he may talk more about the cats than the car… They are named after Formula 1 Ferrari drivers. That’s just Mike.

He’s been around racing a long time. His father was involved selling tickets, driving the clean-up truck and whatever else needed done at Martinsville. Mike’s Dad was a pretty good shooter, too. Here’s a good shot of the “Petty Blue” #43 Plymouth and 4 year old Mike with H. Clay Earles (Martinsville Speedway builder / owner) and The King, Richard Petty.

Our first contact with Mike Paris was, of course, at Martinsville Speedway. It was easy to see he knew his way around. He knew the people around the room and the track. However, unlike many race photographers, he was open and welcoming and happy to share advice on where to get photos. More importantly… Where NOT to get photos. This was before the mandatory photographer meetings. (These days, NASCAR and other sanctioned series tracks hold “must attend” photographer meetings to lay out the rules of where and when photographers may shoot.)

Plus… To give you kids an idea of how long Mike has been shooting at race tracks. Many years ago, the cameras used “film”. It was a special strip of thin plastic on rolls that fit inside the camera and required time and chemicals to get a single photo. The rolls allowed a photographer to shoot 24 or 36 photos before manually switching out to another roll of film. Modern cameras, of course, are digital and a single storage card can hold hundreds of images which are immediately available…

Mike Paris at the track. Cameras, film, lenses, vest, headset… Check! Photo: Steve Sheppard

Mike comes from the film days at the race track. Watching for the shot, being patient with the camera, paying attention to the details of racing so those 36 frames per roll are used as efficiently as possible. The rush came after the race… Getting that film to the lab to be processed… Often for next day publication. There was no PhotoShop. You got the shot right in the camera, in focus, with correct light or you had a worthless, blurry waste of a shot.

Pit Stop – Rusty Wallace #27 Miller Genuine Draft Pontiac Grand Prix – Mike Paris Photo

You’ve seen Mike’s images in local (and national) news publications… He is a practical wiki of walking race information. His photos and time at the track have cultivated friendships and first name relationships with drivers, crews and owners.

But wait! That’s not all! With Mike Paris, you also get racing teams! Mike has been on the pit wall of racing with winning teams. He has been there when the tires need changed, when the fuel goes in, when the car needs “no seconds to spare” repairs… He has done the late nights in the garage and he has been there in Victory Lane. It showcases his love of racing and the people within it to be directly involved with the teams through participation sponsorship. Many companies run money through the sport but few can boast the personal attention and passion that Paris brought with it.

Mike Paris (left) with Modified Champion Riggs Racing. Reggie Newman, Charli Brown and Andy Seuss (right)

This deep involvement with racing has influenced the sport locally for the benefit of the many race fans that live in and visit the area. Working promotions and planning for a major auto parts chain, Mike was centrally involved with sponsorship of racing events at small local tracks and national series events. He was there for NASCAR, NHRA, Modifieds and Late Model with direct sponsorship deals of winning race teams.

NHRA Champion Cruz Pedregon, Mike Paris (center) and crew chief Rahn Tobler

Mike’s perspective as a race fan was a driving force with his work in this capacity. He was outspoken with his view that sponsorship also has a responsibility to create a fan experience. He knew the fans made any event work and the name on the billboards was to issue a “Thank You” for their support.

Now…? What’s he doing now…? Mike’s history, deep experience and friendships from on and off the track presented an opportunity that couldn’t be passed over. These days, Mike is surrounded by the open wheel racing culture. He is working with a racing entrenched promotions company directly involved with the planning and execution of sponsorship events on the IndyCar schedule.

With Covid and the black flag out on the year 2020, Mike found himself working from home. However, even with this, he threw “all in”. He treated his home work area like a place of business. He got up and dressed for work and did his job just as if he was in the office.

(Did he drive the Porsche around the block to simulate the drive in to work…? Maybe…)

This year, 2021, is a hodge podge puzzle of wait and see… Fans and attendance at racing events is still on shaky ground but Mike’s work continues. Racing and the events that make it come together are still whirling in the background.

Mike Paris is there keeping things moving and at the ready for racing. If you see him at the track, give him a “Thank You” wave. He’s earned it.

Below are just a few photos from a large catalog by Mike Paris. All images are copyright / owned by Mike Paris. Duplication without permission prohibited.

Franklin County Speedway continues with their creative event presentation during a world pandemic. Virginia rules allow some discretion for outdoor events and the folks at Moonshine Capital / Franklin County Speedway took advantage of it. They invited the drivers and teams to come up from North Carolina and take on the little Franklin County track.

Bowman-Gray Stadium has a long history of Modified racing. However, it has been hit hard by the Covid confusion and issues over it. The organizers at Franklin County opened discussions with the racers over the border and the “Stadium Invasion” came into play.

The counts, the racing, the attendance… It was all fantastic and set inside the reality of the Virginia rules and guidelines for events in the current Covid situation. Franklin County Speedway seems to have been built for modified racing. It’s a little rough… It’s a little on the outlaw side… But it works!

Photo Gallery of Stadium Invasion 2020 at Franklin County Speedway – July 18, 2020

Virginia race fans have it all. They really do.

Two NASCAR sanctioned tracks plus one so close to the border it qualifies as a third. Martinsville, Richmond and Bristol…

With these you have access to the major NASCAR series Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World…

Add in the road coarse at Virginia International Raceway and you get even more with American Le Mans, SCCA, AMA… Sports cars, open wheel, motorcycles…

Virginia has smaller tracks all over the state for weekend racing of every sort. From South Boston to Motor Mile to Langley to Southside to Shenandoah… All sorts of locals and series run all summer long.

Drag strips and dirt tracks and race, race, race… (more…)

NASCAR is off. Grand-Am, American Le Mans… Both are off. IndyCar and F1 are off. Even NHRA is off.

Racing just got started and here comes Peter Cottontail to shut it all down. Easter weekend is fine for chocolate bunnies and colored eggs and peeps.

Peeps, by the way, used to be yellow. They still have the yellow ones but now they come out in all sorts of colors not seen in nature. Not seen anywhere, for that matter, until you find them poking out of fluorescent green, fake grass in a machine woven basket on Easter morning.

Easter celebrates the Christian holiday of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the coming of Spring and the scientific creation of unnatural colors. It also puts auto racing off the track.

We think drivers’ families hide their keys in colored eggs so they can’t leave. (more…)

Jimmie Johnson. “J” X 2…

The #48.  4 X2 = 8.

Texas. Pole X 2. Johnson started on the pole two weeks in a row. This one at Texas and the week before at Martinsville.

Texas. Win X 2. Johnson wins from the pole for two straight weeks. Martinsville and again at Texas.

Also like Martinsville, the #2 Miller Lite Dodge of Brad Keselowski was there and in front of Johnson for the lead in the final laps but could not hold against the charging #48 Lowe’s Chevrolet.

Keselowski was up in the front more at Texas than back in Virginia but Johnson was, like Martinsville, holding the lead quite a bit as well and was at the front when it counted. (more…)

Sitting and watching the ROLEX 24 on SPEED I have to wonder….  Where are the racing fans? I have to watch on TV as I’m several states away with a driveway full of snow but what of racing fans in Florida, South Carolina, Georgia….? Looking at the stands at Daytona during the ROLEX 24 it looks like the Grand-Am guys snuck in started racing! It appears there are more people around the infield than in the stands. Is it the cool weather? Maybe the rain at the start on Saturday?

Seriously…  Drivers from practically every motor sports discipline on hand to get the racing season started with a 24 hour showcase of speed and the stands are so empty you would have food left over from a Bojangles Family Pack! I don’t get it…

But I don’t understand the average racing fan anyway. Perhaps that is the key. Perhaps there are very few “racing” fans out there. It seems there are millions of NASCAR fans but offer an INDY or Formula 1 or Grand-Am race and they just turn away. Why…? Either step up and be a “racing” fan or pose away in your Dale Jr. cap.

I say open yourself up to anything that goes fast. There are people out there that want to shut it all down for political, social or supposed “green” reasons so those of us that enjoy motor sports need to broaden our horizons and embrace some of these other racing series.

Support you local weekend tracks, drivers and race events. If you get the chance to see the INDY, LeMans, Grand-Am or even SCCA races in your neck of the woods get a ticket and GO! It is all racing and it is all good.

All I’m saying is don’t let the naysayers have their way. Be a “racing” fan and support as much of it as you can!