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…?

Just a friendly suggestion…

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.

The NASCAR season has crossed over the lip of racing in and is now racing on to the Sprint Cup. The CHASE has been set following the checkered flag at Richmond and is ready to be set loose on the first race at Chicagoland.
Between Richmond and Chicago, the drivers who made The CHASE were busy with strategy and planning and cars and teams and chasing themselves across America and the towns they will be racing in. Dale Jr. was in California, Johnson was in New York and in between were all the others including Ryan Newman who was put through some paces in Martinsville.
At Martinsville High School on Wednesday, September 10th, Newman drove the #31 Caterpillar RCR Chevy around the running track that circles the football field. He drove a wheeled robot designed and built by the students. He stepped with the cheerleaders… sort of. He threw a football. He kicked a football… sort of. He fed a bulldog (the school mascot) a microphone… sort of.
The party with the MHS Bulldogs was a showcase of the pride of the school and, like Martinsville Speedway, a history with the town. Newman also spoke to the current class from the Speedway stage brought in next to the field he had previously driven around. He has an engineering degree and not only knows how to drive the car but also knows how it works. He stressed the importance of school and finding the interests within and seeking the drive to pursue goals and dreams. He talked about racing from an early age and being lucky enough and driven enough to be able to pursue that love and turn it over to a career. Newman is not loud or particularly animated when speaking yet he held the students’ attention with knowledgeable authority. He spoke from experience and it came through.
Following the track, field and cheers at the high school the mood changed to the business of racing as the venue changed to Martinsville Speedway. Here, in more familiar surroundings, Newman elaborated on The CHASE and how Martinsville plays into the strategy. The history of racing there, the fact it is the only short track in The CHASE and the challenge of racing there all come together to make Martinsville a focal point of the post season. So much so that Hendrick’s teams have already tested there. Several more, including Newman and RCR, are planning on Martinsville tests before October race day.
Newman already has one grandfather clock (the traditional trophy of winning at Martinsville) and would like nothing better than another on the way to a possible championship. The chips, realistically, are not stacked in his favor. Although an accomplishment to make The CHASE with his first season at RCR the points, position and strength of other teams Newman will be up against is huge. The possibility is there and, listening to Newman speak, so is the determination. The reality of getting there may be the thing as there is so much that would have to fall into place with good runs of the #31 and a little bad luck falling to competitors.
As Ryan Newman said, The CHASE is a series of races and overall strategy is good but week to week focus is key. Looking ahead to Martinsville on the weekend of October 26th is several races away. To capitalize on a good run at the historic speedway some momentum needs to be brought into the Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500.
As the engines set ready for the drivers’ “start” command at Chicago, time is turning like the hands on a grandfather clock towards Martinsville. In time, we’ll see how Ryan Newman and the others in The CHASE are stacked as the engines start again in Virginia.

Martinsville Speedway website

Ryan Newman website

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There was tension at Richmond leading into racing. The pre-race was fine and the drivers were fine with the usual chatter and smiles before the engines started but the tension was there. Ten drivers were still playing the field and the math to be on the CHASE stage following the Federated Auto Parts 400.

One of them was starting on the pole. Jeff Gordon needed a good run to pop the bubble.

Racing at Richmond generally has some bobbles. Touches and spins which usually puts some kinks on the sheet metal is normal. This race wasn’t so normal. It was almost more of a dance than a race. Light on cautions and a bit heavy on leads…

Until the last 10 laps. Questions are all over the board focusing on the exit of turn 4 onto the front stretch. Clint Bowyer, running a wheel on the outside of Dale, Jr., seemed to just lose it and went sideways sliding down onto the apron. The #88 made it by but left its driver a little confused.

“It was the craziest thing I ever saw.  He just spun right out.” said Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

Ryan Newman was leading and was just a few laps away from potential victory and a CHASE spot when Bowyer’s #15 went for a slide. Pit road change ups rattled the lineup leaving Newman back slightly with not enough race to make it back. (more…)

Front Row Motorsports made the last lap run around to take the one and two spots at Talladega.

However, there was more going on at the Aaron’s 499. Some rain held it back. Some cars got tangled. Some tempers were tugged.

You could leave it at that as it sums up the day at Talladega. Everything else is just marbles next to the outside wall.

Or is it…?

The “Big One”, the Talladega Shuffle that seems to always come, happened early at lap 43 as Kyle Busch and Kasey Kahne bumped and spun involving 14 other cars in the high speed bumper dance. Busch said over the radio it was his fault with the move on Kahne that set it in motion.

However, fast forward to the latter laps and you get the “Big One – The Sequel”. The #17 of Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. scraped the wall bouncing J.J. Yelley into the #78 of Kurt Busch and the ride begun… (more…)

Tony Stewart.

Sprint Cup, Nextel Cup and Winston Cup champion. He holds an IndyCar championship. He holds Midget and Sprint car championships. He owns his own racing team. He owns race tracks. He has had his share of run-ins with NASCAR, media and other drivers.

Beyond any of that, he is a likeable guy. His composure at Daytona following the Nationwide race was nothing less than humble and genuinely concerned for the fans involved in the front stretch mayhem.

Even at Bristol, where an early race tire and crowded track put his #14 into the wall, he kept cool and drove what he could with no chance to get back up front.

Yes… He has been labeled as moody and cantankerous but to meet and speak with him close in and one on one he is quite the fellow. A sense of humor which borders on the mischievous, self-deprecating one liners and a genuine smile with a glint in his eye like he knows something you don’t characterize the man when out of the racing suit. (more…)

NASCAR and the races have been taking a little fan heat with talk of not enough excitement.

There is not enough close racing. They aren’t bumping and banging like they used to. There isn’t enough action.

Yeah yeah yeah….

Driver’s want to finish. Owners want to finish. Sponsors don’t want their logo in the garage and out of the spotlight. The points are tight.

Yeah yeah yeah…

Well fans, we give you Dover. A big smash up, some engines blow, a pit action near miss, Johnson in clown hair…

What more do you want? (more…)

Martinsville Speedway racked up yet another Virginia twist on finishes at the historic track on Sunday, April 1st for the Goody’s Fast Relief 500. As it happens, we’ve often noticed quite a few fans making an exit around lap 450 or so to get a jump on traffic. However, in an effort to save a few minutes they also miss out on some of the best racing of the day. Martinsville is hardly predictable and making an exit believing you know the end is like leaving a John Wayne film before the fight scene.

Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon seemed to have it in the bag. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was making a run as well. Hendrick teams had the top 3 well to the finish. Gordon alone had the lead for most of the race up to that point anyway. It seemed to be a given that Johnson or Gordon would take the checkers. Although, with Dale Jr. running that close, many stayed that might have made the early exit otherwise. Junior will keep folks in their seats if he is running near the front.

It all seemed like a dead on predictable finish. Johnson had the lead and Gordon was chasing with Dale Jr. in the 3rd slot. As it happens so often at Martinsville, there was a caution in the final laps. This one brought about when David Reutimann rolled out to a stop on the front stretch. Confusing as he had just passed the entrance to pit road  on the opposite side of the short track. Whatever the reason for the stop of the #10, the caution was out for yet another green-white-checkered restart at Martinsville. Most of the field hit the pits for a splash and at least two tires. Gordon and Johnson stayed out assured they had enough fuel to make it. Their tires, however, were no match for fresh rubber on the cars lined up behind them for the restart.

With no traction to hold, the cars behind bunched up with Clint Bowyer going for the inside dive. Ryan Newman, who had been down a lap earlier, was also right there as the #48 and #24 lost grip with Bowyer’s car on the inside of turn one running three wide. Johnson and Gordon slid up and into the wall. Caution and another restart. This time, Ryan Newman was there to take advantage and the win.

Newman, in the #39 Outback Steak House Chevy with Stewart-Haas Racing, started in the fifth slot, was down a lap and fought back to the win. An amazing finish as team mate and owner Tony Stewart won the Fall race at Martinsville. An amazing finish with better cars dominating most of the day. An amazing finish with no apologies on the events that put Gordon and Johnson in the wall.

A.J. Allmendinger was in the slot for second, Dale Jr. rolled over in third, Matt Kenseth and Martin Truex, Jr. rounded out the top five for the finish order

Once again, the race proves out to the last laps at Martinsville. Next time you go, enjoy your day of racing and trackside fun but stay to the end. Racing is always hot and close at Martinsville but those last 10 laps always prove to be something to see.

Saturday and the Kroger 250 Camping World Series Truck race was also a pleasant watch. Kevin Harvick may have used all of his mojo on Saturday as he finished Sunday at 19th. Saturday, however, it was something to see as he lead 248 of the 250 laps to take the win. There was just no other truck able to hold back Harvick and the #2 Tide/Kroger Chevy. Ty Dillon and the Bass Pro Shops Chevy gave it a run at the close but finished where he started in the second slot.

How often do you see the pole sitter and the next starter finish in the same 1-2 order?

Martinsville always serves up good racing. Just, as we said before, stay to the end!