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Journey into madness: A trip to NASCAR’s oldest track

By admin | May 3, 2010

By Richard Allen

The History Channel television program Madhouse which ran over the past winter peaked the curiosity of many, race fans and otherwise. My brother-in-law and I were among those to be interested enough to make the journey to Winston-Salem, North Carolina to see the show.

After spending several Sunday nights watching the likes of Michael Waltrip Racing employee and eight time track champion Tim Brown, long time racer Junior Miller, newcomer Jonathan Brown, and the Myers brothers compete in the modified division on NASCAR longest sanctioned facility, the first race of the season was a must see. The personalities involved became very familiar after having seen them struggle and compete over the course of an entire season.

While the rivalries portrayed by the series are most certainly real, the show made it seem as though those rivalries are the ONLY thing the people involved care about. Anyone who has followed racing for any length of time knows that there is much more to the sport than the over played, “I’m gonna put him in the wall” Days of Thunder type mentality.

With that said, the personal trials and tribulations of the drivers and teams followed came to life for many every Sunday. People who had never been to the track became fans of some drivers and grew to dislike others based on the way the main characters were portrayed on television.

With much anticipation, my brother-in-law and I headed east from Knoxville on April 24th. Unfortunately, the weather chose to play the leading role and caused the cancellation of the Tucson 200 modified race.

However, after only a short time, the passion inside the packed 18,000 seat stadium was clearly evident. The mere sight of one of the favorite gladiators rolling into the arena for practice provoked wild cheering and hearty booing.

Alas, it was just a tease. The rains set in and the show was cancelled.

Undeterred, my brother-in-law and I headed back out on the Saturday morning of May 1st. This time proved to be a much more fun and drier experience.

As was mentioned before, the passion of the fans at BGS is apparent from the very beginning. After a preliminary sportsman class race had finished the main event prepared to roll off.

When each car was pushed out by its crew the fans reacted according to their rooting interest. There is very much a mentality of, “You’re either with or against us” among the patrons. If they are for one driver, as will be indicated by hats and shirts adorned in appropriate colors, they will heartily cheer their favorite and equally protest the other major participants.

Once the race started, Tim Brown rocketed out from his pole position to dominate. The first 46 laps were run without incident. However, the yellow flag waved on lap 47 and then the action kicked into high gear.

BGS has what track officials refer to as a ‘cone rule’ for restarts. As cars come to the line for the one to go signal a cone is placed in the middle of the track. Drivers are to choose whether they want to start on the inside or outside. The first driver to choose the outside gets to move up beside the leader of the race, no matter where he had been in the running order.

The cone causes the running order of the race to be jumbled with every caution. It definitely creates excitement and ramps up the intensity level.

The only serious challenge to Brown’s hold on the front spot came just after one of those cone restarts. As the cars roared into turn 3, Brown’s #83 was tapped in the rear by Burt Myers in the #1 car. Brown slid sideways which allowed Lee Jefferies in car #77 to pass by both Brown and Myers and take the lead. However, the jam up caused a chain reaction which sent Jason Myers in car #4 for a spin and the #3 car of Terry Gaither to literally run right over the top of the #4 car.

On the next restart, Brown chose the outside, and after a couple of side by side laps, he was able to reassume the lead.

Burt Myers created a stir by going twice to the pit area during a late caution period. His new tires, however, did not provide him the advantage he needed to win. Brown ultimately crossed the finish line first, ahead of Lee Jefferies, Zach Brewer, Junior Miller, Dean Ward and Burt Myers.

In victory lane Brown had a few choice words for one of his chief rivals. “I tell you what,” he said. “I hope the fans enjoyed this tonight. The only trouble I had was when Burt tried to spin me out.

“Burt Myers went on TV and said I ought to paint my car yellow because I was a chicken,” he went on. “Well, Burt Myers! You in my house!”

Those were not the only words of note said during the night. During a lull in the on track excitement a bit of excitement broke out in the grandstands. In one of the great announcements I have ever heard the PA announcer proclaimed, “There seems to be a disagreement among a few of the greatest fans in racing.”

Without a doubt, a night at Bowman Gray Stadium is well worth the $10 price of admission.

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Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly columns appear in The Mountain Press and The Knoxville Journal.

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