Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Nashville Speedway: What's Old Is New Again

Saturday night, I went somewhere for the first time in 30 years - short-track racing at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway. The track honored the legacy of Marty Robbins, and things worked out for me to go.

End to end view of this great, great track.

The tribute night was actually scheduled for Saturday, June 1. Ray Evernham meticulously restored an old #777 purple and yellow Plymouth, and he was in town last week to unveil it and present it to Marty's son, Ronny.

The original version:

How Evernham found it:

And the restored version:

The car was originally built and maintained by Preacher Hamilton - the grandfather of the late Bobby Hamilton Sr. A few stories about Evernham's restoration of the Marty Robbins car were published on:

Nashville City Paper
Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other plans on June 1. Evernham and his group were able to get the car on the track for a few laps earlier in the day. But by the time the crowds began to arrive, the showers arrived and we were all sent home. Evernham was unable to return this past weekend, but promoter Tony Formosa Jr. forged ahead with Marty Robbins tribute night anyway.

The last time I went to the speedway for a race was in 1999 for the NASCAR BellSouth 320 Busch race - the next to last Busch race at the track. The race was a Who's Who of up-and-coming stars such as Dale Jr., Todd Bodine, Dave Blaney, and Matt Kenseth. The line-up also featured some drivers who were gone too soon: Adam Petty, Tony Roper, and Andy Kirby. Sterling Marlin raced a #14 Chevy sponsored by the University of Tennessee.

 Prior to the 1999 Busch race, I'm a bit ashamed to admit the last time I saw the local guys race was in 1983 as companion races to qualifying for the ... Marty Robbins 420 Winston Cup race. I also got to see Sterling race that night - though he had also started racing Cup with Roger Hamby.

Quite frankly, I'm rather surprised I got the chance again to see a race at the fairgrounds. The track has been living on borrowed time for the past decade or so. In 2010, I'd read the news, was familiar with local Nashville politics, and went by the track for what I thought was a final time. I even blogged about the track's imminent death in December 2010. But 3 years later - and the track is still managing to deliver some fun times to middle Tennessee.

A friend of mine and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. We had a pleasant June evening - no bugs and low humidity. The beer stand selection included Natural Light and Busch. Parking was only $5, and the GA ticket was a 10 spot.

Not being a regular at the track, I've lost touch with all the various divisions they run and the regular drivers that race them. I did know a few of them - Sterling, Clay Alexander (Mike's son), and Steadman Marlin (Sterling's son). Generally speaking, I don't think of myself as old. But it was a bit surreal to see Steadman and Clay race knowing I'd seen Sterling and Mike race in their first season of late models in 1976. (I also watched Mike race in the limited sportsman division on Nashville's quarter-mile inner track in 75.)

A few notable highlights included:

Billy Shaffer won one of the sportsman races. While spelled differently that "Schaefer", it was pronounced the same. He may now be my new favorite driver.

One of the driver's name was Stacie Crain. Seriously. So far, I don't think he has any Allstate soccer moms chasing him like Kasey Kahne had.

Steadman Marlin (in a silver #40 reminiscent of his dad's SABCO Silver Bullet Cup car) won his 50-lap late model race with some nifty intimidating driving. The race included a mixture of sleek cars and boxy trucks! A #3 truck quickly made its way to the front and pulled away. Here is the line-up for the limited late model race with the mixture of cars AND trucks.

Slowly but steadily, Steadman closed in. Then with a few laps to go, the truck started getting loose and drifting a bit through turns 2 and 4. Finally, Steadman forced the issue, tucked up under him, and darted to the inside as the truck got way loose. The truck gathered it back up and tried to get back to Steadman's bumper. But Marlin pulled away for a popular win.

Cars roll off pit road to start pace laps for the 100-lap late model feature.

Pace lap and start of 100-lap late model race. Sterling Marlin (40) started 3rd and Clay Alexander (84) started 7th.

Clay Alexander's night in the final race, a 100-lap late model feature, a was short one. He was riding along in the top 10 when a couple of cars in front on him wrecked coming off 2. Clay had nowhere to go and destroyed his good-looking car.

Sterling started 3rd and moved up to second within the first 15-20 laps. When the big wreck involving Alexander happened, the race was red flagged. Something apparently happened to Sterling's car during the red flag. When the race went back to yellow, he made a quick stop to check something under the hood (looked like they worked on the right front suspension). When the race went back green, he was buried in 11th. My friend and I cringed thinking that wasn't the place to be. Sure enough - about 10 or 15 laps later - Sterling wrecked along the front stretch along with two other cars.

My favorite race of the evening may have been what I think they called the Legends division. Big iron. 70s era Monte Carlos, Caprices, and Chevelles. Plenty of rooting and gouging.

I'm not sure when I'll take the opportunity to get back to the fairgrounds - hopefully sooner vs. later. But all in all, it was a great time to return to see some grass roots racing.


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