2009 Local Racing year in review

The checkered flag has waved over the 2009 racing season. This year was filled with the joy of first time winners, major accomplishments, young drivers moving up the ladder, huge events, big crowds and lots of door to door action which helped fill the headlines, as well as the grandstands.

                Fans in Union County saw one facility close while another one opened. The dirt track in Buffalo was the place to be on Friday night for dirt track fans. The racing was strong each night and the fans even enjoyed a Southern All Stars East Super Late Model Race.

              Casey Roberts won that event in front of a standing room only crowd. Though Roberts went flag to flag for the win, the racing for second on back had fans on the edge of their seats. This tour was set to return in late August but the track closed before that event could be held. Dirt fans were disappointed, but another facility grabbed their attention.

                The Union County Dragway opened to rave reviews from spectators and competitors alike. On opening day, a drag racing legend dropped in to see the first pair of cars pull to the staging area. Gene Fulton, a former National Champion driver and owner of Fulton Competition in Spartanburg, is an avid sky diver and he performed a jump for the fans on opening day.

                Laurens County Speedway had another successful season. The Dwarf Cars, Four Cylinders, up to the Super Late Models entertained the fans each Saturday night. The annual Laurens County Shrine race was won by Chris ‘Smoky’ Madden to the delight of the crowd. Defending track champion Colby Cannon earned the Rookie of the Year award in the Southern All Stars East division. His steady hand with the many laps he made at the Darlington of Dirt helped him to be one of the most consistent drivers in the series.

                Marty Ward went on a tear to begin the season on the half mile at Greenville-Pickens Speedway. Ward looked to be a shoe-in for the championship but Roger Powell nipped him by 16 points to add his name to the wall along side all the former track champions. Several of those former champions were honored by the track during the 2009 season, including the 1959 Champion, Spartanburg’s David Pearson. G-P also hosted several touring events, with one of those airing on Speed-TV.

                The Harris Motor Speedway had great racing all year, which included the Winged Sprint Cars for a two night race back in the early summer. The Renegades class at times was a battle between the Burgess Boys from Campobello. Josh and Lloyd Dean Burgess picked up several wins at their home track. Harris fans held their collective breath as Justin Ward experienced the worse crash of the season. Ward and Kyle Cooper made contact with Ward’s car backing into the wall. The car burst into flames on impact. Ward unbuckled his belts and scampered to safety just seconds before the car was fully engulfed by flames.

                The Greer Dragway once again provided afternoons filled with great racing. For the third year in a row, a group of drivers from Greer won the regional championship at Rockingham. When the drivers and teams return for the 2010 season, they will be rewarded with a new racing surface.

                For asphalt racing on Friday night, The Anderson Motor Speedway was the place to be. The Mini Stocks, Modifieds, Legends and Renegades provided great racing all season. Several touring series also came to town with Chase Elliott, the 13-year old son of NASCAR Legend Bill Elliott, grabbing a win. The racing community was saddened by the passing of track owner Rupert Porter. Porter lost his battle with Leukemia last month. 

                Cancer also claimed the life of Crate and Super Late Model Driver Phillip Seifert. Seifert started on local kart tracks and worked his way up the ladder to the Super Late Models. He was known for being one of the cleanest drivers you would ever want to go side-by-side into the turns with and no matter what happened on track, he always had a mile wide smile when he removed his helmet. Among the tributes at the local tracks, was his crew chief Dale Greene and cousin Petey Ivey making a few parade laps in two of Phillip’s cars. On the night of the Stick Elliott Memorial race at Cherokee, Seifert’s Uncle Dan Ivey honored the memory of his nephew with five laps in another of his former cars.

                Cherokee Speedway began the year with March Madness, and it was just that. Chris Madden and Jonathan Davenport battled wheel to wheel before Madden spun. Then on the last lap, Davenport crashed his Rumley Rocket, as he dodged the spinning car of Petey Ivey, into the turn one wall after taking the checkered flag. This was a precursor to the type of action Cherokee fans would see for the season.

                Cherokee hosted as many as eight classes on some nights, adding the Front Wheel Drive class to allow these guys some track time before the World Crown Four Cylinder Nationals. Several touring series made stops at Gaffney including the Fastrak, Lucas Oil, and the Southern All Stars. Among the winners of some of these touring events were drivers; Chris Madden, Jonathan Davenport, Owen Osteen, and Dale McDowell.

                Travelers Rest also hosted several touring events along with their weekly shows. Casey Roberts wrapped his third Southern All Stars East Championship by winning the Labor Day race. The local shows were dominated by Timmy Smith, Joey and Kevin Kelly. The Kelly Boys had a strangle hold on the Street Stock Four Class while Smith was the man to beat no matter what class he was racing in.

                Several young drivers made big moves this year. Zack Mitchell, at just 13-years old, became the youngest ever Super Late Model feature winner at Cherokee Speedway. Mitchell also racked up 10 wins in a Crate Late Model across the upstate area. Brayden Pruitt became the first female driver to win the Street Stock Four feature of the World Crown Four Cylinder Nationals. Pruitt, a sophomore at Crest High School in Boiling Springs NC, made the move from the Young Guns class and has not looked back. Kyle Westmoreland, just 16 years old, picked up wins at Harris and Travelers Rest in the Renegades class. Blake Bentley moved to the Fastrak Series and nailed down a Top Five finish in the 2009 Grand National Championship Series. With young drivers giving such strong performances, the local racing pool is extremely full of talent.

                Several Super Late Model drivers changed rides during the year. Let see, Davenport replaced Ivey who replaced Davenport, who then replaced Rambo in Barry Wright’s car, who teamed with Cooke at Hamrick’s. Chupp got Davenport’s old ride which was Ivey’s old ride before Ferguson replaced Chupp. Thompson replaced Duvall before being replaced by another Duvall, y’all confused yet? At times it was a year of musical chairs, but when the green flag waved, everyone knew who was in what car.

                The year was filled with highs and lows. Tim Bristol from Morganton NC won five consecutive Street Stock Four events at Gaffney. Big John Pursley had problems in the tech-room at Chester and has been forced to sit out for a while. Even Scott Bloomquist had some trouble at Charlotte with tires. David Roberts late season success at Greenville-Pickens has him looking like the man to beat next year. For every winner, we can find stories of drivers failing inspection with issues.

                But for every driver with ‘issues’ I look back to the winners, especially the first time winners. Young Guns drivers like Travis Blackwell and Andrew Wilson are just a couple of the drivers who picked up their first feature wins this year. Their smiles were well worth the price of admission. Even seeing a veteran driver get his first win at a track that has always slipped from his grasp, whether it was Pure Stock driver Johnny Bell, Super Late Model driver Dale McDowell, or Super Stock Four Driver Stacy Brock who sealed the deal to win the feature event at the World Crown Four Cylinder Nationals, the sense of accomplishment these guys experienced made you happy to be trackside.

                There have been so many stories from 2009, many with chapters still to be written. One of those is the recovery of the driver called Mr. Saturday Night, Jeff Cooke.

                While racing at the Dirt Track at the Lowe’s Motor Speedway, debris struck Cooke in the head causing serious facial injuries. Many of us cringed in pain when we heard the details and accounts of the injuries that Cooke suffered. Being able to see Jeff greeting fans then hearing Jeff address the fans, struggling through the pain to say thank you to folks who had been praying for him at the Cherokee Speedway before the Blue Gray 100, was perhaps the biggest highlight of the season.

                2010 will be filled with many more stories. There will be more first time winners, more drivers on winning streaks, more side-by-side action, more dented fenders, more cut tires, more busted up race cars, and more…. Yes a whole lot more.

                For some drivers, the 2010 season will begin on, well the first day, January 1st with the running of the Polar Bear 150. To the drivers and teams that compete on our local tracks, thank you for racing hard and working hard to give us a great show every weekend. As all of you get ready for 2010, we the racing fans wish you the very best of luck.