The News Is Mixed On Fates Of Old Tracks
By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
For many a racing person, old race tracks are like their grandparents’ farm. Even if the crops and cows are gone, they’re still very special places in the heart. That feeling comes to mind these days as the old Nashville Fairgrounds track appears headed for the wrecking ball like the old half-mile in Birmingham, Ala. Two tracks that have hosted some of racing’s great events for decades swept aside with little fanfare.
On the bigger circuits, there are questions about the future of the Milwaukee Mile, and about Memphis Motorsports Park, where the round track is dropping off the Nationwide and Truck schedule.
But there is good news too. Here in Georgia, the old Jeffco Speedway in Jefferson is reopening this weekend as Gresham Motorsports Park. It’s been 40 years and a few days since that half-mile oval hosted its final race for the circuit now known as Sprint Cup.
That race in November of 1969, was won by Bobby Isaac in the K&K Dodge. He beat David Pearson, Richard Petty, Lee Roy Yarbrough and Soapy Castles in a 200-lapper. Dan Elliott, one time tire changer and transmission specialist on his brother Bill’s No. 9 Fords, is the new GM at the track where his late father George once was one of the prinicipals.
And North Wilkesboro Speedway, which hosted the Cup circuit from 1949 through 1996, is set to reopen next year under new management which includes Benny Parsons’ widow Terri, racer Bosco Lowe and Larry Camp, owner of the Pro Cup Series that will run on re-opening day.
Hopefully, there will be upbeat news out of Milwaukee and Memphis again.
Greg Biffle is among those who hope the final chapter in the Memphis story is yet to be written.
“My first win in NASCAR came there, and it came through the truck series,” he said. “I love that race track.”
He admitted the track, which has hosted very competitive racing in recent events, has had its challenges from a business standpoint, but he’s not giving up hope.
“I think it’s a great facility,” he said. It’s a great place to have huge potential. It may be something where it shut down for a short period of time and then may come back even better.”
There are many in the sport that are hoping the same soon will be said of the shuttered and neglected North Wilkesboro oval. Biffle said he expects the track could become a popular testing venue, as has been the case with the old Cup track in Rockingham, now that testing is banned at tracks that host NASCAR’s touring series.
Biffle said North Wilkesboro, which hosted its last Cup race in 1996, a race won by Jeff Gordon, might make a good test facility even if only a part of the track, such as a single turn, provides data that relates to a current track.
“I’m sure it will be on our list to go try and see what happens,” he said.
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