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Minter: Short Tracks Remain Racing’s Backbone

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, December 20 2009
Senoia Speedway is getting dirtier. (Photo courtesy of Senoia Speedway)

Senoia Raceway is returning to its roots, which are planted in that beautiful red Georgia clay. (Photo courtesy of Senoia Speedway)

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer

Some weekend observations:

When it comes to government, the most important things tend to happen on the local level. The actions by the local councils, commissions and school boards often impact people’s lives far more than anything the folks in Washington might do.

A good argument can be made that the same is true for auto racing. The sport as a whole and the average fan is better off when things are going well at the grassroots level.

For instance, in a place like Kansas City, there’s a Saturday night track, Lakeside Speedway, that brings racing to the area on a weekly basis during the season, while the superspeedway just down the interstate is only open for business a few times a year.

So as Lakeside goes, so goes the racing fortunes of the area, for the most part.

It’s rare to find an area where a NASCAR track succeeds without a strong short track scene nearby.

Here on my home turf on the southside of Atlanta, Ga., the racing buzz isn’t about Jimmie Johnson or Danica Patrick. It’s about the layer of clay being applied to Senoia Raceway.

In its glory years back in the 1970s and ‘80s, Senoia’s red-clay high banks offered some of the best entertainment around. Promoter Hence Pollard, his wife Reba and their staff were masters at making the place fan and driver friendly.

After Hence Pollard died, the track was sold and eventually was paved. It had a strong run as an asphalt track, but interest waned in recent years. Dirt racing has long been the backbone of short track racing in the South, and now a new group is returning the old track to its red clay roots.

The new promoter, long-time Late Model driver Jack Mills, said the interest in the track has amazed him. “We’ve had thousands of hits on the website (newsenoiaraceway.com) and hundreds have signed on as friends of the track on Facebook,” Mills said.

Rainy weather has hampered the process of putting clay on the track, but it’s nearly done, and plans are under way for an opening around the end of March or the first of April.

High on Mills’ agenda is making the track’s old dirt heroes a part of opening night. He plans on inviting former Late Model stars like Roscoe Smith, Leon Archer, and Leon Sells to be on hand for the first green flag laps.

Mills said those drivers are true racing heroes. “They drove cars that were dangerous as hell and they raced like hell,” he said. “If it wasn’t for them none of us would be racing today.”

And he and his partners, Tony and Tim Moses, have developed a new-found appreciation for the promoters he once cussed on a regular basis.

“I’ve got a whole new appreciation for people like Mickey Swims and Charlie Edwards,” he said of the longtime Georgia promoters. “It’s all three of us can do to do what they do by themselves, and we haven’t even started racing yet.”

In this week’s Ford release, Carl Edwards gave some insight into what a driver and team do when they don’t even come close to living up to expectations on the track.

As his comments point out, there’s never any one thing that keeps a team from winning, and therefore the solution needed is not as simple as it might seem. And sometimes the best course of action is to not veer too far from what you’re presently doing.

“There’s not one thing where everyone says, ‘Oh, this is what we’re missing,’ because that would be really simple and we’d fix it right away,” he said. “But what I do know are the things we don’t need to do, and we don’t need to point fingers and change things around – do wholesale changes.”

Edwards also pointed out that his winless season wasn’t as bad as it might have looked to some.

“It’s so competitive right now,” he said. “I finished 11th in points. I think if things would have been a little different on pit road and we had some little bit different luck on the race track, we could have finished sixth or seventh.  That’s not too far from being a contender for the championship, so we’re working on a lot of little things to try and make us a little faster.”

And, he said, so far everyone is sticking together.

“The thing I’m most proud of is that Bob (Osborne) and I aren’t yelling at each other,” he said. “Jack (Roush) is not freaking out.  Aflac is behind us 100 percent.  Ford is behind us 100 percent.  I think as long as we keep everything pointed in the right direction, we’ll be alright.”

– Rick Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, December 20 2009
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