At one time, the familiar summer sky blue number 99 Late Model Stock Car was one of the most recognizable cars racing in Southeast Virginia. Over the years the number changed from time to time donning a number 98 for a span and at one-time a number 97 but through it all the Cline Racing car was one of the cars to beat no matter where they traveled.
The racing bug first bit the Cline family when Fred Brown built Wythe Raceway in 1969 and Walt Cline built a completely stock 1957 Chevrolet to compete on the new half-mile track in his hometown. Cline finished third in his first-ever start in a stock car and won in just his second time out on the track.
Walt and later driver Junior Leagans combined to win roughly 300 races in 17 years at Wythe Raceway and other dirt tracks including Kingsport Speedway, Cedar Hill Raceway, Volunteer Speedway among others. That averages out to nearly 17 victories per season from 1970 to 1986 before the track did away with the class they were competing in. From there Leagans and the Cline family moved over to race one season at Friendship Motor Speedway in 1987 before Motor Mile Speedway, which was called Pulaski County Speedway when it opened in 1988 and later New River Valley Speedway.
Leagans won 17 of 23 races in the first season at the Pulaski County track and also won the Six-cylinder division championship. By 1992 the team was looking to go into the tracks top division, Late Models, but Leagans preferred running his six-cylinder and after a while asked the Cline family to put Johnny Rumley behind the wheel of their Late Model.
Rumley piloted the Cline family entry in 1993 full-time at New River Valley Speedway garnering eight wins and challenging for the track championship. Rumley would win a lot of races driving the blue 99 car but one of the most successful drivers for the team came along in the 2000’s.
Brandon Ward, who currently races for PSR Racing at Bowman Gray Stadium in the Modified division, piloted the Cline’s Body Shop number 98 part-time at Motor Mile Speedway from 2002 to 2005 before switching focus in 2006 and racing for the United Auto Racing Association (UARA-STARS) Series championship. Ward accomplished that goal with two wins on the season winning the biggest championship in the team’s history.
Following their championship-winning season, the Cline’s decided to take a little time off from racing. After 37 straight seasons of a blue Cline’s Body Shop car being on track, the car would vanish for 10 years. It would take the grandson of the Cline family patriarch to bring the family back into the racing scene.
Now 19 year-old, Dale Cline, wanted desperately throughout his childhood to race one of the families cars but despite running laps in a go-kart, he’d never had the chance until 2016 when his dad Edd and Uncle Doug bought him a front wheel drive U-Car to compete at their old homestead of Wythe Raceway.
Cline made the most of his first season behind the wheel of a car garnering three top-five finishes and winning in his final start of the 2016 season. From there he jumped behind the wheel of an outdated car that the family had sitting since 2006 and competed in select races at the now-defunct Lonesome Pine Raceway in 2017. In just eight starts the young Cline finished in the top five six times and finished every race in the top ten.
In 2018, Cline had planned to race at Motor Mile Speedway before the track shuttered for one season. The closing sent him and his team to Kingsport Speedway to compete in the Late Model Stock Car division. His Kingsport experience got off to a rocky start in the season opener where his car was heavily damaged which forced him to miss several races.
Before the end of the season, his family purchased a Limited Late Model to get more experience and competed in two South East Limited Series races. One at Kingsport, where Cline ran in the top five and thought he had a car capable of winning and another at Hickory Motor Speedway in Hickory, NC. With the news of Motor Mile Speedway reopening for 2019, Cline and his family made plans to race there in the Limited division.
Cline’s 2019 season started off slow but the young driver has progressed throughout the season while racing against some of the best Limited Sportsman drivers in the country. Cline finished 13th in his first race this season but backed that up with a fifth-place finish followed by two sixth-place finishes and a seventh-place effort in the most recent race.
Cline knows he’s in a good position with a family that’s won races for nearly 50 years.
“Some people say ‘you’re growing up in a great family’,” Cline told RACE22. “I take that a lot in pride. I think as far as being around the people that I am right now, you couldn’t ask for a better crew. They’re the best. They’d do anything for you and do anything for anybody. They’re one of the most respected names in Wythe County and really truthfully, in my opinion, probably Virginia.”
Cline’s car is recognizable to a lot of people in racing. Not just because of it’s color and number and the Cline’s Body Shop on the side but because of the number of people who saw the old six-cylinder car race.
“After we won all those races on asphalt with the six-cylinder deal, I meet people in racing and that car still comes up. They know about it or they’ve heard about it. That car is probably known all over the east coast.”
Cline’s biggest challenge is getting to know what he needs in a car and knowing what to tell the team to change to get it.
“I’m learning what changes to make on these cars,” Cline explained. “I’m learning how to work on these cars and how to set them up and get them how I want it. That’s a learning curve. I’ve only got 20 some races in my life. 20 races is nothing.”
Cline knows the history that his family-owned team has in the sport and carrying on the family legacy is a big deal to him.
“I hope to continue this heritage in racing. I think we’re somewhere under 400 wins on our name and I hope I can take that to 1,000 wins. You try to maximize more than your family or past has done. It’s in me and I know it’s in me. It takes time to figure out what you need.”
Having his family working on the cars and knowing what they’ve done before he was even alive gives him an advantage.
“My dad and my uncle as far as I’m concerned is the best to have done it in the state of Virginia. Ain’t nothing fancy about them but they’re going to show up at the track, they’re going to give me the best they can give me.”
Cline is hoping to get a couple of wins before the season at Motor Mile is over and before moving up to Late Models next season. Two opportunities to win will come this weekend as the Limited Sportsman drivers will go head to head in twin 40-lap contests.
The young driver wants to put his family name back at the top of racing in this region and possibly even further.
“I’m going to get the name Cline back to the top,” Cline said. “They’re going to be saying that name again instead of these other ones. That’s all they used to hear was our name and I think it belongs back up there. I’ve got a lot to prove to myself and my family and most importantly my grandfather, who I never met.”
The Cline family has certainly left their mark on short track racing from the dirt track at Wythe Raceway to winning a championship in the ultra-competitive UARA series and now with a Cline back behind the wheel it could be the start of the next 50 years of the family legacy.