If the offseason is any indication, 2016 should be one of the best seasons in recent memory for Late Model Stock Car racing and racing in the Southeast in general.
As the days start to get longer, we inch even closer to the start of the 2016 season, which kicks off next weekend when the Pro All Stars Series (PASS) heads to Greenville-Pickens Speedway with the Southeast Limited Late Model Series and the Southeast Super Truck Series. During this shorter than usual and milder offseason, new tracks and new series have stepped into the spotlight while other offseason changes leave drivers and fans with a lot to look forward to.
Some of the biggest changes have taken place at South Boston Speedway.
South Boston is one of the oldest and most prestigious tracks in the region, but recent years have not been kind to the Virginia racetrack. South Boston Speedway general manager Cathy Rice is looking to change all that in 2016.
South Boston Speedway is going to a two tire program, which will save the racers money and, if Southern National Motorsports Park’s 2015 season was any indication, improve the racing. They have also increased their payouts through the field – paying $500 to start. Adding to their offseason momentum, South Boston Speedway will keep Lynn Carroll on board for 2016 as the race director and the track is in the process of renovating its facilities – a $1 million capital improvement plan which will be complete when the track is repaved before the start of the 2017 season as well as adding a passing points program for this season.
Meanwhile, just a couple hours away in Callaway, Virginia, Langley Austin is back at Franklin County Speedway. Austin was the promoter at the track in 2013 and part of 2014 when he leased the track from Donald “Whitey” Taylor. Under Austin, Franklin County Speedway did not just survive, it thrived.
The 2014 season launched Franklin County Speedway to the forefront of Late Model Stock Car racing. Strong car counts and breathtaking racing action attracted an some of the best crowds at regional tracks. Franklin County also became the talk of the town in sports – often leading in the front pages of the sports sections in local papers and on local television network WSLS-TV.
Franklin County Speedway will race on Sundays and holidays in 2016, much like they did on multiple occasions in 2014. Track promoter Langley Austin expects the Sunday races to attract racers from other tracks while also drawing fans that he hopes will rival or surpass his attendance in 2014.
Staying in the state of Virginia, a new track is opening in April.
Dominion Raceway, located just off Interstate 95 in between Washington, DC and Richmond, Virginia, has made its fair share of headlines. The track is expected to be complete for their opening night on April 9th. Dominion Raceway will run under the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series (NWAAS) banner just like Old Dominion Speedway did. And it was recently announced that Dominion Raceway would host a NASCAR K&N Pro Series East race on Memorial Day.
Track owner Steve Britt is focusing on making Dominion Raceway the most pleasant fan experience in short track racing and he will have the facilities to do just that. A three story building on the frontstretch will have a restaurant, bar, lounge and suites and, in the infield, a jumbotron will bring the NASCAR experience to short track racing.
Dominion Raceway will not be the only track hosting its first race season in 2016 either.
Carteret County Speedway, which is located in Peletier, North Carolina – just five minutes away from Emerald Isle, North Carolina – ran two races in 2015 and will host their first full season in 2016. An 11 race schedule will see a variety of different events such as Late Models, Mini-Stocks, Go-Karts, Street Stocks and more.
Track owner Bobby Watson is all about taking care of the drivers. Already, Carteret doesn’t charge drivers to practice at the track, but there are more announcements forthcoming about the track regarding pit prices and tire prices.
2016 will be another season of change at Southern National Motorsports Park. It’s not just about Late Model Stock Cars at Southern National anymore, but also about Super Late Models. Track owner Michael Diaz has teamed up with LFR Chassis and the Championship Auto Racing Series (CARS) to form a Pro Late Model division at Southern National with the division champion receiving an LFR Chassis Super Late Model and the winner of each race receiving a free entry into the next following CARS Tour race.
The Pro Late Model division will be popular at Southern National with the fans who have been begging for the return of the Straight Rail racecars at the Lucama, North Carolina racetrack.
The track that generated the most buzz last season was Dillon Motor Speedway. Ron Barfield has become the most popular and well-liked promoter in the Southeast and for good reason. Barfield is all about taking care of his drivers with an affordable rules package and generous payouts. In fact, many of the changes other tracks have made in recent years to make their races more affordable have been inspired by the rules Barfield has put in place at Dillon Motor Speedway.
At Dillon, Barfield has emerged as sort of a modern day Richard “Dickie” Gore. He may not have invented Late Model Stock Car racing like Gore did, but he is leading an evolution of the sport.
The CARS Tour is entering its second season as the region’s apparent premier touring series with plenty of momentum behind it.
Last season, Jack McNelly relaunched the CARS Pro Cup Series into a dual Late Model Stock Car and Super Late Model series. The idea was just crazy enough that it actually worked. From the season’s first race at Southern National to the finale at Hickory, the CARS Tour was the headline act in Southeastern short track racing in 2015.
The schedule for 2016 remains similar but the changes in the offseason include a new loyalty program announced by the series which will give back to series regulars. Make no mistake, the CARS Tour is here to stay.
New tours have been introduced for Mini-Stock racing and Modified racing. The South East Mini Stock Tour will host races through much of Central North Carolina and Southern Virginia while the brand new Southern Modified Racing Series presented by PASS will create another option for the region’s top Modified racers.
There’s so much more going on but this is just a taste of the changes and much more will unfold in the coming weeks. This off-season has generated a lot of excitement that should bode well for fans and racers during the 2016 season and, in just a few short weeks, the excitement will return to a short track near you.