COPPER HILL, VA :: It was recently announced via the series Facebook page that the UARA-STARS Series would not be returning in 2015 via a statement by series President Kerry Bodenhamer.
The UARA-STARS Series was certainly missed during the 2014 season as the series was on hold due to family issues within Bodenhamer and his wife Wink’s families. Race fans and drivers and teams immediately feared that it wasn’t just on hold but that the series that had flourished in the 2000s would disappear into the night and never be seen again. Never is a long ways away but life without the UARA will certainly be different.
Maybe it’s just that racing to me is romantic. It’s a love of the cars, the smells, the sounds, the sights, the drivers, the teams and all the people who make racing tick. One of the greatest times of my young life was becoming the UARA-STARS Series photographer in 2007. I remember attending the 2006 UARA banquet the winter before as 2006 champion Brandon Ward celebrated his championship.
I had been to a handful of UARA races previous to the 2007 season and the racing was second to none compared to any races I had attended. The 2007 season didn’t disappoint either. From record car counts soaring into the 50s early in the season to a bizarre finish to the championship with a multi-car qualifying crash (long before the days of European qualifying) and a three-way battle for the championship eventually won by Ross Furr.
Many more incredible moments happened over the next three or four seasons of working with the UARA from being the photographer myself to having my future wife as the videographer for several years to doing the series official souvenir program for several seasons to doing the videos for the championship contenders at the season ending banquets and just covering the series with RACE22.com.
The economy began taking its toll on the series by 2010-2011 and, by 2013, car counts had sunk to an all-time low in the teens at many races. The series once was known for creating future stars in racing like part-time NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver Jake Crum (2008 Champion), Matt McCall (2009 Champion) who will crew chief for Jamie McMurray in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series next year, third generation racer Coleman Pressley (2010 Champion), multi-time ARCA Series winner Brennan Poole (2011 Champion), NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Matt DiBenedetto and so many more.
The UARA-STARS Series was also instrumental in the birth and growth of what you see on RACE22.com today. As I said above we were involved in many aspects of the series from photos to videos to programs to so much more. In our first season being involved with the series in 2007, it became evident that racing coverage on the internet was not only lacking but it was almost non-existent for not only the UARA but Late Model Stock Car racing in general. Few races were covered and at the time we operated a small regional newspaper and the internet was beckoning.
The domain RACE22.com already existed and we had already been (and I use the term loosely) “covering” races with it. It was however an afterthought of the newspaper and while working with many of the teams in the UARA the idea to become more of news website was born. RACE22.com was officially re-launched in a news format in late September of 2007. Coverage of the UARA-STARS series while it was booming with huge car counts and drivers coming from all over the country helped spur a boom for RACE22.com as well.
On April 18, 2009, coverage of the UARA-STARS Series and short track racing (I’d say racing as a whole) was taken to a whole new level when @race22 was born on Twitter when few people even knew what Twitter was. Funny side note to that is how I found out about Twitter. I was watching TV one night and a commercial came on for Sprint and they said something about tweeting or twitter and of course I had to head to google and find out just what the heck Twitter is.
Upon finding out and realizing that literally no one was using Twitter at the time, I decided to try and use it as a source of “Live Updates” for RACE22.com. After finding a way to embed the updates on the website, we actually had a lot of readers of our updates which I’m sure if memory serves me correctly were very limited. That was the beginning of what has now become a much utilized way of getting information out from not just race tracks but life events in a hurry.
I don’t want to get sidetracked but I wanted to make a point as to how vital the UARA-STARS Series was to RACE22.com’s growth. No series played a bigger role in RACE22.com’s growth than the UARA-STARS Series. It’s absence last season and decline in the season before played a huge role in me losing interest as a writer. I hate to say it but the UARA meant more to me than probably anyone outside of the Bodenhamer, his wife and the others who played a day to day and race to race role in the series.
Bodenhamer and I also always had a contensious relationship. I was always pushing the envelope covering his races while he was much more conservative. I can remember many, many emails and phone calls from him explaining to me what I’d done wrong. At the time I was always afraid I’d push the envelope too far and I’d be banned from the series. However despite our differences, we always found a way to find mutual ground to try and promote the series.
I was hard on him and I was hard on many of the series decisions. If I thought something wasn’t right, I told him and often times he’d explain things to me and I’d find at least a respect of why he made the decision he did. Bodenhamer and I will never talk about how we were the best of friends but I respect him and what he did for Late Model Stock Car and somewhere down the line I hope he respects what we did for the UARA and what we continue to do for short track racing.
Whether or not we’ve seen the last of the UARA-STARS Series has yet to be seen. There’s going to be a new touring series (CARS Late Model Tour) which I hope can at least begin to fill that void. I can tell you for me though nothing will ever replace the memories made and the time I spent with people I can truly say I enjoyed being around. From Bodenhamer to his incredible wife Wink to his son A.j. to everyone who was ever involved in the series.
It was a special time in my life and I’m forever grateful of the opportunities given to me with the series and the friends and acquaintances made that I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life. Life without the UARA will never be the same.