Story by: Corey Latham — [email protected]
Photos by: Corey Latham & Roger Doyle

Winston-Salem, NC(April 30, 2009) — As the years go by, and especially in the past few years, I’ve heard, “I have never been to Bowman Gray, always wanted to, just never made it”. I thought these people were crazy, no way in the world could a race fan have never walked through the turnstiles at the famed 1/4 mile. But it is true, many in the racing world who are not in the immediate Winston-Salem area have never been. Any race fan who has never seen the show at Bowman Gray, needs to do it at least once in their life, and after one trip, there is a good possibility you’ll be hooked. Me and 17,000 of my closest friends were there last Saturday, we caught the bug years ago.

The stadium is a different breed of racers. It Isn’t even in question, the fans and drivers at Bowman Gray are the most passionate in all of racing. The season opening race was this past weekend and the dedication to racing in opener started….well, on the way there. Andrew Sanders who races in the mini-stock division, had worked on his car till 3am for the past week to get it ready. Loaded up and headed to the track, until the truck breaks down. Almost 3 miles from the track on the side of the interstate, they did what any other racer would do…….they drove the car to the track down Hwy 52 and right into the pits, no way were they missing this. That’s dedication and half nuts.

You see things like that all the time at the stadium, and the characters that go with it. All the players were there, and the fields were full and ready. 20 modifieds, 35 Sportsman, 20 Street Stocks, and 48 mini-stocks would make any track foam at the mouth. But here, It’s an every week thing. With over 12,000 fans every week, it makes the stadium the most attended track in the entire U.S., and a sponsors dream.

We are set to go, the Sportsman division is the first up to bat. From the get-go it’s on, turn 1, lap 1, the entire field nearly wads them up as I take my seat in the first row out of turn 2. Now let me remind you, at Bowman Gray you can get close to the action…I mean REALLY close. With no fence between you and the action down the straightaways, it can scare you.

As things got settled in during the Sportsman division race, Robbie Brewer was letting his dirt-track skills shine. The more laps they ran, the more sideways Brewer’s neon colored #68 would get, until late in the race when he made his move. Keith McMichael had held the lead, but Brewer wanted it. Brewer was able to root under the #77 and “dirt-track” his way to victory. Brewer already has a win this year at Caraway Speedway, and is going into week 2 at Bowman Gray 2 for 2 on the year.

With the Sportsman race out of the way, it was time for the main event of the evening, 200 laps for the most powerful cars under NASCAR sanction, the open-wheel modifieds. The mods have been Bowman Gray’s feature division for 6 decades, and the names in the record book is impressive. Petty, Pearson, Allison, Wood, Earnhardt and Panch were some of the early NASCAR greats to get victories there. Later into the 70’s and 80’s I remember the intense battles between Radford, Worley, Brinkley, Myers and Middleton. From the 90’s into today, It’s names like Burt Myers, Tim Brown, Junior Miller and Robert Jefferies who are the ones to beat each and every week. The history and legends that come with it, are deep in the modified division.

Michael Cliffton would start on the pole this night, but the big story would be what would happen between Burt Myers and Jr. Miller. Myers, the young cocky hotshoe, and Miller, the wiley veteran with a knack for “moving cars”, were the center of attention dating back to last season. The rivalry stated between Miller and Burt’s father Gary in the early 90’s and had progressed into something reminiscent of the legendary “Hatfield and McCoy’s” tales, well, short of murder. Their battle last year concluded with the season ending event, and both drivers turning the post race into their own private demolition derby, with probation and fines going into the 2009 season.

We were ready, and everybody was on the edge of their seat, when suddenly, Jr. Miller’s night came to an end before the race even started. as the cars were warming up their tires on the pace laps, a logjam sent the cars stopping quickly, Miller got into the back of a car with his left front wheel, causing race ending damage. What? I guess this weird occurrence was just setting up what was to come.

Green flag drops, and we get in single file fashion rather quickly. Over the years, the mods at Bowman Gray have gotten faster and faster. So fast, that the “outside” pass that was used years ago, is non-existent. The “bump and run” is the passing method of choice now, and until the end of such a big race, we were left wondering if it would be like this for 195 laps. We were wrong, as on lap 77 Lee Stimpson would loop his car around to bring out the caution, and more importantly, out first “choose” double-file restart of 2009.

Bowman Gray has an option for drivers in any mod races over 25 laps this year, you can choose to rush it and go on the outside lane on restarts. If a driver running 10th decides to go outside and nobody in front of him takes advantage, he restarts right outside of the leader. Many drivers jumped on the chance quickly, as Tim Brown who was in 6th jumped first, and was followed by Jason Myers and Bobby Hutchens. Before we go green the second place runner, Burt Myers, hits pit road. His night is done thanks to a broken rear end, looks like the Miller vs. Myers rivalry just wasn’t in the cards this night.

At the drop of the green, second place driver Brent Elliott never lifts going into turn 1, taking out the leader Cliffton, as others crash into the melee. Somehow Tim Brown emerged unscathed and fell into second from the outside lane, then again being smooth is his specialty, that’s why he is a 7-time champion at the stadium. The wreck was rather odd looking, and for good reason, the throttle stuck on Elliott’s #72 , and it was “hold on” time after that. Elliott had a new sponsor on board in “Back Country Water Stoves”, not the way he wanted to start the year off with new backing, but he assured me he will be ready to go next week.

On the next restart Brown choose the outside groove again from 2nd, rather risky being that close to the front, but he knew exactly what he was doing. As the field screamed into turn 1, Brown dove low to take the lead from Randy Butner, and that was all he needed.

Attrition would be the story from then, after 20 cars took the green flag only 10 were on-track when the dust settled. Many cautions came out in the second half of the race, and while Jonathon Brown, Butner, Chris Fleming and Al Hill all took shots at Brown, it was to no avail. Brown would take home the win, followed by Chris Fleming and the youngster, Al Hill, who at 72 years old is starting his 53rd year of racing at Bowman Gray. 3rd place isn’t a win, but to see Hill wheel that car every week, is a win in everybody’s hearts. I predict a win for the 72 year-old this year, he just doesn’t ride, he’s in the front dicing it up every week.

The Street Stock division would roll out next, and the champion from last year John McNeil would prevail victorious. The ever popular “Bobo” Brown, brother to modified driver Jonathon Brown was close on his heels to take the runner up spot.

The nightcap was two 15 lap races for the mini-stocks, and they always put on a show. Jason Keaton would start from the pole, and looked to be in command, until a pit stop for a pinched fuel line would send him to the back. Michael Wells would take the win, but if a few laps were left he would of had his hands full with a hard charging Wayne Hill coming across 2nd.

In race 2, the action was wild early as a major ruckus coming out of turn 2 resulted in many cars spinning, and one actually going over the guardrail to rest in the grass next to the concrete wall. As the action sorted itself out A.J. Sanders would lead the field to the checkers, followed by the beautiful new ride for Kenny Dixon.

Typical Bowman Gray racing to start the season. When someone uses the word “typical” to describe a night of racing, that usually equals boring. Bowman Gray is a different breed, typical there means many wrecks, hard racing, paybacks on-track, a scuffle or two in the pits, packed grandstands, flared tempers and promises of payback. All these together, along with the $10 admission, numerous $1 ladies nights, demolition derby’s, chain races, Monster Trucks, and fireworks are the reason we all keep coming back. Maybe this kind of racing isn’t your cup of tea, but you need to experience it at least once. It’s like I’ve told people before, they don’t even need to have a car on the track for you to be entertained, you’ll never know what you’ll see at “The Famed 1/4 Mile”, NASCAR’s longest weekly running race track.