Story by: Corey Latham ~ corey@RACE22.com
Winston-Salem, NC(April 22nd, 2012) — Every year this article makes me feel older, as I have been to opening night 32 years in a row, but it always makes me smile along with thousands of others. It’s time for the most famous of them all, the most storied track in NASCAR weekly racing, the famed quarter mile known as Bowman Gray Stadium. And this edition of “The Most Exciting Of Them All” looks be as strong as ever entering It’s 63rd year.
In the feature division known as the Modifieds, things look a little different on the horizon as a surge of new drivers have entered the fold. Of course the top two of Tim Brown and Burt Myers are still the favorites, but close behind some sleepers are ready to pounce. Jason Myers seems to have some of the worst luck in recent years as the brother to 5-time champ Burt looks to shake it off and become a contender for the championship. He already has the momentum going into the opener with some of his best showings ever to start the season in the Whelen Southern tour, also his rivalry with nemesis Jr. Miller has seemed to die down putting the racing back in his hands.
The one I’m personally looking at this season to contend, at least for wins is Danny Bohn, the youngster who made his start at Wall Stadium in New Jersey came to the quarter mile last year as a rookie and got what many have yet to get for years, his name in the program as a feature winner. Unfortunately, Bohn may miss possibly two races with prior commitments but plans to be there for all the rest. Add in the veterans such a Lee Jefferies, Randy Butner, and Dean Ward.
JonBoy Brown and his brother BoBo are the unknowns, as JonBoy has moved from the famous #53 out of the Puddin Swisher shop and into the #22 for a whole new team (veteran John Smith is rumored to be behind the wheel of the #53). His younger brother is also a teammate to JonBoy out of the same shop as he leaves the historic Bob Nelson owned ride, so the Brown brothers performance on the track is a major unknown heading into this weekend.
Then we have the new guys. This season will see the biggest jump of drivers to mods that we have seen in some time. Former Street Stock champion Matt Cotner has sold his beloved Ford Falcon and moved in the mods as a rookie for 2012. From Sportsman comes your 2011 champion in Robbie Brewer, as he and Bowman Gray Sportsman division master Tommy Neal both have cars ready to go. Noah Tripplett will move from Sportsman to mods as well, and Limited/LMSC driver Tony Black has his sights set on the record books too. With the mix of old and new, some fast, some learning, this should be one of the most exciting years yet. Oh, almost forgot, we don’t know much as we never do about him in these later years, but Jr. Miller will be back, so that means anything can happen and probably will.
In Sportsman with the champ Brewer moving up, the title looks to be in the eyes of Derek Stotlz as he is the one everyone is talking about going into the season. Stoltz has been a proven winner at the stadium, but as we all know the all important “draw” is the key to a good season, Stoltz just hasn’thad the luck picking his starting spot out of the Crown Royal bag recently. Only for the few long distance events do the Sportsman cars ever qualify so each week the starting grid is set by a blind draw out of a bag, with 22+ cars every week, you can get behind in a hurry only running 20 lap features.
There are also a lot of unknowns in Sportsman as drivers have moved up, moved on, or simply are not sure if they are running the entire season or not. One of those that has contended before is Taylor Branch. The Branch team has had one of the fastest cars the last few years picking up the most wins two years ago, but after running some Limited Late model races and a Southeast Limited Late model tour race at the end of last season, they are going to go to the stadium and see how it goes, the first few weeks will dictate what their plans are for 2012. Kenny Bost is in the same boat, they say they aren’t running the stadium full-time one week, then it changes as he has been running Caraway. You just got to know how these Bowman Gray drivers operate, as in all racing, usually the first ones to say they aren’t coming are the first one’s through the gate.
Gary Ledbetter. Well, not much to say here, if you have seen him drive before, you know the deal. He has won in every car he has sat in, and the #70 became a feared ride last year as it was undoubtedly the fastest car each and every week. Bryant Robertson looks to get more consistancy in his hotrod, Michael Adams is coming into his own and Luke Fleming and his Brother Jordan who will be a rookie look to be strong as well. Barry Edwards has been fast in practice but says his son Kyle will not racing this year as he has gotten a new Limited car.
The Street Stock division is one of the most exciting, sometimes for the wrong reasons, but 2012 will for sure have a new look to it as one rivalry has gone away. The 2011 season championship may have been won by John McNeal but the story was the Matt Cotner/Billy Gregg rivalry. Somehow these two found each other on the track nearly every week with Cotner finally running over an official to ram the Gregg machine and then Gregg donning a cape like a superhero in victory lane a few weeks later. with Cotner moving to the mods, it looks to be Gregg and McNeal the favorites for the title, but with the way the Street races have gone in the last three years or so, anything can and probably will happen.
Another Cotner may fill that void as Matt’s brother Darren has a new Ford blue Fusion and is ready to do battle. The Gregg dislike wasn’t relegated
to just Matt as Darren had his dust up’s too, so we may see a tradition continue. Brian Wall has his car ready to go and looks for a bit of luck, and if the races at Ace Speedway were any indication two weeks ago, Craig West has really stepped up his game with a super fast car. Veterans David Sumner and Donnie Martin are always a threat also. We all have to watch John Holleman, little JonJon came in as a rookie last year and really impressed, probably the most heralded Bandolero driver ever with over 120 wins, he looks to be progressing as if it were a day at the park. If we can keep the back of the pack from trying to kill each other on the first turn of every lap, the Street division may be the best racing there of the season.
Now we get to one of my favorite divisions every created, the Mini-Stocks, or “Stadium Stocks” as they are know at Bowman Gray. These cars were brought in to replace the Blunderbust cars in the late 80’s, early 90’s to make the racing more affordable and more competitive. Like any division ever created in the history of man, they have evolved into super high performance cars that carry the mail around the 1/4 mile with the best of them.
Defending champ Michael Wells looks to be running elsewhere so that leaves the door wide open. And when I say open, I mean OPEN as opening night should see upwards of 50 cars in two differnet races. Jason Keaton is leading the charge this season with a host of seasoned veterans such as Chuck Wall, Johhny Burke, Jimmy Absher and Charlie Curry just to name a select few. But there are others, many others.
Drew Moffitt came up 28 points short from the championship in 2011 finishing third, but had the points lead and was cruising until a grenaded motor with a handful of races to go killed his charge to the title. He has his stuff together for 2012 and is determined to bring the championship home, as does 2011 overall champion Chris Lawing. Lawing had his car for sale and was not racing this season, like many of us today the racing hobby was just too expensive. But just two weeks ago things fell into place and he looks to be at the first race at least and see how things go from there. In today’s economy that seems to be the norm at all tracks across the Southeast.
It’s almost here ladies and gentleman, time for the show to begin, fireworks on the track, in the infield, in the pits, everywhere you look. There honestly is nothing like it anywhere in America, and nothing is more American than Saturday night racing at Bowman Gray Stadium.