COPPER HILL, VA :: After 47 races at 15 different tracks and over 11,000 miles on the travel log, 2013 brought everlasting memories and new experiences.

Before this year, I hadn’t seen most of the tracks on the Late Model Stock Car circuit.  This year, I had the opportunity to travel out and experience most of what Late Model Stock Car racing has to offer.  It started at Southern National Motorsports Park in North Carolina in March and ended at Five Flags Speedway in Florida.

Along the way, I ran in to familiar faces and met new people.  One thing that never changes, no matter what track you visit, is that the racing community is a family.  So often, we focus on the rivalries and on-track drama but it’s the things that happen off the track that remind us all how close the racing community is.

At Ace Speedway, the fans and drivers all came to the support of a friend and a great racer, Rodney Cook.  Cook was diagnosed with cancer and spent the year fighting it.  The entire Ace Speedway community spent the entire offseason wondering if the track would open again.  When it did, they came to support Brad Allen’s efforts and, when Rodney Cook showed up at the season opener to attend the race, he was met with a standing ovation from the fans and drivers.  In the months that followed, a benefit auction was held in Rodney’s name and the community spent all year praying for Rodney’s condition to improve.  We all hoped he would be able to race again.  Sadly, Rodney’s battle with cancer ended earlier this month.  In the days that followed the news we all hoped would never come, an outpouring of support.  Racers and fans reflected, telling stories, sharing pictures and remembering their friend.

Summers are hot in Kingsport but the only thing hotter than the temperature is the action on the track.  Kingsport is a classic bullring where rubbing is racing.  Rivalries become intense on the track but friendships are strong off the track.  Just north of Kingsport sits Lonesome Pine Raceway in Virginia, a high banked track with a breathtaking view.  Wise County is coal mining country and Lonesome Pine is located in the middle of the hills of Coeburn.  When the sun sets behind the hills on the horizon, the racing action picks up and generates excitement at a track known for producing photofinishes and instant classics.

Franklin County is moonshine country and located within the county in the Blue Ridge Mountains is historic Franklin County Speedway.  Langley Austin and Moonshine Capital Promotions inherited the track in 2013 and led a resurgence of one of America’s great short tracks.  Car counts were up across the board.  I was at every race in 2013 and every race was a good one.  The season opener boasted a thrilling finish with Steve Dalton scoring the win.  The middle of the season boasted an intense rivalry between Kyle Dudley and Steve Dalton.  And the end of the season boasted fantastic racing when Jake Keaton, Johnny Cash, Kyle Dudley and others all visited victory lane.  Franklin County has become my home away from home.  I look forward to many more memories here in 2014.

Of course Martinsville is the most anticipated race of the year every year.  The Virginia is for Racing Lovers 300 is Late Model racing’s Daytona 500.  Race teams spend all year thinking about it and preparing for it.  Every year, Martinsville delivers heartbreak for some and heroism for others.  The emotions are raw.  For some drivers, just making the race is a big deal.  Tommy Lemons, Jr., who is definitely one of the good guys, winning the race was one of the feel good stories of the year.  Martinsville also delivers a feel-good surprise each year.  This year’s surprise was Ryan Stiltner, the Lonesome Pine track champion, scoring a top-five finish and one that wasn’t a fluke either.  Stiltner was good all weekend.  Stiltner’s reactions told the tale – he was all smiles before, during and after the race.

While it’s not a Late Model Stock Car race, my season ended with the most prestigious event in short track racing, the Snowball Derby.  The atmosphere all weekend is one of anticipation and excitement. The hype that builds up all weekend is rivaled only by the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500.  The race itself was dominated by Chase Elliott from start to finish.  After the race, Elliott was disqualified and Erik Jones was declared the winner and everyone looked up Tungsten in the Periodic Table of the Elements.

Of course, there were plenty of others in 2013.  The battle for the NASCAR Whelen All American Series National Championship took center stage all season at South Boston Speedway and Motor Mile Speedway.  Southern National Motorsports Park served so often as a reunion for many of us who spent many years at Old Dominion Speedway, which closed in 2012.  Langley Speedway delivers an electric atmosphere every week with full fields and thousands of fans in the stands cheering on their favorite drivers.  Every week, at every track, new memories are made.

Whether it’s waiting out a rain delay or watching the other races waiting for the main event to go green, 2013 brought many great memories and 2014 will bring even more.  The 2014 season is only two months away and with it will come more lifelong memories.