The CARS Tour is ready to embark onto Florence Motor Speedway for the Aaron’s 125 this Saturday. The Timmonsville, SC track will host the Palmetto state’s 2nd CARS Tour race of 2021.

Florence’s gritty racing surface and forested background make the venue very picturesque. It is hard to ignore the racetrack’s most notable feature; there is no outside retaining wall that confines the cars inside of the track. The only outside wall on the racetrack is the one that separates the front stretch grandstands from the surface itself.

Steve Zacharias, owner and full-time promoter, caretaker, manager, and race director of Florence Motor Speedway stays incredibly busy with facility upkeep. The just-turned 40 year old still commutes from his home in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, over an hour away to Timmonsville. He drives multiple days a week to prepare for the track’s race schedule. Before taking the reins at Florence, his former place of business was at Myrtle Beach Speedway. Zacharias bought the track in early 2020 after the announcement that Myrtle Beach would be closing its doors for good.

Steve Zacharias addresses the drivers meeting at a race in 2020. (Andy Marquis photo)

Steve was born in a racing family that had him at the track since his days in diapers.

“My grandfather started back in the days of Pintos and Coupes wearing a Vespa Helmet,” Zacharias explained. “My mom had two brothers and her dad was racing at the racetrack. My dad left the hospital to go to the racetrack. The very next week, I was sitting in a car seat in the grandstands. I haven’t left since.”

Hailing from the small upstate New York town of Vestal, Zacharias grew up in mod-squad country next to the Pennsylvania line. He started his racing at now-defunct Shangri-la Speedway. Shangri-la hosted such legends as the Bodine family and Jimmy Spencer. It was also known as Tioga Motorsports Park in nearby Owego New York. Interestingly enough, Steve’s home track also existed without much of an outside retaining wall.

Steve began racing in Street Stocks and graduated to open-wheel Modifieds. He ran in Sportsman Modifieds, which is known today as S.K. Modifieds and he raced Tour Type Modifieds before moving south. Steve moved to Charlotte in 2000 as a 19-year-old to chase NASCAR dreams. He worked for the Richard Petty driving experience before landing his role at Myrtle Beach Speedway.

Zacharias loves how cost-effective his track’s layout is for teams that would otherwise destroy their cars into the barrier. He enjoys the quality of racing that a place like Florence provides for its competitors.

“The CARS Tour series last year proved that having no wall was a benefit, not a deterrent. Chad McCumbee’s throttle stuck in his qualifying lap. His car went off in three and four and we pulled him back up and he qualified fourth. We’ve saved a lot of equipment. It takes some getting used to but the drivers are starting to get the hang of it. There’s a lot of cool things about Florence. I’ve always been excited about how much the drivers enjoy driving it and how good of a race it puts on. It shows itself when they’re running the outside the entire race or they run three-wide for 30 laps straight.”

Two drivers that run the weekly program at Florence are entered for Saturday’s Cars Tour Late Model Stock event. Ryan Glenski and Zack Miracle will be a part of the 20 car field that will take to the 4/10ths of a mile track. Zacharias believes that their experience on scuff tires throughout the year makes them serious threats to win.

“I think it’s exciting for them”, said Zacharias. “Especially for Zack being as young as he is and having such a successful first year in Late Model Stocks. Zack won 6 races with us. Ryan’s won a couple of races with us, he’s had great years. They’re going to know the nuances of what the track brings later in the race. The track surface is not quite Myrtle Beach. It isn’t as bad on tires but it’s still abrasive. They learn that throughout the season and especially this year, they dealt with scuffs a lot more than they’re used to.”

Steve emphasizes family. He has three kids, his kids are 15, 13, and 11 years old. He chose to stay in Myrtle Beach so they could continue at the same schools and maintain the same relationships with friends and teachers. Nearly all of his family members have a job doing something at the track. His parents have full-time jobs but on the weekends they sell tickets and dismount tires. His mom has helped with the phones, his wife runs everywhere, and her father sells souvenirs.

His Aunt Tracy comes down from Hickory to help out. His kids sell tires, concessions, and his oldest operates the camera. The track operates like a well-oiled family restaurant. Steve added that he’d like to keep his uncle R.J. in the community’s thoughts and prayers. R.J. Zacharias underwent a severe brain aneurysm and is recovering from surgery.

Zacharias understands the legacy left behind by the former track owner Charlie Powell who put two decades worth of sweat and dedication into FMS. Much like Zacharias, Powell was family-oriented. He made Florence the best that it could be with the resources that he had.

“It means a lot,” Steve said. “Charlie allowed me to be here at Florence. Every chance I get, I try to mention him and make sure his name is relevant today just as much as it was in the past. His contribution to the sport and his love for the sport is amazing. I wish he could have been here to see these races that are coming to Florence. All I can do is keep doing the best I can to make what he created better and keep his legacy going as long as I possibly can.”

The CARS Late Model Stocks will run two full sets of tires for practice, qualifying, and the race itself. The feature will be 125 laps under the lights. The tour has three remaining points races left. The drivers at the top of the points are in a tight battle. Bobby McCarty leads and Kaden Honeycut, Justin Johnson, and Jared Fryar are all within close striking distance. A Myrtle Beach native driver very familiar with Florence, Sam Yarbrough, stalks quietly in 5th with three races remaining. It has been a season that has seen unprecedented levels of parity and first-time winners through 10 races.

20 drivers and teams will fight on and potentially outside of the high-character racetrack this weekend for the Aaron’s 125.

Cover photo by Corey Latham.