2020 brought about change for nearly every human and business in the world. Caraway Speedway was no exception.
The track will host their 56th season in 2021 but finds itself in the rebuilding stages after more than a decade of downturn for not just them but nearly every short track in the country. Darren Hackett took over the track this past summer amidst a divorce from his wife, Renee. Hackett says he’s just trying to get things back on track.
Hackett did just that by getting racing restarted during the pandemic. He returned to racing while only a limited number of fans were allowed into the track and while most fans could only view from their cars. Caraway Speedway is unique in that the layout of the facility offers trackside parking along the fence from the center of the backstretch to turn four, which allowed more fans to attend than at most race tracks in North Carolina.
“Having established trackside parking really helped us when it was time to go back racing,” Hackett said. “Our stands are spread out and our trackside parking is spread out which really made it easier to safely have fans. Not many tracks have that option and we were lucky to have it.”
Caraway Speedway had developed a shaky reputation over the last decade or more and Hackett says he really needed to rebuild.
“We kinda started over here last season,” Hackett explained. “I took the track over solely in July to rebuild something that needs rebuilding. We still had bills coming in and had to spend x number of dollars each month. We needed to get back racing and we kinda had to hit the reset button because of everything going on.”
Along with everything that was going on in the world, Caraway Speedway had developed a shaky reputation in the last decade for various reasons. As he hit the reset button Hackett brought in veteran race promoter Randy Myers, who has operated Friendship Motor Speedway (when it was asphalt) and Ace Speedway in the past along with managing the SMART Modified tour during its first stint. Myers had the experience Hackett was looking for in someone to help him as he began to try and turn the track around.
Despite some success in events during 2020, Hackett is one of those people who believes that you can throw out everything that you learned during the pandemic year because it likely won’t apply to 2021 or beyond.
“You can’t base anything from last year for this year,” Hackett commented. “It was such a different year and everything was so all over the map. With some tracks closed and others operating without fans, it was just a different year. I think you see things get back to normal some this year but who knows what tracks will be open and which ones won’t.”
Hackett is hoping to turn the corner with the changes he made last year and additional changes in 2021.
“Not doing touring and focusing on the track will help us a lot,” Hackett explained. “With the SMART Tour and those guys focusing on promoting the Modifieds, which have been important to Caraway over the years will help us as we go forward.”
Caraway has three SMART Modified Tour races scheduled this season with a spring date, a summer date and a fall date. Hackett says having three of them seems like the perfect number for Caraway. The SMART Tour will be in their first full season after a rebirth of the series that had been dormant for years.
The CARS Tour will also make their first visit to Caraway Speedway on May 22nd in a special race in tribute to a former employee of both the track and the series.
David “Lightning” Saunders passed away on November 27, 2019, at the age of 54. He had spent most of his life in motorsports working as a crew member and eventually as a tech man for South Boston Speedway, Caraway Speedway, Southern National Motorsports Park and eventually the CARS Tour. He also worked as part of the tech team at the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 at Martinsville Speedway.
Saunders worked full-time for Darren Hackett at Caraway Speedway and with Hackett’s other business ventures while working at the track and at other events during the season. As the CARS Tour comes to Caraway Speedway for the first time, it seems only fitting that they honor Saunders’ life as he was a big part of both the series and the track.
Hackett is passionate about honoring his former employee and friend’s life.
“David was at South Boston and he came here when Tommy (White) retired,” explained Hackett. “He worked with me during the week but I think he stayed here working because I let him off to go racing when he wanted to. Racing was his passion. It’s a good fit to do this race in honor of him because of the connection between Caraway and the CARS Tour with him. That was his last main gig and he was working here with us when he passed away.”
Hackett believes bringing in the CARS Tour is another part of this rebuild.
“Bringing in the CARS Tour is another part of rebuilding the track and offering the fans something different. We’ve got the SMART Tour dates and they’re good. They work for us. We were looking for something else to bring in and they had an open date. It just worked out.”
CARS Tour President Jack McNelly is also honored to be able to do this race for someone who he says was important to the series.
“I’m so glad,” McNelly commented. “Lightning wasn’t with us that long but he became an important part of the series very fast. It was quite a setback to lose him. Darren came up with the idea to make this race for him and I was all for the idea. He spent a lot of time with the Hackett’s. I think he did anything and everything for them and he was important to Caraway.”
Hackett says he knows that CARS Tour will bring a good car count and a good show and hopes the fans can come out and enjoy it while honoring Lightning’s life.
“Jack (McNelly) has 22-25 cars everywhere it seems,” Hackett said. “You’re going to get a good show when they come to any race track. To get a good show on a bigger track like Caraway takes the right combination and I think the CARS Tour has that. It’ll be a good show for the fans.”
Hackett hasn’t released his full schedule yet but the 56th season at the track near Asheboro will open on Sunday, March 14th with the SMART Modified Tour’s first race of 2021.
Cover photo by Corey Latham.