Crews prepare to hit the track for the first race back at Motor Mile Speedway in 595 days after the track was shuttered for 2018. April 27, 2019 marked the return of racing with a thrilling Late Model Stock Car contest to bring stock car racing back to the Fairlawn, VA facility. (Jaden Austin photo)

595 days took place in between the final race of the 2017 season and the first race of the 2019 season.  Following the completion of the 2017 season on September 9th, Motor Mile Speedway shuttered their stock car racing program for the 2018 season and scaled back to only have special events.  On April 27, 2019, the track roared back to life.

Racing’s return to the 4/10 mile speed plant was met with great car counts and good fan attendance.  It was also met with enthusiasm from both sides of the fence and more visible management and ownership than in years past.  But, not everything was perfect as time management was poor and the implementation of some of the new gimmicks to entertain fans weren’t executed properly.

Here are my grades for everything during the season opener and some opinion on area’s where the track might improve going forward.

Car Counts = A+
The NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Late Model Stock Cars, Limited Sportsman, Super Street, Mod 4 and U-Cars brought life back to the track on Saturday night.  The turnout in all divisions was far better than in 2017 with 24 Late Model Stock Cars, 15 Limited Sportsman, 23 Mod 4’s, 12 Super Street and 10 U-Cars made their way to the 4/10 mile track in Fairlawn, VA.

Atmosphere = A
Whether it was the racers just being glad to be back at their favorite track, the staff welcoming everyone back or the visibility of management, the race had an entirely different feel from years gone by.  I think everyone noticed that being back at Motor Mile wasn’t like being there before.  A huge step in the right direction.

Facility = A
Motor Mile Speedway is known for being one of the nicer facilities in our region but the last few years before they closed the racing program down, the track began to look worse for the wear.  The bleachers had been painted checkered when the track was bought by David Hagan, but over the years since had not been touched up.  They cleaned all of that up and it made the facility look way better.  That was the most noticeable change but everything looked cleaner and brighter than in the past.

Crowd = B
The return of racing was also met with a great crowd of fans in attendance. I don’t have specific numbers but the crowd was much larger than ones in recent memory before the track shut down.  It was a good turnout but not the one many were expecting with the original hype of the return to racing but one that could be something to build upon.

Entertainment = B
With the exception of the second of the Late Model Stock Car races, the racing was as good or better than anywhere we’ve traveled this season.  Motor Mile isn’t known as a rock’em sock’em style bullring but throughout the field in every division, the racing was fierce.  Battles for position raged throughout the field and not one single winner started on the pole for a race.  Every winner had to pass many cars and along the way put on a great show for the fans.

Qualifying = C
The new practice/qualifying session was and is a great idea to save time for the overall program.  The execution wasn’t very good as cars were let out on the track in groups but left from pit road on to the race track under green rather than letting them out and turning the field green once everyone was off pit road.  Hopefully, going forward the track will allow the cars on the track and then turn them green for qualifying.

Also, if the field will be split by time send the slower cars out in the first group to allow for some potential intrigue on who will win the pole in all divisions as the second group hits the track.  This will help make qualifying more exciting or at least as exciting as qualifying is ever going to get.

Redraw = B+
As mentioned above not a single winner started from the pole in any of the six races staged.  That in itself makes me a fan of the redraw. However, the execution of the redraw itself wasn’t very good. Instead of doing it out in the open in front of everyone and all at one time, the individual officials for each division went around and executed the redraw. Now, don’t get it twisted, I’m not saying anything was done wrong but doing it this way could lead to questions from fans or other drivers down the road.

Better execution of this would be to do the draw in front of the fans and everyone on the front straightaway before the races.  The promoter in me would also like to see some kind of pairing with fans and let them do the draw.  Yes, it’ll take a minute or two but more important than time is the fan interaction.  Get the fans involved and allow them to become fans of another driver through pairing them with the driver for the redraw.  Give away prizes to the winning driver’s fan or etc. We have plenty of race22 swag we’ll donate for prizes if that’ll help.

Also, and my memory might not be as good as it used to be but I believe back in the New River Valley Speedway days a redraw was done among the top qualifiers but wasn’t executed until the cars pulled on the track. I also remember being intrigued by this and watching the cars be reshuffled on the track in front of the fans. Maybe this is an option as well if getting the fans involved isn’t in the cards.

Autograph Session = B
I’m all for an autograph session but let’s get all the divisions involved every race.  Let the fans mingle with all the drivers and teams.  Featuring select divisions is an interesting concept but it doesn’t allow new fans who are coming for the first time to be exposed to every driver. Don’t lose the opportunity for some fan to meet the driver they think has a cool car and miss out on him or her becoming a hardcore fan. Let’s make lifetime fans of the drivers and build a future generation of fans and competitors by exposing them to the personalities that make racing great.

Time Management = C-
The off-season meetings were all about making Motor Mile Speedway better and giving racers and fans a more compact and better show.  I think the track delivered in race one on most of these aspects but watching fans leave the track about two and half hours into the show and the show lasting four hours was a bad way to make a first impression on new fans and not what the returning fans expected to see.  Whoever made the decision to lift the time limits discussed in the off-season meetings made a mistake and it was evident by the 55-minute Mod 4 race.

Great decisions were made in the off-season, but management has to stick to those decisions.  Sometimes those decisions are going to be hard to swallow but they were made in an effort to make a better show for the fans and a shorter day for the racers.  Weather played a factor in making the day extra long on night one but that shouldn’t be the case going forward whether Friday testing gets rained out or not.

The length of cautions needs to be shortened to help keep the show moving. Also, having the next division staged and rolling when interviews are complete is another way the show could be helped to move along faster.  When the interview with the winner is complete, the next division should be pulled up to the front stretch awaiting the removal of the top three cars as photos are finished and a green flag should come within a couple of minutes of the cars exiting the track surface.

All in all, being back at Motor Mile Speedway was great.  The racing family in this region was back together for the first time in 595 days and most everyone you talked to said it felt “good to be home”.  The track has a good start and if they can just clean up some of the issues mentioned above they have something they could build upon in the coming years.

The product on the track was second to none.  That’s not a statement I would have thought I would be making.  As a writer, I’ve been openly critical of the lack of entertainment that Motor Mile Speedway has had to offer in past years but this year management is on to something and it has the potential to keep getting better.

Racing action returns to Motor Mile Speedway this Saturday, May 11th at 7:00pm.

Cover photo by Jaden Austin.