Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Back Up to Speed (a story about the Winston Cup Museum)

NOTE: This story appeared in Winston-Salem Monthly magazine in January 2016.

Back Up to Speed

After a yearlong pit stop, Winston Cup Museum has reopened with new offerings and a new approach.

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When the Winston Cup Museum opened in May 2005, owner/founder Will Spencer said he didn’t open the museum to make money.

“I wanted to give something back to the city of Winston-Salem as well as preserve the 33-year history of Winston Cup Racing because it had such a positive impact on me and my business,” he has said.
The museum quietly stayed open until December of 2014, then reopened in August of 2015.
“That was because I wanted to go in a different direction,” Spencer said in early December. “When it opened, I said we’d go 10 years, then see if we needed any changes.”
The museum, now called the Winston Cup Museum Special Event Center, is located at 1355 N. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, right beside where Spencer’s JKS Motorsports buildings still exist (JKS moved to Lexington a few years ago, but Spencer still owns those buildings).
Spencer said he worked with the City of Winston-Salem to rezone the area and make the museum a part of the nearby entertainment district so he could do outdoor events and hold special events inside the museum. In December, for instance, the museum hosted a special Pearl Harbor veterans coffee, and it later hosted the Town of Rural Hall’s awards ceremony and retirement banquet for long-time fire chief Eddie Horn.
Rural Hall held its banquet at the museum because Horn has been a part-time employee for Spencer and JKS. He says he sent Spencer an email saying that he’d like to drive show cars for JKS, and he wound up driving a show car for the Clint Bowyer/5-Hour Energy NASCAR team.
“We want to do car shows and flea markets, and we might hold (outdoor) movie nights,” Spencer said. He said they might show movies with a car theme, with the Steve McQueen flick “Bullitt” among possibilities, along with “Vanishing Point” and “Grease” (the one with John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John).
The museum will have interactive games, and Spencer is working with a Greensboro company called Pixels on an application that visitors can download to their smart phones and other devices. Visitors could then hear the words of long-time broadcaster Mark Garrow and learn about the Winston Cup era (1971-2003).
“If you don't have technology to keep young people interested, you won't survive long,” said Christy Spencer, Will’s wife and the museum publicist.
They’ve redesigned their website, and updated their Facebook page.
The museum has a small number of employees. Christy Spencer, Will’s wife, says she’s the behind-the-scenes “bill-payer and numbers girl.” Bill Soper has long been the museum curator. Bill Harrelson, a long-time employee of R.J. Reynolds and a big race fan, showed up for the museum opening in 2005, and now he’s working for the museum.
The night of the Rural Hall banquet, visitors walked into the lobby and saw a silver Christmas tree beside a mural dominated by the photo of seven-time Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt Sr. Farther inside the showroom area — this building used to be an auto dealership — there’s a red Superbird.
Inside the museum, there are 23 race cars, some of them with working race engines. Spencer says he has 27 cars in other buildings because there was no room in the museum. The wall to the left still shows photos of the Winston Cup era, starting with the first era champion, Richard Petty in 1971, and ending with the last, Matt Kenseth in 2003. In the podium area, visitors could see the first-ever Winston show car, which featured driver T. Wayne Robertson (who later ran Winston’s Cup program) and Miss Winston Marilyn Chilton (later Green).
If you go through a door behind podium, you could see the staging area where they handle catering for events.
There’s still a visible connection between the museum and Reynolds Tobacco Co., partly because of its location. You walk out the museum door and look up, and you’ll see the Reynolds American building, with the Winston Tower behind it.
Spencer is quick to remind you that Winston was instrumental in pushing NASCAR’s highest division and short tracks like Bowman Gray Stadium and South Boston Speedway to greater success.
“So much has happened in those 33 years,” Spencer said, “and if you look at where NASCAR was in 1971 when the sponsorship started compared to where it was when it ended in 2003, it’s really amazing. I had been thinking about some sort of a museum for some time, but in 2003, when RJR decided to get out of NASCAR, the museum idea had a purpose.”
It’s a way to remember Dale Earnhardt Sr., Richard Petty, Bill Elliott, Cale Yarborough and the others.
“(Race fans) like that (Winston Cup) era,” Will Spencer said. “There’s interest in it because (racing) was more exciting then.”

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Sunday, January 1, 2017

Lee Faulk Racing feature (from a few years ago)

Faulk drivers getting experience at HMS

By Tom Gillispie

When Hickory Motor Speedway opened its season a few weeks ago, Lee Faulk Racing was well represented.

Three of the LFR racers were in the 24-car Late Model field. Justin Bolton finished seventh, Bret Holmes 10th and Kate Dallenbach 20th in the 100-lap Big 10 Race Challenge.

Last week, two Faulk drivers raced at Hickory. Holmes finished seventh in the 11-car Late Model race, and Marcus Lambert was seventh in the 18-car Limited race.

Faulk’s returning racers are Bolton and Enrique Baca Amador in Late Models and Lambert in Limiteds.

Michael Faulk says they chose HMS partly because it’s relatively close to their shop in Denver, N.C.

“We’ve been racing there since we started,” said Michael Faulk, 32.

Owner Lee Faulk, 57, says the track’s illustrious history is an attraction, but he adds, “It’s a NASCAR-sanctioned track, and that’s important for the kids. It’s attached to the NASCAR banner.

“Hickory’s also the hardest track we’ve been to,” he added. “We test there a lot, and it’s a neat place to race, really. There’s good Saturday-night racing there.”

On race days, Michael and Lee act as crew chiefs or spotters. In the season opener, Michael Faulk was the crew chief for Dallenbach.

Dallenbach, the 17-year-old daughter of former Cup driver Wally Dallenbach Jr., is in her first year in Late Models. She plans to run the 10 Paramount Kia Big 10 Racing Challenge races, and she’s also doing some dirt racing.

Bolton has moved up to Late Models after running Limited Late Models at HMS last year. He ran just six races but won twice and posted one second-place finish, one fourth-place finish and a sixth-place finish. “He's a natural,” Lee Faulk said. “Very few drivers have caught on as immediately as he has. He listens well.”

Bolton is a freshman at UNC Charlotte, majoring in Mechanical Engineering with an emphasis in Motorsports.

Holmes says his plans are to run a full season at HMS and also run 15 to 20 dirt Super Late Model races. He might run the All American 400 at Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville, Tenn., and the Snowball Derby in Pensacola, Fla. Those come at the end of the year, after he gets more asphalt experience.

Lambert, 18, is a high-school senior in Woodbridge, Va.  He’ll attend the University of Northwestern Ohio this fall and take the High Performance Motorsports and Automotive Technology programs.  

One of the most notable past LFR racers at HMS was Pietro Fittipaldi, who won a Limited title at Hickory in 2011; then he raced a season of Late Models before going to open-wheel cars last year.

Venezuelan Christian Calvo won a Late Model race late last season for LFR, but he’s moved elsewhere this year.

Both Faulks have racing backgrounds. Lee won races in the All-American Challenge Series, and he ran three Cup races in 1982, finishing 23rd at Richmond, 20th at Charlotte and 32nd at North Wilkesboro. He started six Busch (now Nationwide) Series races, one in ’83 (finishing 26th at Charlotte) and five races in 1989 (with a best of 18th at Charlotte in Florida).

After retiring as a driver, he built cars and then started LFR in 2006.

Michael raced various divisions in Florida before trying the NASCAR All-Pro Series in 2003 and the USAR Hooters Pro Cup Series in 2005. He still races Late Models on occasion, but he says he won’t race against LFR’s clients. He might race this fall at Myrtle Beach (S.C.) Speedway or somewhere when the clients are idle.

He says LFR has four full-time employees and one part-timer, and they add more part-time help for weekends.

Michael says the worst thing about the job is watching their drivers get better during the season, win once or twice, then move somewhere else the next season.