|A NEARLY PACKED GRANDSTAND WAITS FOR RACING.|
(2008 PHOTO BY TOM GILLISPIE)
By Tom Gillispie
ELKIN — It was 6 o'clock Saturday at Friendship Motor Speedway, and they hadn't begun racing on the fresh dirt. It got 7, 7:30 and even 8 o'clock and still no racing.
But no one was complaining outwardly, and fans were still coming in at 8:15.
They wanted dirt racing.
Jimmy Boles of Mount Airy said he came just twice to races during the four-year asphalt era at Friendship.
"I didn't care for that asphalt racing," Boles said. He looked around and added, "I believe there is a bigger crowd for this than when it was asphalt. I came here when it first opened, and I know quite a bit of people who are coming back."
Billy Griner of Elkin said that he, like, Boles, came twice to asphalt races at Friendship.
"I didn't like it," he said. "I like to see them sling that mud, turn left and hang it out."
Ronnie Hefner said that he got tired of asphalt racing in which maybe two or three cars vied for the lead all night.
"It's more competitive on dirt," he said.
And everyone, drivers, officials, crewmen and even fans, get dirty. Happily.
"The one thing about a dirt track is that you (fans) don't have to take a bath before you come here," Roger Bell of Traphill said straight-faced. "You can do that when you get home; you're going to get dirty."
Early in the evening, Griner said that there was a bigger car count than they'd had on asphalt.
"There were no cars here when it was asphalt," said Griner, who worked on a race team in the '90s at Friendship. Where did the cars go? "Probably Ace (Speedway in Altamahaw) or Hickory (Motor Speedway)," he said.
Bell said he got disgusted with asphalt racing.
"I wish they'd never went to pavement," he said. "They tried to get too big too fast; there were more fans at lawnmower races than there were right here."
The parking lot was full of cars; fans were sitting on the beds of trucks backed up all around the fence, and fans were parking just outside the property fence beside Highway 268. They just didn't get to see feature races.
Promoter Phil Hall said that there was too much water on the track from afternoon showers, and they spent the evening trying to get the track right to race. Heat races and qualifying got in before lightning and heavy rain came through after 8:30.
Hall and his partner, Dennis Wood, said they were thrilled with the crowd and the car count. Wood estimated the crowd at a little over 1,400, and he said they had 22 Fastrak cars.
Judy White of Elkin was among the many fans sitting patiently on truck beds.
"I'm glad it's back to dirt; I hated the asphalt," she said. "We've probably been coming here eight or 10 years, but we came to very few (asphalt races).
"We've always had this parking space; we came here every week when it was dirt."
White said they have a cousin, C.J. Lyons, who was supposed to race U Cars for the first time on Saturday night. She added that she and her husband are dirt-track fans and are going in June to Eldora Speedway, an Ohio dirt track owned by Sprint Cup star Tony Stewart.
"It's in the middle of nowhere, and we have to drive eight hours, but we love it," she said.
Danny Money of Statesville, Bradley Campbell of Union Grove and Michael Trivette of Ronda came to Friendship together. No surprise. Money and Trivette are cousins; they're all friends, and they've gone to the races together for years.
"We grew up coming here," said Money, who learned about the re-dirtying of Friendship six weeks earlier on the Internet.
"They should never have gone to asphalt," Campbell said. "They lost on that deal."
Money looked at the swelling crowd and added, "They have a good turnout tonight. There were probably a lot of people who were just waiting for it to go back to dirt."
The drivers' meeting was around 7:30, and a few cars went out to pack the track around shortly afterward. An orange 03 car driven by Daniel Moss of Elk Creek, Va., probably made the most laps Saturday night, and it probably got the muddiest.
Mickey Blevins of Marion, Va., had come down just to watch Moss race.
"(Moss) raced here when it was dirt," Blevins said. "He went to Wythe (Raceway), but when he heard it was going back to dirt here, he decided to come back here. He likes it here."
Blevins was asked if he's going to keep coming back to Friendship.
"Probably, if gas don't go to $5 a gallon," he said, making a face.
Everette Cox of Dobson had watched trucks haul dirt and dump it on the oval in March; he was back Saturday night, wearing a black Friendship Motor Speedway cap that he said he hadn't worn in years. And his smile was firmly in place. Cox, like the hundreds of others, were patiently waiting for racing.
"Dirt-track fans are more patient than NASCAR (fans)," said Mike McNeill, a dirt-track fan from Walkertown who has also been attending New 311 Speedway in Pine Hall this year.
"Most dirt tracks don't have curfews, so they can take as long as they want to," McNeill said, then added, "As long as a monsoon doesn't come in."
Christina Carico and her boyfriend, Harry Hash, had traveled from Independence, Va., along with Carico's daughter, Courtney, Courtney's friend, Amber, and Harry's son Mitchell. Hash had been a dirt racer at Wythe Raceway in Rural Retreat, Va., and at Rolling Thunder Raceway in Ararat, Va.
Carico was standing under cover from rain, happily eating a funnel cake.
"It doesn't bother me to wait," she said. "As long as they don't wait and cancel. I want to see them race."
Alas, not Saturday night.
"We got a little behind on the water deal," Hall said. "We'll do better next week. We made some mistakes; we had nobody parking cars. But we'll regroup, have a staff meeting this week and go from there."
Hall said that the track will honor the opening-night ticket stubs on Saturday, April 26.
And the dirt-track fans, as patient as they are, likely will be back next week.
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