Turn 2 Blog: Volunteer under new management and Smoky’s big race

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*Turn 2 Blog is a regular feature on InsideDirtRacing.com. Here, site operators Michael Moats and Richard Allen take turns offering their thoughts on the dirt racing topics of the day from east Tennessee and beyond.

Richard: The announcement that Mitch McCarter and his team will be leasing the Volunteer Speedway for the 2017 season came as a bit of a surprise to many dirt racing fans in this area. What did not come as a surprise, however, is that the first racing program of the year conducted on the Bulls Gap, Tenn. track was very well done on what proved to be a beautiful east Tennessee day.

The track was prepared appropriately and the event was run in an extremely efficient manner. This is very much how the McCarters and general manager Rick Brooks do things at 411 Motor Speedway in Seymour, Tenn. and that mentality was carried over to what is now their second track.

In my opinion, it was a good move by track management to offer a weekly show for their first racing show rather than a special event because it is those racers who will ultimately serve as the heart and soul in the future, even when touring series pay visits. Also, the $5 grandstand admission appeared to be a great success as the seats were occupied by numerous race fans.

Joe and Phyllis Loven, owners of the facility, did a great service to this area by keeping the track alive and functioning over the years, but the new management team has seemingly brought a fresh attitude for this season. And now that racers and fans see how the track’s business will be conducted under its new management, it should bode well for the future, right?

Michael: I would think so. No offense to the Lovens, but the reputation of the track has steadily gone downhill in recent years. Between track prep, drawn-out programs, and cancelling races on a whim, a lot of people didn’t get fired up about the racing there. And to make matters worse, the track has not hosted the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series in a couple of years, the one event that drew huge crowds and generated a bit of a buzz.

If the first race under the McCarters is any indication of what’s to come this season at Volunteer, I think some of the lost enthusiasm will come back in a hurry. I’m anxious to see how things go there when the Spring Nationals visits next month for a $10,000-to-win race. The McCarters now have a facility to host some big events if they so choose. Nothing against 411, but the seating capacity and parking kind of limits how big of an event they can hold there. If the Spring Nationals race and some of the others they have on their schedule pay off in big ways, hopefully they will continue to host those types of events as long as they are running the facility and reverse the reputation the track has had the last several years.

Richard: When I travel to tracks outside our particular region, Volunteer Speedway is one that I get asked about by fans who live in other parts of the country. It has a reputation, as you mentioned, for hosting events that used to generate a buzz. While some of that has faded in recent years, I also believe the excitement surrounding this track will return relatively quickly.

As it has proven for a while now, 411 Motor Speedway is a great track for hosting weekly events and the occasional special event. But as you point out, it definitely has its limits. The track at Bulls Gap is much better suited for the really big happenings in this sport. I too will be interested to see what transpires if the McCarters keep the facility beyond 2017.

And more, the location of the track is about as prime as can be for a dirt racing venue, isn’t it?

Michael: Certainly. It is just off I-81, so that makes it easy to find for those that have never been there. Plus, it’s a good draw for drivers from Knoxville, the Tri-Cities, southwest Virginia, Tazewell, and even the Carolinas.

One big positive from their first race is the amount of time it took to run the whole program. Getting the program finished around 3 hours total is a huge deal. Often times, tracks that run a day race program tend to drag it out into an all-day affair. That certainly was not the case this past Saturday.

Richard: To shift gears to another happening to have occurred in east Tennessee on Saturday, the 2017 Dirt Track Racing Kickoff Show held at the Knoxville Center Mall provided some nice exposure for the sport to people who may not have otherwise known much about it. Further, the event organized by Chris And Leslie Corum of Tazewell Speedway offered the opportunity for enthusiasts of all ages to meet and hear from some of dirt racing’s all-time legends.

The cars on display looked great and fans who might not have the ability to purchase a pit pass at their favorite track were able to see those machines up close as well as learn that the drivers who put on shows for them every week are very approachable and welcoming.

There can never be enough exposure in that sort of positive way, can there?

Michael: I had a discussion with someone a few weeks ago talking about the coverage (or lack thereof) of racing in this area as compared to the Midwest. While we like to think racing is king in this area, it isn’t because there is little to no media coverage of the sport (outside of ourselves). This person mentioned how much media coverage racing gets in a state like Indiana. To have an event like this can only add to the exposure to what the sport sorely needs in this area.

I’ve had a couple of people tell me they didn’t know anything about the show beforehand (they must not read our site). It had to be harder to get the media to cover it because it didn’t have a big sponsor like Food City and wasn’t associated with NASCAR in any way. That’s where the former Food City Race Night could really get exposure.

Having this show at a mall is not a unique idea. Lots of these take place all across the country. They are good about showcasing the sport to those that would never get exposed to the sport in any way. That can only be a positive.

Richard: We would certainly be remiss if we did not dedicate some of the space in this piece to the upcoming Tennessee Tip-off to be held this weekend at Smoky Mountain Speedway. This event has grown into what is likely the biggest dirt race held in this area with its significant payout.

The folks at SMS certainly aren’t shy about putting on big events and this year’s version of the opening for the Spring Nationals mini-series is no exception. While it’s never easy to predict what racers will do, it’s almost a certainty that some of the most well known drivers in the sport will be on hand to compete for that $15,000 first prize.

I see a lot of races each year and I love going to every one of them, but there’s nothing like the feel of one of these big events that pit the best in the business against one another, is there?

Michael: It’s not often, outside of Eldora and Knoxville, we get to see some of the best from each national series going against each other. To have an event in our backyard adds some extra buzz. Maybe we’ll see this race rival what the early years of the Scorcher was in that it draws the best of the best from all over. A small increase in the purse could do that.

The timing of the race is good as it’s a couple of weeks after Volusia, teams have had time to regroup after several weeks of non-stop racing. And it takes place before each of the national series splits off into their respective schedules.

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