The Ray Cook-promoted Schaeffer’s Oil Fall Nationals will roll into the Boyd’s Speedway on Saturday night to contest the traditional Gobbler which will feature a $5,000-to-win Super Late Model event. The man charged with preparing the Ringgold, GA facility for that racing action along with the other classes competing that night is Riley Hickman. The veteran racer is taking on the new challenge of running a race track to help out his race team owner.
The Gobbler will be a two-day affair with some classes racing on Friday and others, including the Fall Nationals on Saturday.
After track owner David Duplissey and the previous promoter parted ways, Hickman was asked to bring the speedway back to life after it sat idle for several weeks.
“As you know, I’ve been driving for David Duplissey for almost a year now and he had some unfortunate circumstances happen here at the race track so it’s been sitting here,” Hickman told InsideDirtRacing.com in a telephone interview on Monday. “We were headed home from a race one night and he said he needed to have some races over there because he was in the process of selling the property and his home together as a package deal and it needed to be a running business. He said for us to plan on doing something together and he asked me to just handle it.”
Although he has been involved in the sport for much of his life, running a track is something Hickman had never attempted before. But he immediately knew of some things he wanted to get done in order to improve the show for the fans.
“Heck, I don’t know anything so I’ve just been trying to do the best I can from the hip here and make a go of it,” the 42-year-old explained. “We’ve got it back up and running and did a lot of work around here. The first thing I wanted to do was put the wall back around the inside. I always thought the racing was way better when the wall was here than when it wasn’t. It seemed like the racing suffered when the wall got taken up, but I understand why they did that. We’ve just worked on a lot of stuff to get it up and going.”
As all promoters know, even the best laid plans can be laid to waste if all factors do not play out as hoped. But eventually, everything did in fact fall into place so that a pair of events could be held, including one that featured the Topless Outlaws Dirt Late Model Series.
“We tried to have our first race but it got rained out,” Hickman pointed out. “We ended up having a race later and it turned out pretty successful. We’ve only got to actually have two races so far. In the race we had a couple of weeks ago, it was a pretty good success with the Topless Outlaws group. We’re looking forward to having our Gobbler this weekend with Ray coming in here on Saturday with his guys.”
Hickman’s step into this new world presented many challenges, some expected and some not.
“There’s a bunch of unknowns,” the Cleveland, TN native admitted. “When I first started doing this deal, as far as this equipment and stuff, I never had driven a road grader before. I didn’t know anything about driving a bulldozer or a backhoe. I kind of just got thrown into that and came over here when nobody was around late at night or on Sunday afternoons and start piddling trying to teach myself how to use this stuff.”
But even with those unknowns, things have gone well so far at Boyd’s.
“On the race director side, there’s always something that will throw you for a loop on race night,” Hickman said. “I don’t really call myself a promoter, or a track prep guy, or a race director or anything else. I’m just trying to run the show here and get it going and get it done in a timely fashion. My biggest gripe has always been that you start out at five or six in the afternoon and you’re still there at two in the morning, and I hate that. If we can get done by eleven, I’m on the right road. We’ve done that each time and that’s a plus on our end.”
The future of the track and Hickman’s time as its leader remains a bit of a mystery for now.
“All we can do is keep it going and see where it takes us,” he offered. “I have no idea what’s in store for next year, if we’re going to keep doing this or what, I don’t know. That’s an unknown. For now, we’re here to put on a good show for the fans. Hopefully we can give them a race track that promotes good racing, and in turn, that will be good for the racer and the fans.”
Hickman’s own driving style has played a role in his preparation of the racing surface. And he reports that fans and competitors alike have been pleased with the result.
“Most people who know me know that I like something that takes a little finesse,” he stated. “Slick and slow is something I’ve always liked to be racing on. As Mitch McCarter(411 Motor Speedway owner) tells me, ‘I like watching racers win with two feet, not just one foot’. When the race track is racy and it promotes two and three-wide racing, it’s better for the fans. I haven’t heard anybody complain about the racing surface or how the race track has raced. It hasn’t rubbered up and it hasn’t been rough so that’s a big aspect that guys haven’t been burning up tires every week.”
No one can run a race program alone and Hickman credits those who assist him at Boyd’s with the success of their previous racing programs.
“You’ve got to have good people,” he declared. “We’ve got some who have been here for a while and we’ve brought in some new people. If I’m on the raceiver, I’m on them trying to keep everything moving along. If there’s a wreck, we’ll get it cleaned up and get back going. But if somebody just spins out we’re not riding around for eight or ten laps under caution. We’ll get lined back up and go green.” Another aspect is having too many classes.
The former Southern All-Star Series Dirt Racing Series champion believes that there is a certain number of classes in action that can make for the best overall show.
“Another aspect is having too many classes. We’ve been running five classes, and for a quick show, that seems to work out pretty good for us,” he said. “If you’re in that seven to nine class range, you’re asking for punishment. I can’t see where that’s going to be beneficial in the grandstands or on social media the next day.”
Taking on this new role has given Hickman an even greater appreciation for those who promote racing on a regular basis.
“I have become way more humbled toward race tracks and owners and promoters. I don’t think I’ve ever had a cross word with a track owner or promoter over the years that I’ve been racing but this brings on a whole new aspect of how much pressure and what kind of stress they’re under. From trying to run our own business at Hickman Manufacturing, I’m still there, and doing this also is tough. It takes a lot if you want to have a good place. You don’t just come over on a Saturday morning and throw some water on the track and race.”
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