The best thing about sports is always the stories. The people who play them, who dedicate their lives to them, who live with one singular goal in mind.
It’s easy to understand why professional athletes do what they do. Who wouldn’t want to play a kid’s game as a career? But I’m always much more interested in people who chase sports dreams for other reasons. Maybe they’re chasing glory at a place they’ve called home or a place where they grew up. Maybe they’re trying to follow in a family member’s footsteps. Maybe they’re looking for a competitive outlet, or any sort of outlet, and a way to forget the real world for a couple hours a week, and just have fun.
For various reasons, I’ve begun following short track racing pretty closely this season, and while I’m still working to improve my knowledge of the intricacies of cars and race strategy, I’ve fallen in the love with the sport based solely on the drivers who do it.
Drivers like the dads who spend a couple hours a night hanging out with friends and tinkering on their cars before hitting the track on Saturday. Or the drivers who started literally in the lowest series, and worked their way to the top. Maybe not the NASCAR top, but for many getting the funds to drive a late model is just as good. Drivers like the young guns fresh out of high school who grew up admiring their local late model heroes, and are now turning to those heroes for advice.
Or those heroes themselves. Did you know South Boston Speedway has three former NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national champions driving there full time this season?
This year, at tracks across the country, I’ve talked with a driver who didn’t even start racing until he was 50 years old. Another who spent time in the military and now uses his racing as a way to raise money and awareness for groups that support veterans. One driver grew up going to his local dirt track, and said his one dream in life was to get a win there. He compared getting that win to getting a chance to appear on his favorite TV show. It’s not about being famous, it was just about being a part of something that had meant so much to him throughout his life.
If you’re a fan of short track racing, none of this is new, and I’m sure I sound like someone who is just watching Breaking Bad for the first time. But if you’re not as familiar with the sport, this weekend is a great time to check it out. South Boston Speedway will host one of its biggest races of the season Saturday night, the Thunder Road Harley-Davidson Presented By Grand Atlantic Ocean Resort NASCAR Whelen Late Model 200. The night will feature a late model race with huge implications – it’s the first in the Virginia Triple Crown, a series of three races, the last of which is the Valley Star Credit Union 300 at Martinsville Speedway in October. The driver with the highest average finish in all three races receives $7,000.
The late model race at South Boston this week will feature some of the biggest names in the sport, many of which you probably know if you’ve been to the late model race at The Paperclip recently, including Timothy Peters, a Danville native and veteran in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series.
“This race is a big deal. It sets the tone for the triple crown,” Peters said in a release by South Boston. “The heat will play a role in the physical and mental fitness of drivers as well as the balance of the race car. It’s going to be a fun night.”
Danville’s Peyton Sellers, a former national champion driving for Clarence’s Steakhouse in Ridgeway, currently leads the late model points both at South Boston and nationally. Former national champs Lee Pulliam and Philip Morris, and former Martinsville Speedway late model champion Mike Looney are fourth, eighth, and nine respectively in the SoBo points.
In addition to the 200-lap Late Model race, there will be a 75-lap Limited Sportsman race, a 40-lap Budweiser Pure Stock race, and a 20-lap Budweiser Hornets race.
If you plan to go to the VSCU300 at Martinsville Speedway in October, checking out Saturday’s race at South Boston will be a great primer. Especially if you want to learn the stories behind the guys in the cars.
Cara Cooper is the sports editor of the Martinsville Bulletin. You can reach her at (276)638-8801 ext. 241.