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Natural Bridge has already opened its season with Franklin County and Motor Mile on tap.
The Roanoke Times | File 2011
Four-time national champ Philip Morris is expected to race in the twin 125-lap Late Model Stock events on April 27 at Motor Mile Speedway.
Thursday, April 18, 2013
Warm weather finally has arrived in Southwest Virginia and lawn mowers are firing everywhere. On that cue, it's time to crank up some motors that roar much more vociferously.
While NASCAR's major series have been swapping paint since February, the area's three primary motorsports venues - Motor Mile Speedway, Franklin County Speedway and Natural Bridge Speedway - are rarin' to go racing again.
In fact, Natural Bridge's 3⁄8-mile dirt oval already has dropped its first green flag, conducting its season opener last Saturday. New track owner J.W. Fitzgerald said Thursday that he's hopeful that turnouts will remain as strong as the throng that showed for the lid lifter through a schedule that is slated to race all but one weekend through Oct. 11.
Fitzgerald and his wife, Tish, recently purchased the speedway from Larry and Karey Ramsey, who have operated it the past eight years. The Fitzgeralds have been the primary operators and promoters the past four years at Eastside Speedway, a dirt oval in Waynesboro.
Now they're pulling double duty, directing both tracks. The two tracks, located 50 minutes apart, will alternate Friday and Saturday dates each week. The track's second-week card goes green at 6:30 tonight.
"I've got more than my hands full ... my legs, feet and everything are full," J.W. Fitzgerald said with a chuckle. "We've going to have some cars who are going to crossover to both places and that should help the car count. A lot of people can't run on Friday. If they don't run on Friday they'll probably run on Saturday at whichever track we're running that week.
"We're going to switch back and forth on Friday and Saturday dates at each track and going to use this year to evaluate which way we want to go next year. We want our competitors and fans to have the opportunity to race both nights. Our goal is to have consistency at both racetracks. We plan to increase the Late Model purse to $1,000-to-win weekly at Natural Bridge."
Larry Ramsey said selling the track was best for all involved.
"Owning and promoting a racetrack is a huge undertaking that requires a tremendous amount of time and energy," Ramsey said. "In order to get to the next level, we felt we had to find a new owner. We think we have found the right people to take Natural Bridge Speedway and racing in the Shenandoah Valley to the next level."
The biggest show comes last on the schedule (either Oct. 4 or 5) - the Sunoco Fall Classic Super Late Model race that pays $10,000 to the winner.
Franklin County Speedway
There will be a new bossman running the show this year. Longtime track czar Donald "Whitey" Taylor has subletted the 3⁄8-mile asphalt oval this season to Callaway native Langley Austin.
"I still own the place and I'll be in the background if they need me," Taylor said. "I'm going to be there to help Langley some. Basically, after 35 years, you want to do something else."
Austin, who worked for Taylor at the track about a dozen years ago, is a former driver who owns and runs the popular website RACE22.com that covers short-track racing up and down the East coast.
In hopes that less will turn out to be more, FCS has trimmed its schedule to 11 Saturday dates. The opener will be May 11, with the season finale scheduled Oct. 25.
"We're just trying to stay away from the schedules of all these other tracks and give people the opportunity to come down here and race," Austin said. "A lot of these other tracks have cut back on their schedule and I think that's going to play right into our hands, too.
"I think with our schedule being broken up - at least two or three weeks between every race - I think that's going to help everybody to have more time to get their finances in order and get their cars back together, and they can come over here and have a good time."
Motor Mile Speedway
The .410-mile asphalt oval in Radford, which will be celebrating its 25th year as a NASCAR-sanctioned facility, will launch its season April 27 with a card that includes the first of seven twin 125-lap Late Model Stock events.
Lee Pulliam, last year's NASCAR Whelen All-American Series National champion, is expected to be a regular participant at the place where he took home 10 of his 22 victories en route to his first crown.
Four-time national champ Philip Morris of Ruckersville also figures to be on hand for the majority of the twinbills. The two longtime rivals figure to create a lot of fireworks for the Motor Mile faithful.
Pulliam expects to compete fulltime at South Boston and Motor Mile this year. When those tracks have open dates, he'll be picking up races where he can find the most competition.
Other major dates on the track's slightly reduced schedule include the June 8 Rev Oil Pro Cup, the July 6 Monster Truck show and the 250-lap LMSC season finale Sept. 7.
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