WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. _ Bobby Allison, Richie Evans, Jerry Cook, Curtis Turner, Tim Flock, Glen Wood and Ralph Earnhardt have all celebrated in victory lanes here. Richard Petty smiled after winning his 100th Grand National race here. “Here” is Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston Salem, N.C. NASCAR history radiates from here. Here is also known to an entirely new audience as the Madhouse.
During the winter, History Channel aired a weekly series featuring select Modified division drivers from the Stadium. Filming took place during the 2009 racing year. The Madhouse title was derived from the blind drawing scramble to decide the feature race inversion when twin Modified features are held.
Tim Brown, Burt Myers, Junior Miller, Jason Myers and Chris Fleming were the core personalities and stories.
The Madhouse circles a football field used by Winston Salem State University. The speedway is a flat, paved quarter-mile. Same as a running track. The facility seats 17,000 comfortably with 6,000 seats on the frontstetch, 6,000 seats on the backstretch and joined by 5,000 seats in turn one and two. A basic U shape forms from turn four in the racecar direction to turn three.
A two-tiered guardrail lines the straighaways. The red and white barrier raises to three tiers in the turns. Some spots show their age with dents and bows from impacts over the years. A good arm could throw a baseball to the back stretch grandstands from the start/finish line.
A majority of the race meets play out in front of huge crowds that would make a majority of this country’s grassroots track operators green with envy. On this particular night I visited, a packed house was accomplished with heavy gray skies and a serious rain threat. The very same weather system that caused havoc with the Talladega NASCAR schedule.
Eight-time Modifed division champion Brown said he signed autographs for fans as far away as Alabama, Virginia, Georgia, and West Virginia. Tourism for the Stadium was high on this warm, yet rainy spring night. The Madhouse show certainly had an impact.
A walk through the pit area brought a sense of fraternity and brotherhood. The local racers took pride in the speedway opening their gates for the 62nd consecutive year. And a newfound audience had migrated to visit. The support divisions also beamed with pride and optimism.
The pits are also equipped with a field house complete with visitor and home locker rooms. This truly is a shared football and racing facility.
People drive this sport. Beyond the stars of Madhouse are heroes and idols in every division. They are stars to someone. And there is plenty of heart at this level. Nobody shows a profit doing this. The racing is not about the money. The purse offered would not cover the equipment investment and expenses. These are racers here for racing love and passion.
Fans in the stands share a deep connection with their heroes, and enemies, on the speedway. They live and die for Saturday nights.
North Carolina congresswoman Virginia Fox was grand marshall for the 200-lap Modified feature. Fox received a commemorative plaque to honor her occasion and referenced she was going to show it off during her next speech on the House floor.
Area television stations were here with film crews. Radio stations, websites, and newspapers were covering the evening’s action. Bowman Gray Stadium’s opening night is always big. This was one of the biggest thanks to Madhouse.
In the press box, the phone constantly rang with fans wanting weather updates, ticket information, and directions to the track. As soon as the line was put down, it would ring again. A constant dispersal of information flowed. Empty seats were vanishing. The fan interest was accelerating. Nearly 17,000 seats were full in the rain.
Race time neared. The bright lights of the Stadium glowed skyward. The gray overcast skies disappeared into the darkness. Track wreckers, flatbeds, and the pace car circled the speedway in an attempt to keep the surface dry. The persistent sprinkles would not go away. The asphalt’s shine increased.
As the scheduled post time drew closer, rain intensified and management was forced to postpone opening night. How big this event would have been with good weather is anyone’s guess.
The sound of high horsepower engines and the smell of burned race fuel from practice and qualifying was still fresh in the air. Just a taste of racing action would have to do.
NASCAR’s grassroots are as strong as ever if done right. Bowman Gray Stadium and Madhouse have their critics and proponents. No matter the reason, it was good to see healthy crowds and entry lists. That is good for all of motorsports.
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