Local racing alive, well at North Alabama Speedway
Jul. 30, 2017
TUSCUMBIA, Ala. (AP) — A regular Saturday night at the North Alabama Speedway includes the chatter of friends being drowned out by the revving of engines, the smell of food from the concession stand mixing with the smell of exhaust from the cars, and spectators standing on the highest part of the bleachers to watch as the drivers arrive and make their way to the pits.
The track, a longtime staple of the local racing scene, reopened in April after Brian Mitchell became the promoter.
Running the track is a family affair for the Mitchells. Brandie, Brian's wife, helps get things in order while sons, Braden, 18, and Bryson, 14, get ready to race. Brian, who started racing because his father did, enjoys seeing the tradition continue with his two sons. The only difference is that now they're racing on a different night.
Previously, North Alabama Speedway held its racing card on Friday nights. But a sister track moved its races to Friday, prompting Brian to make the change to Saturday.
"I've always raced and I kind of knew the ropes of the business." Brian said. "There's a good fan following here and I knew it would be a good track to change to Saturday night."
The gates open at 4 p.m., but the races don't start until 7 p.m. In between, there is a flurry of activity inside the gates.
The races include Mini Stock, Buzz, 602 Crate, Pure Street, NeSmith Street Stock and 604 Crate. The track hosts an average of 10 races weekly with between 60 and 70 drivers participating. For the drivers, the competition is tough, but friendly.
Besides racing, Joe Wilson's favorite part is spending time with his buddies. Wilson has been racing since he was 14 and knows the track well. Same goes for Jacob Hendrix, who grew up around racing. Both men compete in the Mini Stock race where the competition is very close. There is only a 15-point difference between first and second place.
For the fans, gathering together with friends and family hours before the races begin is just part of the fun.
Jackie and Zola Pruitt from Mississippi attend the races whenever they can. Jackie has been coming since the 1970s. It was where the couple shared their first date.
"It's a good, clean sport for the family." Jackie said.
"Let's just say I'm ready for Saturday nights." Zola laughed.
Tara Raper and her family have been attending every weekend since Memorial Day. For them, they like to watch No. 64, Bryson Mitchell's car.
"We don't even know who he is." Raper said. "We thought it was neat that he was a 14-year-old boy racing."
You can also find Gilbert Fountain selling peanuts every Saturday night by the entrance. His brother, Rodney, has done the video for the speedway for more than 20 years.
"It's getting better and better each week." Gilbert said. "It is fun and a good way to pass the time."
Gene Strait, the track announcer from Littleville, is a de facto track historian. He knows all the drivers and can tell you all about how racing has changed over the years.
"The track has been here since the early 1970s." Strait said. "I've been an announcer for 40 years."
Strait, along with Wayne Sutherland, Jerry Jackson, Chuck Gibson, and many others have spent their Friday or Saturday nights at the track for years now. Now, most of them are watching their sons or grandsons follow in their footsteps.
"It's in good shape." Strait said. "Ever since Brian has taken over it's in some of the best shape I've ever seen it."
Rush, after providing a tour of the pit area, rushes off to his usual spot behind a microphone to get ready for the race.
When the time rolls around, everyone turns their attention to the track as Strait introduces the beginning of the hot laps. The sound of the announcer's voice fades out as the cars rev their engine and race on into the night.
Information from: TimesDaily, http://www.timesdaily.com/