GRAY GARRISON: CONTINUING A HERITAGE
by Skip Wall
He looks out over the empty stadium that will hold 17000 screaming fans.
Gray Garrison is the track promoter for Winston-Salem's Bowman Gray
Stadium. He wonders what will hold for the stadium's 60th season. How
will the current economy affect this seasons racing action, claimed by
many as the still the most exciting of them all? How will the drivers
adapt to the new double file restart?
Garrison has a lot on his mind as the stadium opens its
season this weekend at the historic track, a quarter mile flat track
that goes around a football field. He hopes that the stadiums make over
over the past season will have an effect on the fans that walk thru the
“We have a new LED scoreboard that’s being installed that
will help the fans see what's going on and help the drivers promote the
sponsors” he says. “This is a welcomed asset to help us out and should
create some excitement.”
In addition Garrison says the stadium will implement a new double file
restart on the 100 lap events this year. However Garrison has met some
opposition from the drivers who don't like the double file restart.
“Racers are racers whether its from the Sprint series on down. They want
start up front and run upfront” he says. “ I think they know they are
going to have to do some mix up and inversions to keep it exciting,
otherwise the fans aren't going to come back.”
Bowman Gray Stadium is the best attended weekly short track
in America under the NASCAR banner. The stadium averages 11 to 13
thousand fans a week most will say however NASCAR doesn't reveal
attendance figures. The premier division is the modified series, the
oldest division in NASCAR and where it all started. The cars have over
600 horsepower racing around a tight bullring and brings excitement when
the twin twenty five lap races are inverted from a pull from a hat.
The inverted starts range from starting 8th in the second
feature race all the way to 16th. This creates excitement from the fans
Garrison says. On the inverted starts, Garrison feels that these
inversions work very well in the 25 lap races and should work in the
double file. “The racers hate this but this is what the fans want to
see. They love to see passing.”
The stadium also shares its racing programs with Winston- Salem State
University. The University plays its football schedule at the track and
also will sponsor a program that helps promote racing in general. The
city of Winston-Salem owns the track however a joint venture between the
city and the university created a new multi million dollar field house
that also houses the new scoreboard along with offices, concessions and
meeting rooms for the drivers.
Garrison feels blessed with the good crowds and support that
he gets from the city. “We have a lot of really good, loyal competitors,
that have raced here for years. This creates the rivalries that people
like to see. This creates the hard nosed racing .”
Garrison thanks a lot of people to make all of this happen.
He is efficient on starting times and ending times though the city does
have a curfew at 11:30. Because of the managing skills of the crew of
officials, they rarely miss a curfew.
To help his managing skills, Garrison also is on the NC Motorsports
Association Board that helps promote short tracks in the state. This is
where they learn from each other of the various tracks within and around
“This is learning from the Cup on down of all levels of
racing to learn from each other” he says. Garrison cautions other
tracks. He says that what works at the stadium may not work for them and
vice versa. In comparison Garrison finds that the other various racing
divisions don't work at the stadium as they do at other tracks.
“Everybody (the tracks) has to find out what works for them and what
their niche is.”
Garrison does admit that NASCAR is going back to its
grassroots to help out the small tracks in weekly racing. Garrison
points out that RJ Reynolds pulled out of the sport several years ago in
its sponsorship programs. The local tracks starting drying up without
those sponsorship dollars.
However he is quick to point out that NASCAR, with its new
management, is stepping up it's efforts in promoting short track racing. “I
am very excited that NASCAR is coming in and helping us out this year.
They are really pushing us back up to where we once were” says Garrison.
While most other tracks run late model divisions or close to them,
Garrison says that the modifieds have been here for 60 years, so why
change what works good for you.
The Modified division also is very strong in the northeast
and also has a Whelen Southern Modified Tour in the south in which most
of the stadium competitors compete in. The scheduled race dates do not
compete with each other, something that other tracks cant do with the
Some fans are bothered by the stadium being the last to open
and the first to close during its season. In fact most tracks opt for a
16-17 race season, the stadium runs 12 and takes off the July 4th week.
Garrison just smiles but has a good answer.
“As far as the season ending early, Winston-Salem State plays
football in the later stages of August and we have to work with them. As
far as the opener, it still gets cold in the foothills. I've seen snow
in April here. A lot of it is fan comfort. If not, it sets a bad tone
for the rest of the season. When you run 16-17 events, they can get
pretty worn down” he says.
And with the economy the way it is, one would have to agree
with the schedule it has.
Garrison will make himself available in the pits to talk to competitors.
In fact during the practice session a couple of weeks ago, Garrison
talked at length to driver Burt Myers on how tires will work this
season. He will tell you that its important to mingle with the
competitors. Moreover his grandmother, Eloise Hawkins, once a stadium
promoter herself, always said the modified drivers were her family.
Garrison says he hasn't forgotten his roots at the stadium.
He has been in and around the stadium in various capacities for years.
The track is still a family run organization. “The race track was
started by my grandparents, Alvin and Eloise Hawkins. We still have my
aunt, uncle and cousins helping out. My wife is involved, even my kids.
So its just a big family involvement. Were all passionate about racing.
Southern MotoRacing founder, Hank Schoolfield, a racing media
pioneer himself, was publicist for over twenty years at the famed track.
Garrison listened to him well in all of his input. Schoolfield was also
the one who invented the popular inverted start for the fans.
The founder of NASCAR, Bill France and Alvin Hawkins opened
the track and had a huge following in the early years. The two families
have worked together thru the years and still is family owned today.
The stadium is rich in heritage. Such drivers as Bobby
Allison, Richard Petty, Jr. Johnson, Glen Wood, Curtis Turner, Bobby
Myers, Lee Petty, Tim Flock, Richie Evans and Jerry Cook have won at the
stadium. It once had a televised race on ABC Wide World of Sports.
The track has been well kept over the years. A lot of
rivalries has kept this place going thru the years along with the rich
As Garrison looks out over the track before the season
opener, The Tucson 200, again he hopes to keep that heritage going for a
sport that he truly loves.