The Chrome Horn News


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 turnstile.
    “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 the state.
    “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 late models.
    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 heritage.
    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.


Source:  Skip Wall / Bowman Gray Stadium PR
Posted:  April 29, 2008

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