Big Race Kicks Off Impressive Schedule This Weekend
To understand where Montgomery Motor Speedway (AL) has been and where it is heading, the events of two dates need to be looked at. The first was November 18th and the second is March 19th.
November 18th was the day the facility went up for public auction. Potential buyers gathered together with different visions of what the 54-acres containing a half-mile oval and 1/8 drag strip could become. Some saw it as a potential real estate development - prime real estate on the outskirts of a growing Southern city. A few others in the crowd saw a modern short track that had even more potential to be turned into one of the premier racing facilities in the region.
Based on the commitment and vision of the new management team, the best bet is that this weekend’s result will be a David Ortiz-style home run (Ortiz plays for the World Champion Boston Red Sox). Striking out does not appear to be an option.
“This was a huge project,” said track General Manager Barbara Hines. “The track was shut down completely and we’ve needed to get it cranked back up again.”
Hines was a good ft for the job of running the show. She previously worked for Manfull running his resort and marina in Tennessee. Before that, she was the Project Manager for Ted Turner’s Goodwill Games in Australia. Over there, she had plenty of lead time and a management team of 45 people. At Montgomery, she has had a little bit less to work with.
When a driver owns a track, it always help to bring a fresh perspective into the deal. Montgomery is partially owned by USAR Pro Cup driver Bill Manfull. (51 Photos)
“The property sale was final in late December and I’ve been here since the end of January,” said Hines. “It was at least a 90-day project that we got completed in less than 60 days. We have upgraded every facet of the track.”
That effort has not gone unnoticed by competitors. The headliner for opening day is a $5,000-to-win 125-lapper for the Super Late Models and the entry list is pretty stout.
“We’ve had a ton of call from teams all over,” said Hines. “They’ve called from Western Texas, the Carolinas, Florida and almost all of the Alabama tracks.”
J.R. Norris is using this weekend's race as a tune-up for his 2005 season.
nice place to race with a good purse and slate of long distance races seems to be a sound move.
“Super Late Model racing is growing again,” said Speed51.com founder and Speed Channel personality Bob Dillner. “Montgomery is doing exactly what they need to do to tap into that. They are putting up a great purse and making an effort to get drivers to come, top name drivers at that. From what I’ve been told, the track has made a lot of improvements and they are basically trying to turn it into an Irwindale caliber facility in the East. They seem to be right on track to do that.”
Getting those Super Late Model drivers in the pit gate is part of the overall business plan for Montgomery.
Some of the expected drivers for this race include Charlie Bradberry, Josh Hamner, Jason Hogan, Eddie Mercer, Junior Niedecken, J.R. Norris and Ronnie Sanders.
One of those guys also played a role when the track was up for sale.
“When the track was sold, I ended up being the second-place bidder,” said Mercer. “I didn’t want the track to be sold to a real estate developer. But I left the sale without any heartburn after seeing who bought it. You know that old saying about being careful what you wish for in case it comes true? That is how I feel now. I love to race; I’m a racer. I’m not sure I would have really wanted to promote a track.”
So Mercer is more than happy to return to the track as a driver and not the one running the show.
”There is a lot of enthusiasm with the new promoter there,” said Mercer. “I appreciate that.”
Eddie Mercer was interested in buying the track, now he's returning there as a driver.
The enthusiasm is shared among competitors as well.
“I’m really looking forward to this race,” said J.R. Norris, “I’ve been itching to get back into a car after the winter and I want to be competitive in the NASCAR Southeast Series this year and need to get some laps in before that season starts. This all came together and I’m eager to get back to Montgomery and see what they’ve done to the track. It’s been a while since I have raced there.”
The timing of using the Super Late Models to headline at Montgomery is perfect. This type of short track racing is thriving right now in the Deep South and giving the teams a
Getting big names, like Charlie Bradberry, to the track is a goal of management.
“It pays good money this weekend,” said Mercer. “It’s not just to win either; they are paying good amounts through the field. You can come here and finish in the top five and not take a bloodbath.”
A total of 12 Super Late Model races will be held at the track this year, including the Alabama 200 on November 19th – right between the Asphalt World Championships in Concord, North Carolina and the annual Snowball Derby in Florida.
The safety resources that the track is providing is another major selling point. NASCAR trainer Randy Ballard has trained the track safety team and new equipment has been bought for this season.
Fortunately for race teams and fans, a buyer emerged from that second group. USAR Pro Cup driver Bill Manfull and partner Michael Belle had the winning bid and took over the historic track. And there was no doubt as to their intentions.
That fact leads us to the next date in the story, which is this coming Saturday, March 19th. That is the opening day at the facility. Opening up under new management is a tall enough task. Doing so after having the keys to the front gate for only 57 days makes it tougher. But to do it with a major Super Late Model event that promises to attract some of the biggest names in the Southeast means there is all kinds of pressure stepping up to the plate for the track operators.
“Bill’s philosophy is that we’ve got to get the drivers here first and then the fans will follow,” said Hines. “We want to give the competitors what they need by providing a good safety crew, bringing the facility up to par and paying a good purse. My job is to let them know that they are the show and that we need them here. We are expecting them to step up as well and do what they can to promote the racing and help bring crowds in. So far, the drivers have been very supportive.”
An even distribution of the purse is an example of how management wants to do this. This weekend pays $5,000 to win and $3,750 for second. The purse marginally drops off from there through the remainder of the field.
“We had our safety training on the afternoon of the Daytona 500 and every member of the safety crew was here,” said Hines. “Not one of them complained about it. We’ve upgraded their equipment this year as well with new Nomex suits and helmets and a Jaws of Life tool.”
As far as physical upgrades go, there have been a few. But Mercer can’t see where the track could have improved much on an already impressive physical plant.
“I’ve heard that they are doing a few things and maybe they are making the suites nicer, but I really don’t know how they could make the track any better,” said Mercer. “They have Musco lighting, nice tech areas and a really nice facility.”
But when it is all said and done, it doesn’t really matter how nice the pit area is or how bright the lights are. What will keep fans coming back is good racing and the is expected for this event.
“It’s going to be a good race,” said Mercer. “I expect an all-out brawl for the win.”
Speed51.com will be on hand this weekend and will have a full breakdown of the short track battle on Monday.