Voices From The Heartland · Mike Neff · Thursday July 17, 2008
Editor’s Note: Jeff Meyer is off from Voices From The Heartland this week. Instead, good friend Mike Neff fills in with a unique voice of his own, about life working at one of the country’s most unique tracks. Look for Jeff to return next week with his usual sarcastic humor!
One of the coolest things about working on a Late Model race team in the Southeast is you get the opportunity to run on some of the tracks where NASCAR first put down its roots 60 years ago … places like Hickory, Martinsville, and Concord, to name a few. But quite possibly the coolest track to race on is Greenville-Pickens Speedway outside of Greenville, South Carolina. It is an ultra-flat, half-mile oval that is about as slick as an ice skating rink, and will put even the best drivers to the test.
GPS hosted its first NASCAR race in 1951. Bob Flock won $3,325 that day, finishing first in an Oldsmobile to begin what would be a long, fruitful partnership between stock car racing and the track. The oval was dirt from its opening until 1970 — when it was paved and maintained to its current half-mile length.
Track champions through the years at GPS include a Who’s Who of the sport’s biggest names. David Pearson, Ralph Earnhardt, and Robert Pressley are among those listed in the record books, while race winners have included Richard Petty, Ned Jarrett, Junior Johnson, Jack Ingram, and Joey Logano.
The first time we ran at GPS, David Pearson was the honorary pace car driver, and Jack Ingram actually competed in the Late Model race. The track has the normal concrete grandstands that are prevalent at most older tracks, but also has a stair stepped dirt bank the length of the backstretch where people can park and cookout while the racing is going on. The stands were quite full, and the outside parking was packed. There was somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,000 fans in attendance to see the show — an impressive amount for a local track of that size. But there was logic behind the upstart crowd — for not only does the track offer great racing, but it has fields that generally include 25-30 cars, quite amazing considering the tough economic times facing local racers.
The track’s surface is very aged and quite abrasive on tires, so having a car that handles well is key in order for the tires to be as good as possible at the end of the race, when the money is on the line. Because of the age of the track, the surface is extremely slick, and getting the horsepower applied without spinning out can be treacherous. The car is going to be sliding around all night; it’s just a matter of making sure it slides as little as possible.
While our first foray didn’t result in a win, we were able to come home 9th and 10th in the twin 50 lap races to make our mark on the speedway. Since then, we have already gone back for a second taste of the historic track — and can’t wait to return for more. If you are ever in the Greenville area on a Saturday night in the summertime, be sure and make it a point to hit Greenville-Pickens Speedway. Not only will you be treated to some great Southern hospitality, but you’ll see some great racing — and get a chance to actually feel like you’re a part of history.
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