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Since the opening days of NASCAR, Bowman Gray Stadium has been synonymous with the best in short-track racing. As NASCAR celebrates its 60th season, the track will likewise commemorate the milestone as the longest running track in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series.
Bowman Gray will kick off racing April 26 with the Tucson 200 — 200 laps of racing for the track’s Modifieds, which also happen to be NASCAR’s oldest division of racing. The track’s tight, ¼-mile oval produces an exciting blend of speed and close-quarters fighting for position.
“They definitely have the most loyal and passionate fans in all of NASCAR,” said Bob Duvall, Director of Weekly Racing for NASCAR. “Fans have been coming for generations to cheer on their local heroes.”
Throughout the entire month of April, NASCAR Whelen All-American Series tracks across the United States and Canada are taking the green flag on seasons that will culminate in the fall with the crowning of track, state and a national champion.
Steve Carlson, of Salem, Wisc., opens the defense of his national championship this Saturday with the opening night at his hometrack, LaCrosse Fairgrounds Speedway, in Wisconsin. The 50-year-old Carlson added his first NASCAR Whelen All-American Series championship to his collection of regional touring titles. But going back-to-back will prove just as tough, especially considering his biggest challenge may come from teammate Kevin Nuttleman. Nuttleman finished sixth in the nation last year.
“Steve Carlson has a large target painted on him,” said LaCrosse track owner Chuck Deery. “Not only would his teammate love to knock him off, there are probably several other guys that feel they can do it. Ultimately, race fans are in for an outstanding year of racing competition.”
LaCrosse will begin the season with its regular 25-lap feature for the Late Models.
“First night should be simple and easy,” Deery said. “We’re all suffering from cabin fever here in the upper Midwest and this is the right medicine for that affliction.”
Kalamazoo (Mich.) Speedway, Junction Motor Speedway in Nebraska, and Rockford (Ill.) Speedway are also scheduled to open this weekend.
Things were anything but simple and easy for Woody Pitkat and Keith Rocco, who finished 2007 second and fifth in the nation, respectively. They were involved in a race incident that left them 27th and 28th in the Modified division feature of the season-opening Icebreaker at Thompson (Conn.) International Speedway Saturday, April 5. Rain postponed the season’s second race the next day and with Thompson not scheduled to resume racing until May 22, Pitkat and Rocco’s next opportunity will be at Stafford (Conn.) Motor Speedway’s season-opening Spring Sizzler Sunday, April 27.
In addition to Bowman Gray and Stafford, Farley Speedway in Iowa, All-Star Speedway in New Hampshire, Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in Maine, and Autodrome St. Eustache in Quebec are slated to begin racing the final weekend in April.
The tracks that have already begun their racing schedule includes Kil-Kare Speedway and Columbus Motor Speedway in Ohio; Motordrome Speedway and Grandview Speedway in Pennsylvania; Tri-County Speedway in North Carolina; Cedar Lake Speedway in Wisconsin; All American Speedway and Altamont Motorsports Park in California; Colorado National Speedway; Elko Speedway in Minnesota; Music City Motorplex in Tennessee; Myrtle Beach Speedway in South Carolina; I-80 Speedway in Nebraska; Adams County Speedway and West Liberty Raceway in Iowa; Evergreen Speedway in Washington; Monadnock Speedway in New Hampshire; The New Waterford Speedbowl in Connecticut; and Motor Mile Speedway, Old Dominion Speedway and Langley Speedway in Virginia.
Langley, like many tracks in the Spring, juggled its schedule around weather. After opening night April 5 was rained out, they moved their Late Model race to the next weekend. The Late Model division is the track’s premier division, a change from last year when the Limited Late Models were the top program.
“Bringing them back after seven years was a real shot in the arm,” said Langley promoter Michael Hill. “They’re faster and they put on a better race.”
It was worth the wait for Langley fans, who watched 21-year-old Nick Smith knock off defending track champion Danny Edwards Jr. (second-place) and Danny’s brother Greg (third) in the 100-lap race. The Edwards’ brothers combined for 15 wins last season. Smith is in his first full season with longtime car owner James Long.
“He’s going to be good,” Hill said of Smith. “Nick and Greg spun out early. Nick followed Greg right on through the pack. They picked off car, after car, after car. And then they got to the front, and Nick picked off Greg and then picked off Danny.”
It’s the type of competition that is the hallmark of NASCAR’s grassroots racing.