At Saturday’s annual Kingsport Speedway Car Show at The Mall at Johnson City, drivers talked about how a strong field of cars at the 3/8-mile concrete oval could be even deeper this season with so many of the paved tracks in the region closing down.
Kingsport Speedway is the only NASCAR-sanctioned track in Northeast Tennessee or Southwest Virginia running a weekly program these days. Newport (Tenn.) Speedway, Lonesome Pine Raceway in Coeburn, Va., and the Motor Mile Speedway in Radford, Va., have completely closed or will run only special events in 2018.
Ronnie McCarty, the 2015 and 2016 track champion from Kingsport, has the goal of regaining the title this season. However, he knows it will be quite a challenge with another five or six strong cars likely to come to Kingsport with the season opener set for March 24.
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“We’re going to run as hard as we can and see what happens,” McCarty said. “It’s unfortunate with the tracks shutting down, and we could see some new faces come in. I want to see it. The new guys might come in and run real hard, but that track, it’s proven to be that you usually have to be there half a season before you can finish in the top five.”
Defending track champion Kres VanDyke echoed McCarty’s words with the promise that none of the current Kingsport Speedway drivers are going to simply pull over and let other racers go by.
“A lot of tracks have shut down and we will pick up some cars.” VanDyke said. “The competition doesn’t scare us. It encourages us to have a better program and we’ve been working hard this year to make this car even better. We’ve set the standard pretty high, and we’re going to try to back it up again this year.”
The track will have its usual stiff competition with drivers like Wayne Hale of Bluff City, Joey Trent of Gray, Zeke Shell of Johnson City, Robbie Ferguson of Jonesborough and Kingsport’s Derek Lane all in the Late Model Stock division.
But there is talent — young and old — throughout all divisions.
Dillon Hodge, a 15-year-old freshman who attends Sullivan South High School, will race a No. 5 car at his home track this season. It is a car previously piloted by Blountville’s Adam Gray and a car which two-time Daytona 500 winner Sterling Marlin raced at the Nashville Fairgrounds.
After racing different series — Maxxis Mid-Atlantic Series being one — around the country, Hodge is dedicated to racing at his hometown track this season.
“We ran a Legends car last year at Lonesome Pine and won the championship,” said Hodge, who started racing go-karts when he was seven. “We went to the Charlotte area and ran some races over there. Now, we’re here racing back home against some of the best drivers in the nation. It’s going to be challenging with the competition here.”
Jerry Broyles will be driving a No. 72 Chevy built on a 30-year-old Hess race car chassis that was once driven by Kingsport Speedway veterans Lynn Fowler and Tommy Hilbert. Broyles, who has been a dirt-track champion at nearby Volunteer Speedway, has sold all of his dirt-track equipment to fully devote his efforts to this paved venture.
While he missed racing in the season opener at Volunteer Speedway on Saturday, he was happy to greet the fans who stopped by and promised their support at Kingsport this season.
“Being a part of this is great,” Broyles said. “We’ve seen a whole lot of kids, and getting kids involved in the sport is the biggest thing in keeping the sport and the track going strong. We’ve had a lot more people stop by here than I thought there would be.”
Dennis Deese is a local evangelist who races the No. 24 Pontiac Firebird in the Modified Street division. He finished sixth in the Kingsport Speedway point standings last season, and also raced at Lonesome Pine — where he won a race and was honored with the track’s Sportsman of the Year award. He talked about the opportunity to meet and greet with the fans on Saturday.
“I really enjoy it because a lot of times at the track, you’re so busy that you don’t get to interact with people,” Deese said. “This gives us a good opportunity to see the people who support us — a lot of people you don’t even realize that support you. It’s been good to give away a few gifts from our sponsors like Precision Electric and Remax real estate and fantheflame ministries.”