WALNUT COVE — Slate Myers, the 9-year-old son of Burt Myers, isn’t much interested in the family business — racing on weekends at Bowman Gray Stadium.
“He’s all about basketball,” Burt said with a smile, “but we’ve got time to set him straight. I mean, he’s still young.”
The Myers family has been a part of racing at Bowman Gray for as long as the track has been open.
If Slate jumps in a car, he would be the fourth generation of the Myers family to race at Bowman Gray, which is celebrating 70 years of racing this year.
Before Burt and his brother, Jason, who are current drivers, there was their father, Gary. Gary gave up driving so he could run the day-to-day operations of the Myers Brothers Racing team.
Gary’s father, Billy, and Billy’s brother, Bobby, were constants on the track in the early 1950s.
Billy died at the stadium after suffering a heart attack during a race in 1958.
Bobby died in a crash at Darlington in 1957.
“This has always been what our family has done,” said Burt, who is 42-years-old and coming off his eighth Modified Division championship. “I can’t ever remember not going to the track on Saturdays during racing season.”
'That's when I get nervous'
As Burt and Gary tinker with their two cars in the family's modest race shop on Myers Drive, there’s a familiarity.
Gary, 68, loves to go to the stadium and watch his sons race.
He gets a little worried when they are both near the front. He knows how competitive they are.
“That’s when I get nervous,” Gary said. “I know they respect each other when they are side by side so it hasn’t happened a lot where one spins out the other. Because when it does happen that next week at the shop can be interesting.”
The Myers family is all over the Bowman Gray Stadium record book with 179 combined wins in the featured division. Burt has 73 victories and is third on the all-time list, one short of Junior Miller’s 74 for second place.
“It’s the family that makes going there so special,” said Gary, who won 38 races during his driving career. “I’ve been going there virtually my entire life and I think I’ve missed one race in the last 20 years with a bad back one time, but that’s been it. But guess what, they ran the race anyway even though I was home.”
One of the traits the Myers possess is humility.
They work hard on their race cars all week so they are prepared.
Their shop, which sits in the Myers compound not far from each of their houses, is a testament to their longevity — and success.
The family has collected 500 trophies, plaques and memorabilia from their lifetime of racing.
“We work hard in the shop so we can have fun on Saturday nights,” said Jason, who is 39-years-old and has won 30 career races. “The fun part is on the weekends and we put our heart and soul into this and it’s rewarding for all of us in the family.”
There’s a picture from the archives of Bowman Gray Stadium that shows 5-year-old Burt in the arms of Gary just after Gary won his first Modified race in 1980. When Burt and Jason win races these days, Gary is right there, in Victory Lane, grinning as though he had been behind the wheel himself.
Gary says there’s a lot of great moments from his time in racing, and he says running the shop with his two boys is his fountain of youth.
“I still like to be involved in it,” Gary said. “I don’t do quite as much as I used to but seeing Jason and Burt still racing keeps me going. It really made it easier to quit driving myself once they started.”
When it comes to being a part of Bowman Gray racing Gary is proud of his family’s legacy.
“I don’t know when mama started carrying me over there but I guess I was 3-years-old or so,” Gary said. “The only thing I remember about being that little was they had those little plastic cars for sale and she’d buy me one every week and I’d sit there and roll it on the bleachers for hours with the races going on.”
If there’s a constant over the years that Gary has been going to Bowman Gray is how affordable it remains for families.
Tickets for adults are $10. Children under 5 get in free. For children between the ages of 6 and 11, tickets are $2. Free parking is available and race-goers are allowed to bring coolers. No alcohol is allowed.
“I think what really made that place a success is they’ve kept the prices down,” Gary said. “It’s a good, safe place to go where you can turn your kids loose and they’ll find their way back to you when the racing is over. It’s just a fun place to go and when you see all the kids there it’s like it’s state fair or something.”
The purses for winners are modest and vary from week to week, depending on the sponsor. This opening week, the winner of the 200-lap Modified Division race will get $3,000. After that, Modified winners will get around $900 or so, according to Burt.
The drivers don't do it for the money. They do it for the love of racing.
Burt first hit the stadium as a driver in 1994 before going full time in Modified in 1995. He won his first title in 1999, when he was 23, becoming the youngest in stadium history to win a Modified title.
“It’s hard to believe it’s 70-years-old,” Burt said about the stadium's historic season. “When I run into somebody who is not familiar with our family or whatever they ask how long I’ve been racing. And I’ll tell them since 1994 and then they’ll ask has your family been doing it long and I’ll have to think about it and say, yeah, from about 1949 on.
“Billy and Bobby were there at the beginning and were pioneers of Bowman Gray.”
The Myers, Burt and Jason, are still going strong as the third generation. There's still plenty of time, though, for that fourth generation to come along.
To accommodate Slate, Burt put up a basketball goal just outside the race shop and Slate uses it a lot.
Gary has been to plenty of Slate’s basketball games and loves going to see his grandson play
“I’d like to see Slate in a race car someday and get him out of that basketball stuff,” Gary said with a laugh. “I’ve seen him play basketball and he’s good. But the way I look at it basketball sure is cheaper than racing.”
Burt admits that when he was tagging along with his father at a young age he knew he wanted to follow in his footsteps. But Gary never pushed his sons into racing. Burt won't do that to Slate, either.
“With Slate I’m going to handle it the same way and I’m not one of those parents who believe in participation trophies,” Burt said. “I’m old school and I want him to earn it if he wants to race. Daddy did the same thing for us and it’s helped us in our careers.”
Burt can laugh about the tire bill he had after his first racing season.
“I had to take out a loan to pay for tires because Daddy wasn’t going to just give us everything we wanted,” Burt said. “And I really think because of that Jason and I are better drivers because of how he made us work for it. We’ve had to earn it even though he was there to help us along.”
Jason also has a son, Max, who is almost 3-years-old, and Jason reports Max loves going to the track.
“I took Max to Caraway (Speedway) the other weekend to watch Burt race and Max loved it," Jason said. "He keeps asking when we can go to the track again."
Jason says the legacy is nice to think about, but in the heat of the racing each Saturday night, it’s not on their minds.
“You don’t really think about that history because you have to focus out there when you are driving,” Jason said. “It’s like a reflex for us — we go racing on Saturday nights and that’s what we do.”