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Bowman Gray's 70th season: Generations of fans share recollections of race track

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When Bowman Gray stadium started in 1949, little did anyone know the impact it would make on so many racing fans as the series begins its 70th season Saturday night.

Many point to the experience and the price of the ticket, which is $10 and hasn't changed in more than 20 years.

Peggy Owen, who will soon be 82 years old, said she started coming to the track with her family in 1956.

"Well it was good," she said of her early recollections of going to Bowman Gray. "Everybody was family. That's where I feel like everybody over there is my extended family."

And she is not the only fan with a long history of being a regular at the track.

Marty Stanley, former athletics director at Glenn High, has attended races for the past 47 years. Rick Anderson, coach of girls basketball and softball at Mount Tabor, started going to races more than 50 years ago. Michelle Clifton, whose husband, son and daughter either race or raced at Bowman Gray Stadium, has been a presence at the track for 30 years.

"It's the greatest show on Earth," Anderson said. "There's a reason it's been there for 70 years."

One person to whom racing at Bowman Gray has made an indelible mark is 10-year-old Adam Lucy. Adam started going to Bowman Gray with his father, Allyster Lucy, when Adam was a baby.

"It means so much because I've been there my whole life," Adam said. "Ever since I was a baby I've been going."

Adam did not even miss a race last May when he began to have seizures and sought treatment at Brenner Children's Hospital. Allyster Lucy, a former racer at Bowman Gray, posted a message to Facebook saying an MRI showed “no terminal damage” and that his son would be at the track that week.

The response was overwhelming.

One person who took an interest was famed Modified driver Tim Brown. Brown saw the message on Facebook, and while he was accepting his plaque for winning the pole that night, Brown announced that he was dedicating the night to Adam and gave away his pole hat and plaque.

Adam wanted to come to the track so badly that night that doctors released him just to go to Bowman Gray Stadium.

"It meant so much because I had no idea that all those people cared for me, cared about me that much," Adam said.

Stanley is also the son of a former racer. And he has a weekly routine as well.

"I just make sure my radio's charged, get all my frequencies in there," Stanley said. "I head over there about 6 o'clock, get there right after the gates open, watch a little practice, get a little supper, and meet some friends there, and we just have a good time."

Clifton's attachment to the track came through marriage. She is married to Ronnie Clifton, and her children, Zack and Whitney, race or have raced at Bowman Gray, as well. Clifton has been a member of the Ladies Auxiliary for the past 24 years and currently serves as its president.

"It's definitely different being just a fan and having family members out there," she said. "I can go to races and not have a family member out there, and I don't necessarily enjoy it that much, honestly."

Just as important to her, however, are the relationships she has built through the years.

"It doesn't change, which I don't know if that's a good thing, but it doesn't change," she said. "For me, I'd like to see a little less drama.

"I think that people on the track are somebody's husbands or father or brother or sister, and I think they forget that."

Whatever the reason the thousands of fans have for attending week to week, track promoter Gray Garrison, the grandson of Bowman Gray Racing co-founder Alvin Hawkins, knows the core of that group comes for the experience.

"I think the fan base has kind of stayed the same because we still have the second and third, and even some fourth-generation fans," Garrison said. "I think the fan base has kind of stayed the same.

"I think the cars and the technology is what's changed, everything more so than anything."

Like people who regularly attend church sometimes sit in relatively the same spot each week, the same can be said for longtime fans at Bowman Gray.

Owen said she arrives at the track between 5:30-6 p.m. to make sure she gets a seat under the press box. Stanley can be found in Section 21.

"People sit in their same seats," Garrison said. "They always have. The fans are still passionate. They like you or they don't. They still root for their people. We're kind of like that racing-wrestling religion. That's what we are."

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