ALTAMAHAW – The sounds, smells and even the taste of auto racing was all over Ace Speedway on Saturday night.
Not only was there the traditional roar of the engines, the smell of burned rubber and the tastes from the concessions stands, there was the roar of actual people in the stands. An estimate of around 4,000 took advantage of one of the first sporting events to take place with spectators in North Carolina since mid-March.
Helping add to the big crowd that did the best they could in social distancing was a large turnout of Bowman Gray Stadium fans. With that race track silent amid the COVID-19 pandemic, drivers and fans made the trip from Winston-Salem and beyond wanting a return to something that felt normal.
One of the first few fans into Ace Speedway, a track that has been around since 1956 but for a long time was a dirt track, was Chris Brown and Phillip Sullivan, who are from Lexington. They had six in their party and with Bowman Gray Stadium empty never hesitated when it was determined the track would be allowing fans to attend.
Bowman Gray Stadium is the top dog among the short tracks in North Carolina, but it remains in limbo as to when or even if its 72nd season will begin at all. In the meantime, drivers weren’t shy about going to race at Ace Speedway on it opening night.
“I just wanted to see some racing,” said Sullivan. “I don’t really care where it was but when we found out many of the drivers from BG were going to be here we were excited.”
Brown said going to racing on Saturday nights has been a way of life for a long time with his family.
“It’s about being with family and friends and a cheap night to hang out and see some good racing,” Brown said. “Without a doubt we were all ready to get out of the house and see something competitive.”
Ayden Brown, 11, said he also wanted to see something different.
“I’m glad to be out of the house,” Ayden said.
Fans started to line up in the 3 p.m. range and the gates opened at 4:20 and fans streamed through both entrances until about 7 p.m.
Making the trip from State Road to Ace Speedway was Deidre Lunsford and 8-year-old son, Dannion Smith. They are regulars at Bowman Gray Stadium and it’s something Smith has looked forward to for a long time.
“It’s great to bond with family and that’s what I like best about coming to the races,” Dannion said.
Deidre said there’s no beating around the bush when it comes to what it means to see racing again.
“This means everything,” Deidre said. “This is our family thing and we haven’t been able to do this but he eats, lives and breathes racing so this is special.”
Dannion has excited to see his favorite driver, Tim Brown, a 10-time Bowman Gray Stadium champion who has a new paint scheme this season. Brown’s brand new Modified is a bright orange that stood out in a big way.
“We hope that Bowman Gray can open up, but if not, we’ll continue to come here to Ace Speedway,” Deidre said. “If Bowman Gray ever opens we’ll go back there but until then we’ll be coming here.”
Bobby Nifong, who is from Winston-Salem, was making his first trip to Ace Speedway and couldn’t wait to see something live after six weeks of isolation at home. He and his son were there at Ace Speedway for the first time.
“It’s just good to be out here in the sunshine and we are here to watch Jason Snow race,” Nifong said. “We’re excited to just be outside and I do sense something different. Everybody is tired of not doing anything and this is great entertainment.”
Among the regular Bowman Gray Stadium drivers that were expected to race on Saturday night were Brown, Burt and Jason Myers, Chris Fleming, Randy Butner, Michael and Zach Clifton, Chuck Wall and Chris Williams.
Zach Clifton said seeing all the excitement around the races and the build up gave him a sense of normalcy.
“I’m glad to be racing anywhere,” Clifton said. “I can sense that there’s something different in the air and you can just feel it. I’m so glad we are out here again so I’m excited.”