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Kingsport Speedway looks to build on huge season opener

By Jeff Birchfield • Apr 4, 2018 at 10:00 AM

Last Saturday’s season opener at Kingsport Speedway was a success by any measure.

A large car count, great competition and a nearly packed grandstand all led up to a memorable day of racing.

Kres VanDyke and Zeke Shell raced hard for the featured Late Model Stock win in a rivalry that checks all the boxes. Virginia versus Tennessee, Chevy versus Ford, the red car versus the black car, and two guys who are more outspoken and genuine than any of today’s NASCAR Cup Series drivers.

Kingsport Speedway general manager Karen Tunnell posted a message on Facebook showing all the cars parked around the facility and thanking the racers and fans who showed up. It was a well-deserved moment of celebration for all those involved with the racetrack.

What are the secrets to Kingsport’s success when so many other tracks are struggling? Many of the tracks around the area, including Lonesome Pine Raceway, Motor Mile Speedway and Newport Speedway, have either no plans for racing this season or are just running special events.

With Saturday’s crowd, it’s easy to forget that Kingsport was in the same boat a decade ago.

Much of the credit goes to the track’s promoters for the three-eighths-mile concrete oval. Former NASCAR Cup driver Robert Pressley leased the track from owner Joe Loven and built a great foundation with exciting racing and tough competition. Ervin Stiltner and his son, Keith, took over with Tunnell as the GM, and they’ve continued to build on that success.

Tunnell continues to evolve in her role, and she deserves a ton of credit for sprucing up the place. She brought in the talented Willie Estep, who has extensive experience in racing. They came up with a paint scheme on the wall to resemble that of the track’s glory days in the 1970s when it regularly hosted top Late Model Sportsman races.

For a weekly racing program, these are also glory days with 10 to 12 competitive cars in the Late Model division capable of winning on a given weekend.

But as great as the feature was, the best race of the day came in the Pure Street class where the drivers truly have a handful racing cars on street tires. It’s the kind of action that has fans longing for more, and it’s likely — if the weather holds out — another huge crowd will likely be on hand this Saturday to watch.

DIRT TRACKING IT

Sneedville driver Jordan Horton led flag to flag to capture the Steel Head Late Model feature at Volunteer Speedway last Saturday night. David Crabtree charged from fifth to second, Barrett Lowe finished third, John Tweed was fourth and Layne Clifton was fifth.

Rusty Ballenger of Seymour captured the Crate Late Model feature after a scary moment for Jonesborough driver Bobby Mays. Starting the race in fourth place, the throttle on Mays’ car hung up on the backstretch and he slammed against the outside wall around turns 3 and 4 to bring the caution out.

Another Washington County driver, Tim Byrd, suffered tough luck when he was running second and had to drop out with a mechanical failure on lap 7. But there was no slowing down Ballenger, who passed polesitter Trevor Sise for the lead on lap 16 of the 30-lap race.

Jason Welshan charged to second, ahead of Sise, Vic Hill and Chris Chandler.

Matt Tharp of Luttrell got by another Sise brother, Zach Sise, on lap 7 of the 20-lap Sportsman Late Model race to take the win. Zach Sise challenged Tharp the rest of the race but never could get back in front. Jed Emert rounded out the podium finishers.

Gary Blanken of Russellville captured the Modified Street win, and Lee Merritt of Knoxville recorded the Classic victory.

Volunteer Speedway takes this weekend off before the annual Scott Sexton Memorial on April 14. The 52-lap race is a tribute to the No. 52, which the Pigeon Forge racer was famous for having on his cars.

HOT SUMMER NIGHTS

Carson Eads opened the season with a bang at Round 1 of the Hot Summer Nights Supercross Series.

The young Kingsport rider won two races (Schoolboy and 85cc, 12-15) and was runner-up in another (85cc, 9-13) last Saturday at the Appalachian Fairgrounds.

Other local winners included Haven Tunnell of Rogersville (65cc beginner, 6-11), Eli John of Mount Carmel (Unlimited B), Zack Doran of Blountville (125 cc, 2 Stroke) and Alex Colley of Norton (65cc, 7-9).

Jesse Raleigh of Kingsport had two second-place runs (Unlimited B, CollegeBoy Am), while four other Kingsport riders — Jackson Horne (65cc, 7-9), Ben Carrick (450 D), Casey (85-150 cc, air-cooled) and Houston Hayworth (Unlimited C/D Extra) — also had runner-up finishes.

Other locals to post runner-up finishes were Nolan Moffitt of Surgoinsville (Schoolboy), Gavin Colley of Blountville (51cc, 7-8, 51cc open), Jason Lane of Wise (250 D) and Luke Stidham of Big Stone Gap (ATV Novice).

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