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Saturday, July 28 – The drive from Raleigh to Winston Salem, our stop for the night, was a short one so we decided to take in some sights along the way. Our first stop was at Duke University where we drove through the simply gorgeous campus and then took a stroll through Cameron Indoor Stadium where the Duke Blue Devils play basketball. It was really neat and the pictures and stories that outlined the entire concourse made you feel like you were in a museum of Duke basketball. We left the Duke Campus and headed 10 miles southwest to North Carolina University. Here again we drove throughout the campus but the Dean Smith Center was not open so we only got to look through the front windows.
We then drove the rest of the way over to Winston Salem and after checking in at the downtown Marriott we headed over to Bowman Gray Stadium. If you recall Bowman Gray was the track featured on a show called Madhouse that ran for two years on the History Channel. The show featured racing plus the top driver’s lives during their week and made names like Bert and Jason Myers, Tim Brown, Jonathon Brown and Junior Miller household names. This would not be our first visit to Bowman Gray but it has been at least 20 years since we last entered the Stadium. We knew they drew large crowds and the parking was limited so we headed over to the track early.
We arrived at 5:20 and the gates were scheduled to open at 6:00. There were already fans lined up at the gate and tailgating in the parking lot. The Stadium holds around 10,000 fans and it never appears to be empty. It was sunny with temperatures in the high 90’s and a threat of thunder storms but that did not keep the fans away. The gates actually opened early and by the time we walked up to the gate, just prior to 6:00, the fans in line had all filed in and the cars were out on the track practicing. This is the one element I do not care for with asphalt racing. Why do they have to practice so much. On dirt it is called warm-ups and it is a few laps. On asphalt it is called practice and it went on for over an hour. We put a blanket down on the homestretch and walked along the top of the stadium. The food prices were out of control for a Saturday night short track. They surpassed the prices of the New Jersey tracks where the cost of living is much higher than in Winston Salem NC. The cost of a bottle of water was $3.50 and the price of a plain hot dog was $3.50. Both Bruce and I had fried bologna sandwiches and they were $5.50 each. We could not understand the high cost of concessions but they did allow fans to bring in a cooler with their own drinks and food.
Times trials for the modifieds got under way at 6:58 and 20 cars took one lap each in preparation for the twin 50 lap features. Tim Brown set fast time for the 6th time this season with a time of 13.392. At the conclusion of time trials it started to rain. It seemed there was one black cloud over the top of us and it decided to spritz rain. It only delayed the show for about 15 minutes and then the Stadium Stocks came out for their 15 lap event. By this time the stands were filled with fans surrounding the track. If the place holds 10,000 there had to be 7,500 fans in the stands. There were no empty sections. Where we sat on the homestretch there were no additional seats to be had. When the green dropped at 8:07 the place ignited with cars making contact and fans cheering and waving both their arms and their middle finger. Derek Taylor won the event, which went 15 laps or 15 minutes, picking up his 2nd win of the season. Speaking of the season, this is the 64th season for Bowman Gray Stadium and this was their 13th race of the year.
The late model sportsman ran next and the 20 lap event saw only 3 cautions. It was a bit more subdued then the stadium stocks with Taylor Branch picking up win number 2 of the year. Now the mighty modifieds took to the asphalt and the crowd erupted. Everyone had their favorite and they wanted everyone else to know who it was. It was a heads up start from the time trials so the fast cars started up front. Although being fast is not what wins races here. Being able to stay out of a skirmish is what wins races. Tim Brown led all 50 laps. It was his 7th win of 2012 and his 65th win overall at Bowman Gray. Jonathan Brown was second followed by Michael Clifton, Ronnie Clifton and Jason Myers. Jonathan Brown started 6th and Jason Myers started 8th. Overall it was a pretty mild event. Perhaps they were saving their weapons; I mean cars, for the second 50 lapper. Next up was the second 20 lap sportsman race and Michael Adams took home the top honors. The event saw the caution wave 4 times and even though there was quite a bit of pushing and shoving it was nothing like what was to come.
The time was 9:58 when the green dropped on the second 50 lap modified event with 19 of the original 20 cars still in competition. However, this time the big guns were in the back. Tim Brown pulled the number 16 for the inversion. It was during the next 40 minutes that the fireworks flew. No they did not shoot off fireworks in the sky. The cars set them off on the track. It was during this time the fans screamed, yelled, hung out over the cement wall showing their displeasure or pleasure with some of the moves that were being made. It was during this time you stood to watch the racing rather then sat in your seat. It was during this time that many a car part was broken and bent. It was during this time that I got caught up in all the mayhem and starting cheering and yelling right along with the other 7,500 fans in the stadium.
The first 19 laps went caution free and then it started to happen one by one with drivers became inpatient and simply took other cars out of the event. Now the spun car would usually retaliate by hitting the car that spun him under caution and that appeared to be allowed, as nothing was done by the officials. By lap 35 things were actually running smoothly when a fictitious caution was thrown, no one spun, hit the wall nor was there any debris. This got things rolling. On lap 40 Jonathan Brown tried to run Danny Bohn, grandson of the late Parker Bohn long time runner at Wall Stadium in New Jersey, into the fourth turn wall. It did not work. They raced into the first turn and the sparks flew and the metal crunched. Bohn made it through but Jonathan Brown did not as well as several other cars. Bert Myers who hit many cars during the event was one of the cars left sitting in the turn. Racing resumed and one lap later the caution was out again. Jonathan Brown was involved again this time with Tim Brown, no relation, on the backstretch. There would be 6 more green flag laps before the 8th and final caution on lap 47. Bert Myers spun off the track on the homestretch after yet another tangle with Jonathan Brown. Then the car slid out of the infield into turn one making contact with Joe (Bo Bo) Brown, brother of Jonathan. They briefly got hooked together and you could almost see the anger spewing from the cars. When Brown pulled away and drove down the backstretch, Myers rammed him hard from behind and both slid into the grass infield. Here they stalked each other like the final two running cars in a destruction derby, running into each other. Next they were front bumper to front bumper and both accelerated only to be at a standstill with their tires spinning. It was like nothing I have ever seen before during a so called professional race. It was like two bulls with their horns and steam coming out of their nostrils. Finally Myers pulled away and Brown jumped out of his car and chased after him on foot. Now the officials intervened and stopped Brown. The final three laps were run and Danny Bohn, from Freehold, NJ, picked up his second win of the year followed by Michael Clifton, Tommy Neal, Jonathan Brown and Jason Myers. Cars were still deliberately hitting each other as they pulled off the third turn pit entrance. This was the 1288th modified race run here and I don’t know if any of the others were as wild as this one!!
There were cars crashing, fans yelling and hanging over the cement wall telling drivers they were number 1, arguments in the stands and it was approximately 7,500 strong. You would never see this as the norm in the Northeast, but this is the way it is here every Saturday night. If you ever get the chance to come here take it. Is it good racing? NO! Is it entertaining? Hell Yes! It is a Madhouse, Just like seen on TV.
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