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East Lincoln Speedway brings families together

Madison Spurling, a fourth-generation dirt track race car driver, comes around a turn during a heat race at East Lincoln Speedway on Saturday.

MICHELLE T. BERNARD
Staff Writer

It’s not the Charlotte Motor Speedway, with its asphalt track and its 89,000 seating capacity. East Lincoln Speedway stays closer to its roots of speed demons outrunning the law with their cargo of moonshine over roads that were less than pristine. Drivers and their families have supported East Lincoln Speedway for close to 30 years now and their passion for the sport is no less than those that drive the Cup cars. They just do it on a “dirt ring” rather than on pavement.

The drivers and their cars, which look more like they’d be at home on the set of a post-apocalyptic movie, arrive at the track every Saturday during the season, which runs from March through the beginning of October. They run in divisions such as Bombers, Renegades or Lightning Late Models. Clean at first, after one spin around the track, the pitted bodies of the cars become further mottled with clumps of red clay that the drivers will chip off in between races.

Track general manager James Honeycutt runs a tight ship. He doesn’t allow any antics during raceways that would take away from the track’s family-friendly atmosphere. Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office deputies are on hand during each race to back up Honeycutt if necessary but, in general, their assistance is not needed.

The grandstands are quickly packed with cheering fans and in the pits, drivers and their families work on cars and socialize. Most of them know each other and while tempers may occasionally flare, if push comes to shove — and often communal pushing of a lame car off the track is required — they all look out for each other.

The drivers are mostly male but there are some female drivers and they bring their families to the track with them. Time spent around the track eventually makes a lasting impression on some of the children and they go on to follow in their parent’s or relative’s footsteps and start driving their own cars. The track offers child-friendly events either before the racing with bike races on the track or during intermission with a candy drop.

“It’s in his blood now, we can’t do anything about it,” Kevin Saam said about this toddler, Brayden, who was sitting in his car as Kevin waited for his heat to be called. “He was born and bred into it. We’ll foot the bill for him to race until he’s old enough to do it himself.”

Saam, his wife, Kelly, and 17-year-old son all race dirt track cars and their 7-year-old son races go-karts.

It’s not at all unusual for three and sometimes four generations of drivers to be at East Lincoln Speedway on a Saturday night. Madison Spurling is 15 and isn’t old enough to hold a driver’s license, but started dirt track racing three years ago. Her stepfather, Chris Stowe, is the third generation of Stowe men to race at East Lincoln.

“My dad started to bring me when I was a kid and it was something that I always wanted to do,” he said. “When I turned 14, he bought me a car and I’ve been doing it ever since. I’ve worked my way through the ranks running just about anything you can run on dirt. I’ve been able to experience a lot.”

Chris’s grandfather, Bud “Pop” Stowe, was 52 when he started racing on the track in East Lincoln when it first opened in 1990. His car number was 52 and Chris Stowe and Madison Spurling both race cars with the number 52.

“Dirt racing is the roots of racing,” Chris Stowe said. “It’s where a lot of people started racing. You get nights where it’s so dusty you can’t see and others when it’s so muddy you can’t see. Dirt track racing is hard to predict.”

A lot of dirt tracks get shut down once houses get built up around them and the homeowners complain about the noise. East Lincoln Speedway owner Bob DeLia keeps his neighbors in mind and shuts down the track at 11 p.m. sharp. He said no matter what’s going on, at 11 p.m. the lights go off and everybody goes home.

Following in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps, Everette Dunlap attends races with his wife and twin daughters. He said he was born and raised on racing, doing both the driving and building and the maintenance of the cars.

“My girls are interested and I can definitely see one of them doing it eventually,” he said. “They’re only 15, which is not too young to get started but it’s young enough for girls. Daddy’s not ready to quit yet so we’re going to hold them off for as long as we can.”

Chris Stowe said that there’s a good bit of care and maintenance that goes into these cars on a weekly basis. It goes without saying that many of the people who race on dirt tracks work all week to be able to afford to keep their cars up.

“We’ve put a lot of money into these cars but my son’s never been in trouble,” Ronnie Stowe said about his son, Chris. “Some of the boys he went to school with have been in different kinds of trouble, spent time and jail and some of them have passed away. Chris is 34 years old now and he’s still racing. I think this has kept them busy and they didn’t have time to get into trouble and do the wrong thing.”

The last race at East Lincoln Speedway will be the Fall Brawl Event on Oct. 6 and 7 at the track at 1873 Mariposa Road in Stanley.

Image courtesy of Michelle T. Bernard

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