"Have you ever been to a dirt track race? Some may not not find it appealing, but to myself and thousands of others it was the only place to be Saturday night. When will it open again? Why did they only have one race? These are questions that are flying around this morning among the community members. My only question a month ago was "Will we have support from the community?" I was never doubtful, but the track has been closed for two and a half years. I climb the ladder for the reader board sign and up the letters. R,A,C,I,N,G S,A,T... cars drive up and down Highway 441. I hope they notice the new message.
For two and a half years the track has not seen a fan, a race car and his driver, or a so missed, bright light Saturday night. The work was plentiful to say the least. I looked around and imagined the fire marshal doubtfully shaking his head as he made his list of "to-dos." Clearance is required for the safety of everyone who attends a race. We only had 4 weeks. It would shape up. Quite nicely in fact. David Williams began making the calls. David is a Laurens county native (affectionately know as Bear) who has been involved with 441 Speedway since the 80's. Extensive knowledge of race track operations and his gift of gab were just the ticket. Tony Sherling, the track owner since the early 90's, organized from Savannah and sent the heavy equipment for working the track. Race track owners from Cochran Motor Speedway and Swainsboro RaceWay provider their water trucks to help prep the track. Local drivers and past staff members reported instantly to volunteer their time. Cleaning the bathrooms, prepping the track surface, pressure washing the bleachers, mowing the grass, patching the fence, rebuilding the stairs for the box, painting the concession stands....the list goes on and on. With out all of these dedicated people it would not have been the event we never dreamed it would be. I'm sure by know you know that even with volunteers it must still be expensive to put on such an event. We were so fortunate to have local businesses sponsor this race. From trash collection to bold and astounding graphics of the feature race winner checks. It all came together.
Friday afternoon is upon us. A drive by the Dublin 441 interstate area would reveal race car haulers at gas stations, restaurants, and hotels. Race teams from all over the southeast are getting ready for the night, and an excitement is in the air. Around 2pm haulers and pick ups with trailers start to arrive. They claim their unforgotten parking spots in the pits and begin chatting among themselves and other teams. Clearly ecstatic to be back home racing. Some cars gleam with bright colors while others are still dirty from last weekend's race at other tracks. Its whats under the hood that matters. These drivers and teams are everyday people. Instead of golf or football these friends and families spend their weekends in the shop. Tune the car. Test the car. Run to win. But most importantly have fun doing it. Truck after truck file in. Pretty soon we have 70 cars in the pits just for practice. Wow. Dedication, fans and a cause. Those were the ingredients for the successful race at 441 Speedway Saturday night. You see, this event was a benefit race. Put together by David, Tony, family members and countless others to raise money for cancer treatment. It was a rally. A rally for a cause. A rally with a deafening scream from the cars and fans. A pivotal member in racing community is fighting a battle. A battle that many of us know the battle all too well.
Kenny Barron (my father-in-law) is by far the hardest working person I have ever met. Tough as nails. He can run circles around people half his age. Witty, knowledgeable, and a jack of all trades. All to often we are sitting around and he gets call after call. "Kenny how do I do this?" "Well what about that?" He is the go to guy. Kenny knows or can figure out a way to make anything work. He is of a generation that knows hard work it the only way. We were given the hope that the left lung could be removed. "This should be no problem for Kenny." He will bounce right back. A high success rate for this kind of surgery was also a positive motivator. They took him back for surgery and we gather in the waiting room awaiting the news from the surgeon. The procedure should have taken a few hours. When the surgeon reported to the waiting room within 45 minutes we all had questions. Surgery was no longer an option. It was spreading. Dumbfounded. Really? That's it? We felt cheated. You can imagine how Kenny felt. Chemotherapy and radiation are now the only options for Kenny Barron. He is handling it well and remains positive. Even though this race was a benefit for him, he was there everyday. Helping as much as his body would allow. Saturday night you would have imagined him in the stands enjoying the race. Not Kenny. He was helping, working again. Seeing it through to the end. That's his style. He is passionate and dedicated.
After the races there was much discussion of the night's events and highlights, and reminiscing of the many good times over the years. Storytelling of growing up at a dirt track and the impact its had on many lives in middle Georgia. Respect and remembrance of the racing family no longer with us. My father-in-law Kenny Barron was one of the last to leave. The lights simultaneously faded out and we went home. Fans and drivers talked about the race on social media all night. Smack talking, exaggerated stories, and a flood of pictures and videos. Five star reviews and comments left and right. The resounding echoing question,...over and over was "When will 441 Speedway race again?" For now we don't know, but I can think of one person who will be ready and waiting for the gates to re-open. " -Jesica Grainger Oct. 20, 2016.
Thank you racing fans and community for your support.