DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The 2006 NASCAR national championship came down to Caraway Speedway.
It’s only fitting that the near half-mile paved oval in Asheboro, N.C., be the one to kick off the inaugural NASCAR Whelen All-American Series season.
It has been a long six months since Philip Morris made the trek from his home track at Motor Mile Speedway in Radford, Va., for one last shot at the biggest prize in weekly racing, winning the final race of the season at Caraway to earn the national title. In the interim, NASCAR welcomed Whelen Engineering as the title sponsor of its weekly racing program and ushered in a new era of short track racing.
NASCAR and the Connecticut-based Whelen Engineering – a leading manufacturer of automotive, aviation, industrial and public emergency lighting and warning systems – reached a multi-year agreement in November to sponsor the grassroots racing program.
A revised points format, which rewards track and state champions as well as crowning the national champion, will officially start with the green flag Saturday.
“It’s time to go,” said Caraway track owner Russell Hackett, whose track will open with a 100-lap Late Model main event. “Looks like it’s going to be pretty good.”
In addition, Greenville-Pickens Speedway in Greenville, S.C., and Southern National Raceway Park in Kenly, N.C., will begin their seasons Saturday. Greenville-Pickens will celebrate its 62nd season with an opening night sponsored by Chiefs Wings & Firewater of Easley, S.C. Southern National features a 150-lap, double-points event for its Kinston Automotive Late Models Stocks. Thirteen tracks in all will open their season in March.
Among them will be Madera (Calif.) Speedway, which is returning to NASCAR sanctioning. Track owner Kenny Shepherd and Co. are in a similar position as last year when they rescued Altamont Motorsports Park in Tracy, Calif.
“I can’t even say how much we’re looking forward to it,” Shepherd said. “It’s been a lot of midnights and up at 5 a.m. – just hammer down, getting the place ready. We put a beautiful schedule together and we’re ready to go.”
Madera, a 1/3-mile paved oval, will open March 31 with the Smokey Hanoian Classic, a $2,000-to-win, 100-lap Late Model event.
“It’s one of our biggest Late Model shows of the year,” said Shepherd, who scored his biggest win of his racing career when he won the Smokey Hanoian in 1993. “We’re coming right out of the gate with it.
“We want to reach out and make new NASCAR fans. This style of racing is so exciting. They’re going to come out and realize, ‘Wow, this is something we’ve got to see.’ ”
Racing in New England will also kick off the weekend of March 31 with the Budweiser Modified Nationals, a two-day event at the Waterford Speedbowl. The 1/3-mile Connecticut track is operating under new promoters, as Jerry Robinson and track general manager Bill Roth reached an agreement in the offseason to lease the facility.
“There’s a lot of interest in the Budweiser Nationals,” said Roth, who is overseeing ongoing major renovations to the track. “They’re all fired up. The Modified Nationals is becoming a tradition. Thompson has its Icebreaker; Stafford has its Spring Sizzler. This is our entry into the season.”
Following are the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series tracks opening in March:
March 17 – Caraway Speedway, Asheboro, N.C.; Greenville-Pickens Speedway, Greenville, S.C.; Southern National Raceway Park, Kenly, N.C. March 24 – Concord Motorsport Park, Midland, N.C.; Hickory Motor Speedway, Newton, N.C.; Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway; Lanier National Speedway, Braselton, Ga.; South Boston (Va.) Speedway. March 31 – Evergreen Speedway, Monroe, Wash.; Las Vegas Motor Speedway; Madera (Calif.) Speedway; Old Dominion Speedway, Manassas, Va.; Waterford (Conn.) Speedbowl.