Fourth-generation racer Bobby Hamilton Jr. says he’s “getting a quick education” about the other side of the sport.
“In the past I just showed up the track, ran the race, and went home,” said Hamilton, who on Saturday launches his first season as owner/operator of Highland Rim Speedway. “I had no idea what all’s involved before the green flag falls. The last few months have been a learning experience.”
Highland Rim is a paved quarter-mile track located 20 miles north of Nashville. Over its past 48 seasons it has earned a rowdy reputation – on and off the track. Sometimes the action on the track spilled over into the pits and the grandstands.
“We’re going to change that,” Hamilton said. “This is going to be a track where you can bring your family and feel safe. We’re not going to let a few rowdies ruin it for everybody.”
Hamilton said he and his late father Bobby Sr., a former NASCAR truck champion and team owner, discussed buying the track a few years ago “but the timing just wasn’t right. Now I think it is.”
Prompting his decision was this year’s closure of 52-year-old Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville. Hamilton believes displaced drivers and fans will gravitate to his track. He’s encouraged by the fact that that during a practice session last week more cars showed up than he had room for.
“We had over 200 cars and some of them had to park outside the track,” said Hamilton, adding with a laugh: “But that’s a great problem to have.”
Hamilton said such things as getting his race inspectors and officials in place, hiring concession-stand workers and security personnel, cleaning restrooms and grandstands, handling driver-entry forms “and a million other details” have made for a busy winter.
“It was compounded by all the cold weather we had,” he said. “Some days were simply too cold to get anything done. That got us behind a little, but everybody has worked hard to get caught back up.”
“If something comes along I’ll listen,” he said, “but meanwhile I’ve got all I can handle with my race track.”
Hamilton, assisted by wife Stephanie, said many of his racing friends and associates have pitched in to help.
“I’ve called in a lot of favors,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of help to make this possible.”
The track’s feature series will be the Late Model division. It will also run Sportsman, Baby Grand, Pro Truck, Pure Stock and Rim Runner divisions.
“Our goal is to make racing affordable for everyone on some level,” Hamilton said.
“And of course the more drivers we can attract, the more fans will come out – every driver has his own group of friends and family that follow him or her.”
Hamilton said he is “nervous and excited. It’s the same feeling you get before the start of a big race. I’m venturing into a whole new world and I’m kinda holding my breath to see what happens.”
Larry Woody is a veteran, award-winning sports journalist. Woody began working at the Nashville Tennessean in the 1960s and took over the auto racing beat full time in the early 1970s. Larry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org