Chances are good that few people outside North Carolina are familiar with Friendship Motor Speedway in Elkin, North Carolina, tucked into the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. However, the 41/410-mile, paved, D-shaped oval is quickly becoming one of the hottest tracks within an hour's drive of the NASCAR hub of Charlotte, and it may be on its way to becoming the latest proving ground for up-and-coming drivers.
One factor in the track's climb to recognition beyond the tiny town of Elkin is that late last year, Friendship Motor Speedway joined the American Speed Association's Member Track program for the '04 racing season.
"I feel like our new membership in the ASA's Member Track program is going to provide a tremendous amount of benefit to everybody involved here at Friendship," says Randy Myers, track president and co-owner. "It's an organization that has been around for a long time, with a lot of history behind it. I think aligning with the ASA is going to make people more aware of our track through its member magazine, television coverage, and some other stuff they're working on. It's going to be a real good deal for us, and it will help this track grow as we head into the future."
Myers, along with business partners Danny Baker and Thomas Needham, purchased Friendship Speedway in January 2002. The trio immediately began making capital improvements to the facility, most notably changing the track surface from dirt to asphalt.
Those changes didn't go without notice. ASA added the track to its '04 roster of approximately 15 other venues for the first year of the organization's Member Track program. Another key to Friendship being offered its membership into the ASA was a long-time relationship between Myers and Dennis Huth, a veteran NASCAR official for nearly 20 years, who now heads up ASA's Member Track program as the national director.
"I've known Randy for a number of years, so I asked him if he would be interested in taking his track under the ASA sanction," Huth explains. "Once he saw the benefits and how things would work out well for both parties, he expressed an interest. We sat down and worked out a deal. Randy and the other owners knew that I was going to put as much as I could behind the program, and it would be a good situation as we went forward. I know when Randy tells me that he's going to do something, it's going to get done, and I think he feels the same way about me.
"On the other side of that, I know if Randy doesn't like something, he will tell me. When it comes to an overall corporate standpoint, he will tell me he doesn't agree with it and that we're making a mistake, but he'll still go along with us and move forward. What this has all boiled down to is a good working relationship between two different parties."
Early FanMyers' love of racing began at an early age when he watched his dad and uncle race at the famed Bowman-Gray Speedway in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Myers has long been passionate about Modified racing and formed the S.M.A.R.T. Modified Tour in 1988, becoming president of the organization. His first experience at running and promoting racing came during a five-year stint at Tri-County Speedway in Hudson, North Carolina, while still being involved in the S.M.A.R.T. Tour as vice president.
Myers admits that he has used a lot of his past racing experiences to mold Friendship into a facility that lures fans and competitors from other area tracks like Bowman-Gray, Tri-County, Concord Motorsport Park, and Hickory Motor Speedway.
"I think getting through this first year and letting people know that this isn't a dirt track anymore has been a big step for us," Myers says. "It's just a matter of us getting the word out to people, and one of the biggest things that has helped us is all of the racers talking amongst other drivers from different tracks. One thing that I think is going to help us going into the future is our Late Model program, and the motor program is not financially out of reach for that or our other divisions. Plus we sell four tires to our competitors for only $125, and that is a lot cheaper than all the other tracks by a great deal. We've tried to make it to where all the racers have a good time and they don't have to spend a ton of money to come here and race."
Race CentralOne advantage of Friendship is its proximity to the Charlotte area where many teams in NASCAR's top three divisions are based. The track is located about 30 minutes from the now defunct North Wilkesboro Speedway and about 75 miles away from Lowe's Motor Speedway. While some fans around the North Wilkesboro track feel shunned by NASCAR's departure from the area, Myers sees Friendship as a facility where they can go and see short-track racing at an affordable price.
"I really, really hope this track can help revive racing in this area," Myers says. "Because of the fact that the North Wilkesboro Speedway is not in their area anymore, hopefully a lot of that track's old race fans will realize that we have a very good facility where they can still see good racing. NASCAR, to its credit, has done so much for the sport. On the same token, weekly racing has suffered at local short tracks. It's aggravating, but I think putting on the right kind of racing is going to help us overcome that obstacle."
So why did Myers and the other track owners choose an ASA affiliation instead of aligning with NASCAR, like most tracks in the area?
"It's not so much as us taking a look at NASCAR as it is NASCAR not taking a look at us," Myers says. "It appears that with the NASCAR Weekly Racing Series-and this is my opinion-that a lot of tracks that have been under NASCAR sanction haven't gotten as much focus as they needed. That's not a knock against NASCAR, because they have been very successful for over 50 years. So they are doing something right."
Myers says that becoming involved in the ASA's Member Track program will help Friendship in three major areas-additional money for the track's point fund, more exposure through the ASA affiliation, and a much better participant insurance policy.
"The ASA is doing some things that NASCAR has never done before, like adding $10,000 to our point fund distribution," Myers says. "This is a great association for us here at Friendship with ASA because it's going to double our points fund. Their insurance policy is also much better. The competitors are now going to have a $500,000 participant accident insurance policy, and most of the other tracks only go up to around $50,000 if something were to happen to them."
The ASA has built a solid reputation since its beginning in 1968. Some of the drivers who have worked their way through ASA to NASCAR's top level include Darrell Waltrip, Mark Martin, the late Alan Kulwicki, Johnny Benson, and Ted Musgrave.
"There have been tons of great drivers that have come through the ASA ranks," Myers says. "They want to breed future champions for NASCAR and be a good feeder series. As of late, there have not been a lot of drivers to come through the NASCAR Weekly Racing Series other than Elliott and Hermie Sadler and Jeff and Ward Burton. Now a lot of the drivers are coming from the West Coast and Midwest. I really think Jeff Gordon broke the mold as far as drivers working their way up through the lower ranks of NASCAR before achieving great success. It makes you wonder what the pecking order is anymore."
Myers is determined to make Friend- ship Motor Speedway a track where young drivers with potential go to in order to get track time and experience. The goal seems to be working, as Rusty Wallace's son, Stephen, picked up his first career Late Model Stock victory last October, beating a field that included former Busch Series driver Wayne Grubb. In addition to Wallace, other drivers who have competed at Friendship include Bob Park, the father of Craftsman Truck Series driver Steve Park, as well as Matt Carter, the son of Nextel Cup team owner Travis Carter. There are also several NASCAR team members who race at Friendship as a hobby.
"Helping these young drivers is what it's all about," Myers says. "If we can help one driver along-just one guy-and help better his career, then I think we will be able to say we've done a good job."
The schedule at Friendship Motor Speedway includes races for Modifieds, Late Models, Mini Stocks, Strictly Stocks, and Chargers. The S.M.A.R.T. Modified Tour competes often at Friendship. Other divisions competing throughout the year are the IMCA Modifieds, Super Late Models, Late Model Super Trucks, UARA's Late Model Stocks, East Coast Flat Head Fords, Vintage Modified and Sportsman, Southern Vintage Modifieds, and the Virginia Old Timer's Race Club.
There are 2,200 grandstand seats at Friendship. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for students and senior citizens, and free for children age 11 and under.