NASCAR Has It All, So Why Am I Happy Watching the Races at Lizard Creek?
While an increasingly smaller but still significant slice of the world was watching the restrictor plate wreck-fest at Daytona Saturday night, longtime buddy Tom and I were in about as different an auto racing environment as you can get: watching the races at Lizard Creek Speedway in Hanover, West Virginia.
While the knowledgeable segment of the TV audience might have been scandalized by a Daytona race lacking a full field of cars, we were likewise disappointed that the increased purse for the “crate” late models at Lizard Creek failed to boost the turnout beyond seven entries - and that was tops among the four adult classes (plus one for kids) on the schedule. The five divisions drew a total of 24 entrants.
So why do I think I had a better time than the folks in Daytona? Why would I decline to change places?
Lizard Creek - formerly known as Thunder Mountain Speedway and Hatfield McCoy Speedway before that - is located in a crevice/hollow between the mountains up Lizard Creek Road, just past a new school complex. One description says it’s where the FEMA trailers used to be (except that it looks like one of those has been converted nicely into a concession stand). It probably cost about as much to build the place as the Monster/Cup tracks spent to take out all those seats over the past few years.
It has no website, but its Facebook page announces upcoming events (without giving results of past ones, unfortunately). Crate (limited) late models and dirt modifieds are the featured classes; in both, everybody outside the top four finishers takes home $100.
So Saturday night we had races starting seven, five, five, four and three cars - and it was pretty dusty - so you’d think Tom and I would have left early for our lengthy, winding two-lane trip back to the motel.
No. The racing was actually pretty good, with battles for the lead in most divisions. Cars could race side-by-side, and there was lots of broadsliding. The concession stand food was good and cheap (I had no idea Southern West Virginia shared North Carolina’s love for hot dogs with chili and slaw), and everybody was friendly and welcoming. If the dust had been blowing in our direction, I might have felt differently (I did bring goggles), but as it was, I was happy we’d made Lizard Creek our Saturday night stop. If the place wasn’t six-and-a-half hours away, I might just go back.
Here’s a video of the crate late model feature from Saturday, evidently (judging from the background commentary) shot by someone who likes the eventual winner.
There wasn’t a big crowd at Lizard Creek - maybe 400-500 exclusive of the race teams - and the place may not survive (there really aren’t that many people nearby to begin with), but I’ve reached the point where the honesty and grit of a place like this has an attraction that the polished, corporate, rules-bound, incomprehensible point-systemed, over-priced world of NASCAR can’t offer.
Somewhere in between these two extremes is something that might preserve “major-league” stock car racing, but it has to have some of these elements:
Ø MAJOR cost-cutting rules
Ø No charters or provisionals
Ø A level playing field for outsiders or occasional competitors
Ø A point system the fans can understand
Ø Rules the fans can understand (and transparency about those rules)
Ø Drivers who are measured by past performance, not bank balances.
Ø Affordable prices (for tickets, programs, concessions, clothing, etc.)
Short track racing isn’t perfect, but if you like real racing, these days it’s got NASCAR beat hands-down, at least for this longtime fan. Thanks to everybody at Lizard Creek for reminding me how to have fun on Saturday night.
P.S. - Google Maps still calls the place Thunder Mountain and actually shows it as located where the school is, instead of just (literally) UP the road, but here’s what you see from the satellite. Note the general lack of residential areas nearby and figure this place has to work hard to get fans.
Here’s my t-shirt.