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GREGORY COLUMN: Good times are rolling once again at Wythe Raceway

GREGORY COLUMN: Good times are rolling once again at Wythe Raceway

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RURAL RETREAT, Va. - It’s 7:30 on a warm Saturday evening and Fred Brown is in his element.

With a familiar blend of wisdom and wit, the 79-year-old owner and ambassador of Wythe Raceway directed the fast-moving show at his half-mile clay oval.

Due to the invisible menace that is COVID-19, there was no action until July 4 this season at the popular facility located just off Interstate 81.

After spending anxious days and weeks fine-tuning their machines in home garages, racers from Wytheville to Bluefield and far beyond have returned to the track.

Under Phase 3 of the Forward Virginia reopening plan, outdoor entertainment venues have been allowed to host a maximum of 1,000 people since July 1.

According to Brown, Wythe has met that standard while still allowing for social distancing measures.

On Saturday, a stream of dirt racing diehards arrived early and spread out in the grandstands and along the terraced hillsides. Some folks brought face masks, and nearly all wore smiles.

Even before COVID-19, short tracks across the country have faced troubled times in recent years due to a lack of sponsorship, the high cost of fielding a car, and options such as massive televisions.

In Coeburn, the owners of Lonesome Pine Raceway decided to switch back to an asphalt surface this season after an ill-fated experiment with a dirt track last summer. Following a couple delays, the first event at the new-look LPR is scheduled for Aug. 15.

For Brown and his staff, the same basic formula has worked since 1969.

The appeal of Wythe Raceway is based on loyal fans watching friends and neighbors accomplish some pretty amazing feats on the high-speed track where three-wide racing is common.

There is nothing tame about the Wythe gang. In addition to some wrecking, there is fussing and feuding but that sort of drama just adds to the flavor of this unique place which also offers first-rate corn dogs and a neat souvenir stand.

Saturday’s program featured large fields in the entry-level UCAR and KCAR classes along with action in Pro Mini, Pro Modified and the marquee Super Street division. Drivers from several counties showed up for the $1,000-to-win UCAR 100 feature.

One of the top attractions of any Wythe show is the postcard-worthy sunset over the Walker Mountain range. That panoramic view didn’t disappoint Saturday.

From hot laps to victory lane interviews, Brown kept the fans informed and entertained.

These are dark days for sports fans at all levels, but the good times are rolling again in Rural Retreat.

Fred Brown makes sure of that.

agregory@bristolnews.com | Twitter: @Greg_BHCSports | (276) 645-2544

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