Sheridan families keep race track alive

SHERIDAN — As “Southern Nights” blared over the loudspeakers, the vroom vroom vroom from big block engines in the pits promised a mid-summer evening chock full of good ole’ boy racing at Sheridan Speedway.

About 40 mainly local drivers — grizzled veterans in home-built modifieds and pint-size juniors in quarter midgets were game-face, fire-suited up and loaded for bear, ready to battle on this 3/8 mile — banked dirt tracks harking back to the times when moonshiners were outrunning the police through the hollers and mountains of North Carolina.

For about three hours, some 300 fans cheered on the careening, souped up spectacle of hometown heroes battling it out in WISSOTA street stocks, Midwest modified, four cylinders, IMCA A modified and the newest division, quarter midgets. You would have sworn you were in the Deep South except the fans weren’t sweating, hollering Rebel yells or drinking Dixie Beer.

“This is a field of dreams for cars,” said Randy Cummings, 18.

As American as beer, barbecue and Fourth of July, dirt track tracing is a fundamental part of the American experience and with the local resurrection of the Sheridan Speedway through volunteer efforts and physical improvements as well youth outreach through the introduction of the quarter midget classes, the speedway once again showcases Wyoming dirt track racing. The sport boasts a long history of local and family participation and dedication to continuing this high-octane, flamboyant sport where contests of courage, speed and grit are played out.

“This track has a deep history. It’s a labor of love resurrecting the track,” said Brian Davidson, president of the Sheridan Motorsports Association that oversees Sheridan Speedway, which sat vacant for nearly a decade and was reborn about five years ago.

Davidson, who also races street stock, races with two of his three sons, Ames and Mac, who race in the two age classes of the quarter midget division. Getting the kids on the track takes them off the cellphone and computers, gets them engaged, passionate and involved, Davidson said.

“I drive #95 for Lightning McQueen,” said Ames, a 6-year-old veteran of the track. “I love passing cars and winning and rolling over.”

“I love winning,” he said.

About 11 young racers were out that night, competing in the Speedway’s new class, many of them part of racing families, some with long lineages in the Sheridan dirt track racing scene. Many of them bear the numbers of their dad or grandpa now passed in the past glories of storied history of dirt track racing.

Take #51, Zach Flint’s quarter midget painted in memory of Jim Barker. His car bears the same number as his grandpa, a well-known local racer who back in the early 1970s bested an unofficial track record of 18.95 for A-modified class. At the end of the midget’s feature race, Zach drove a few laps, bearing a white flag that said “In Memory of Jim Barker, Go Fast #51.”

“I know Grandpa is sitting in that little car with his grandson,” said Molly Flint, Barker’s daughter.

Mia Baxter, 10, is one of few girls cutting their teeth on quarter midgets, learning to race. She was inspired to race watching her dad, Earl Baxter, who drives an IMCA A Modified car.

For her it’s not so much the competition but just getting out and having a blast.

“It’s all about racing,” she said. “It’s just about having fun. Having fun is more important than winning. It’s a good sport for anybody.”

Having fun racing is generations old here. The present Sheridan Speedway has had three physical incarnations throughout the years. The Mountain View Speedway was first built through the auspices of the Sheridan Hot Rod Club in 1947, located just south of the Wyoming Girls’ School. After several years, that track closed. The club reorganized into the Sheridan Race Car Association, which opened the Interstate Speedway above the present site of Wyoming Game and Fish Department offices and on the site of the Comfort Inn Suites in 1970 and closed after a number of years. Finally, the Sheridan Speedway opened at its present site around 1991 and stayed open until about 2006 when it was shuttered for nearly a decade. Finally, it reopened in 2015 and after some snafus has now operated under new management for three years.

What keeps local racing alive is the history and love of racing passed on through generations of drivers, gear heads and die-hard fans.

That dirt track true grit is epitomized in such volunteers as Andy Morris, 70. A retired driver, his father Vern Morris, was among old-timers instrumental in Sheridan’s dirt track history and building of those three race tracks. While he has retired from racing, you can see him sharing stories, mentoring the young drivers and weighing in those 3,000-pound metal behemoths when, after they race, they rumble into the pits.

“Racers are all the same, you can never make a living doing it. You’re there for the love,” Morris said.