(EDITOR’S NOTE: 51’s X-Factor is a new, weekly feature on Speed51.com that features opinions from 51 columnists on racing’s hottest topics. Tim Quievryn, the author of this editorial, is the Southeast Editor for Speed51.com and the founder of 51’s Third turn (thethirdturn.com). The views which are expressed in the following column are his own and not necessarily the views of Speed51.com and/or its partners.)
In the early evening hours of what would become a long Friday night, defending NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national champion Anthony Anders climbed aboard a machine and tried to see how fast he could go. An accomplished late model racer with two track championships at Greenville-Pickens Speedway (SC), Anders’ task was a little different than one might expect a talented driver to be spending a weekend evening doing.
Instead of focusing on running fast lap times on the track, he was planted in the infield. His time-sensitive goal was not to win a race that night but to help make a race possible the next morning. And for the next few hours, Anders, the new promoter of Greenville-Pickens, did just that. With the help of his track crew, they paved over a previously rutted and gravelly path through the middle of the infield with a nice fresh coat of asphalt. They finished at 2 AM, and in the morning the haulers of the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East let down their lift gates and teams rolled their cars to the inspection line smoothly.
“Defending” may, for unintended reasons, be the best word when describing Anthony Anders’ 2014 championship. It’s been discounted and ignored ever since he won it last September, credited derisively as the result of a weak Greenville-Pickens late model field being inflated by a fleet of start-and-park machines that affected the point distribution system NASCAR employs. Most of the questions he faced over the winter were about the controversy, not the 30 wins he accrued in 2014, the joy of racing against his son, or his rise to the top fueled by hard work, family, and faith.
Many called it cheating. This writer took the stance that the system was to blame, not the champion. There are a litany of thoughts in between. That’s all well and good. Having a healthy difference of opinion is as American as driving fast and turning left is. The problem is that perception of Anders’ 2014 season has unduly colored how people see his new job in 2015.
When Anders announced he would take over as promoter of Greenville-Pickens Speedway this season, the decision was met with equal parts cynicism and ironic relief. On message boards or social media, people believed that Anders was just formally taking over the track he had been running in the shadows for years. Or that Lee Pulliam and Keith Rocco had gotten to Anders’ head and he was running scared. On the flipside, many media and other racing professionals quietly let out a sigh of relief. At least we don’t have to deal with this storyline again in 2015 seemed to be the collective sentiment.
As Anders inherited Greenville this spring, he inherited a track in need of effort. The facility is well laid out. The racing passion is deep. The history alone is a draw. But effort is one thing that had been lacking. Previous track management had been content to keep the track at the status quo, not letting the track fall into ruin yet not making any visible effort to carry it forward into the 21st century.
The parking lots were in need of significant attention. Signage at the track was bleached white from years baking in the Carolina sun. Race reports and feature results from weekly races were posted rarely on the website. Press who came to the track found themselves tiptoeing around a giant hole in the scoring tower. I’m not going to lie – media tend to be a bit spoiled with having the best views in the house of a race. But no one likes to feel like if they shift their chair a little too much, they’re going to fall into the bottomless pit from 300.
Seeing the Greenville track for Saturday’s NASCAR K&N Pro Series East event, I was very impressed. The track surface is the same old historic Greenville-Pickens, abrasive asphalt laid next to names of racing greats like David Pearson and Ralph Earnhardt hand-painted on the wall. But the facility itself has taken a huge leap forward.
New, bold signage greets fans as they walk into the entrance. Fresh wood lines the deck of the track bar. The scoring tower replaced the dangerous floorboard with tiled flooring and internet to boot. The track does weekly programs with new content. Press releases are now posted consistently on the website. Trackside parking spots were graded and smoothed out. The aforementioned swath of asphalt made the infield a much more effective workspace than previously. Technical inspection has continued to be a bit of a sore spot for the track after some controversy in 2014, but there seems to be much more transparency about these decisions already in the first few weeks of this season than all of last year.
And all of this has been done under Anders’ watch, which has lasted just three months.
It really shouldn’t be surprising to see Anders’ heart for promoting. Racers turned promoters have a recent history of revitalizing tracks, from Five Flag Speedway’s Tim Bryant to Oxford Plains Speedway’s Tom Mayberry to Showtime Speedway’s Robert Yoho.
Of course, the barometer of success is not one media member’s saying so. It’s the fan response. And fans did indeed turn out to Greenville on Saturday night for the East Series event. I saw more fans in the stands then than in my four previous visits to Greenville combined. There is a positive atmosphere building at the track, and that’s something sorely needed in short track racing in this day and age of social media negativity.
Ultimately, we will also judge Anders’ effort not by the first few months of 2015, but by how it ends. By how the entirety of his six-year lease goes. Frankly, a lot of people start strong in the promoter business and then fizzle out.
But my argument is this: If you’ve begrudged Anthony Anders for what happened last year, give him a second chance. Separate Anders the title contender and Anders the track promoter. We need people in short track racing who work to grow the sport, who invest time, money, and personal manpower into making it better for drivers and fans. If you have the chance to, go out and see a race at the track. Cheer for its other strong veteran racers like Marty Ward, Trey Gibson, and David Roberts, other guys who make Greenville a great place to race. If Anders can change a track like Greenville so much in a few months, maybe he can change your opinion too.
-By Tim Quievryn, Speed51.com Southeast Editor/51’s Third Turn – Twitter: @thethirdturn
-Photo credit: Speed51.com