A childhood in the 1990s spent in the grandstands at Mobile International Speedway meant there were no bigger Stock Car drivers in the world to me than Gerald Wilkerson, Junior Niedecken and Bubba Gale.
They were larger than life to this (then) 11-year-old who grew up racing with his dad on dirt tracks across the Gulf Coast.
Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt were on television on Sundays, but Saturdays were reserved for The Show at Irvington, Alabama and those nights instilled everything I still hold to be great about NASCAR. You have to pick Roll Tide or War Eagle from birth in the Yellowhammer State, but further south, the allegiances to Gale and Wilkerson were just as fanatical.
The track was operated by professional wrestler and wrestling promoter Lee Fields and the experience was so exciting that the races were aired tape-delayed on Sunday afternoons.
The South Alabama half-mile continued to shape my identity as a race fan as it introduced me to the All Pro Series and the likes of Jeff Fultz, Wayne Anderson and Billy Bigley Jr. I still have their hero cards and sat in their race cars and that sort of personal connection is something you just can’t replicate at the highest levels.
Flashforward another decade and I’m covering the inaugural ARCA Mobile 200, a race won by Bubba Gale’s son, Cale.
Alex Bowman finished on the podium that afternoon in a race that also featured Chris Buescher, Chase Elliott, Grant Enfinger, Tyler Reddick and Erik Jones. There were 11-year-olds in attendance that weekend who became lifelong fans of these national touring superstars and followed their journey up the ladder.
Fans continued to follow these stories on Speed51.com, which naturally leads me to the impending arrival of Racing America on November 10, a digital platform that will serve as an evolution of what you’ve known and loved about Speed51 over the past 20 years.
That includes a new user-friendly website and mobile experience with even more short track coverage in the form of news, results, features and editorials from the events you care about the most. Racing America powered by Speed51.TV will soon feature even more live events and studio programming as we partner with some of the biggest names in grassroots motorsports.
This is a supersized Speed51 experience.
Racing America will also celebrate the relationship between the NASCAR Cup Series and the grassroots divisions we all call home. Chase Elliott and Kyle Busch returned to the Snowball Derby last year while Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell continue to support Sprint Car racing every chance they get.
Matt Tifft and BJ McLeod’s Live Fast Motorsports launched a partnership with 2019 Snowball Derby winner Travis Braden with a Super Late Model piloted by Jones in August at Pensacola.
Cup Series crew chiefs Chris Gabehart, Rodney Childers, Cliff Daniels, Randall Burnett and Matt McCall all boast successful Late Model resumes! A quick glance at the weekly NASCAR rosters shows dozens of short track wins amongst spotters, car chiefs and mechanics too.
Their stories began at 5 Flags Speedway, Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park, Hickory Motor Speedway and Southern National Motorsports Park but we will continue to chronicle their triumphs at the highest levels.
But arguably, most important to me, is a dynamic that dates all the way back to those formative years at Mobile International Speedway.
In the same way that I viewed Gerald Wilkerson, Junior Niedecken and Bubba Gale as the most prolific race car drivers of my youth, I want Racing America to become a platform to elevate short track superstars Peyton Sellers, Bubba Pollard, Stephen Nasse, Derek Thorn, Justin Bonsignore, Doug Coby, Bobby Santos, Kody Swanson, Johnny Clark, Luke Fenhaus, Dylan Fetcho and Matt Craig towards the mainstream.
It’s cool to be a short tracker and we’re going to show you why. This is Racing America.