For Elliott, many of the tracks will be brand-new to him as a driver. He is looking forward to the opportunity to visit places where he hasn’t raced during his illustrious career.
“I’ve raced some of the race tracks they’re going to and I haven’t been to a lot of them,” Elliott said. “I think it’ll be fun to visit places you’ve never been to. I’m looking forward to meeting them and trying some different things. Sometimes, you do better at places you’ve never been to, because you don’t have any expectations.”
Meanwhile, Waltrip has been to several venues on the 2021 schedule, including some that would be considered far from his Kentucky home, including Stafford Motor Speedway and Slinger Super Speedway. However, the series will be Waltrip’s first chance to compete at two of America’s signature dirt tracks, Eldora Speedway and Knoxville Raceway.
“I’ve raced at Slinger, I’ve raced at Stafford, I’ve won at the Fairgrounds in Nashville,” Waltrip said. “I haven’t driven at Knoxville or Eldora, which is crazy to say. I assumed I had when all this came out because I’ve done so many, along with Bill, Friday and Saturday night short track shows back in the day when we’d go race local guys’ cars against one another. It’s really cool for me to experience Knoxville and Eldora as a driver.
You want to win at Daytona if you’re a NASCAR guy, and both Knoxville and Eldora, you want to win at those tracks if you’re a dirt racer. I know I’m not a dirt expert, but I love watching Kyle Larson, David Gravel, Kasey Kahne, all the guys who do that. I love that stuff. It seems like, to me, those are two of the most iconic dirt tracks America, and I look forward to seeing how guys adapt to it. — Michael Waltrip
Elliott is also looking forward to visiting the dirt tracks. While he hasn’t raced at Knoxville, he has fond memories of a visit there, both for the racing and the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame & Museum located on the premises.
“I think it’s a cool place. I enjoyed the museum as much as anything. I think it will lend great racing as far as we’re concerned. I’ve never driven Knoxville, so I can’t speak from experience, but I think it will race very well.”
Waltrip also shared a funny story from racing at Slinger Speedway in the early 90s alongside some of his fellow NASCAR Cup Series competitors who tackled the tricky quarter-mile.
“I grew up on short tracks, so getting to race at Slinger was awesome. I always wanted to race there. Me and [Ken] Schrader and Sterling [Marlin] and a couple others went there. It was twin 100s. I started 10th, I think Schrader started third, and Sterling was 20th. I was in the middle. There was a big wreck on lap three, and Schrader and Sterling were in it and I wasn’t.
“The caution comes out, I’m riding around. They throw the green, we go back racing, about halfway through the first 50 lapper, we’re under caution, and Sterling and Schrader are sitting up on the grass hill behind turns three and four, drinking beers. They drank beers and threw beer cans at the fence and laughed at me as I ran all 200 laps. They thought that was pretty funny that they could have beers while I was out there racing.”
Elliott says it’s memories like that which make racers such as himself and Waltrip long to go back to the grassroots, an opportunity they are getting now through SRX.
You miss that side of it. You look back at all the racing we’ve seen or done in the last 30 or 40 years. For me, I can remember going with my dad to the short track races around here. Just getting back to the grassroots of what racing’s all about, that’s what I think they’re trying to capture with this SRX series. Trying to get back to the grassroots side of things at places we would have never gotten to.” – Bill Elliott
Nothing says getting back to your roots like a race at your home track, which Waltrip will get to enjoy to close out the 2021 SRX season at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway. That’s the date Waltrip has already circled on his calendar.
“I know Bill raced the Cup car there. I never got to race the Cup car there, but I won a NASCAR Dash race there in 1984. I know you feel old at times, Bill, but when you think about winning a race somewhere in 1984, and now we’re going back there. That’s pretty cool. I remember that Coors car running well there at the Fairgrounds. I also have a picture I’m really proud of with you on pit road at Nashville back then.
“Winning there and getting to go back there, and that’s where all my family is. They asked me how many passes I needed, and I said probably two or three for all the races except Nashville. At Nashville, I’m going to need a lot.
“For me, the Nashville Fairgrounds was where I learned about NASCAR. I lived in Owensboro, Kentucky, about two hours away. My brother was a grown-up man running NASCAR when I was a baby. We’d go to Nashville and I got to meet Richard Petty and Bill Elliott and Bobby Allison. That helped define what I wanted to do in life, because of those stars and those heroes and seeing them race each other in that 420-lap race. Just being there and seeing that place, I haven’t seen it in years, so that will be special.
While Elliott hasn’t raced at Nashville in many years, he saw the track more recently while following along with the development of his son, 2020 NASCAR Cup Series champion Chase Elliott. Chase won the 2013 All American 400 among other races at the Fairgrounds during his climb up the racing ladder.
“That place has a lot of character to it, there’s no doubt about that. I think the first time I went there was in the 70s when they ran the big, heavy Torinos and stuff. The first time I raced there was in the 80s, when Harry Melling owned our car and he had a warehouse there in Nashville. It’s a great place, a lot of fun.
“I’ve been there a lot of times when Chase raced Late Models up there a number of years ago. I always enjoyed it, especially the fans. They love that race track and really seem to eat it up there. [Chase] won there, several times. I may have to get some pointers from him. That seems like a good idea.”
Waltrip has already started seeking out advice from other racers for some of the tracks on the SRX schedule as well. He shared some of that advice with Elliott, passing along what he learned from Ryan Preece about Stafford Motor Speedway.
“I talked to Ryan Preece the other day, and he said you’ve got to enter on the apron and exit on the apron,” explained Waltrip. “I don’t want to keep any information from you, since we’re the old fellows in this group. He said if you hook the apron on entry, it’ll help it turn, then you hook it on exit. That was Ryan’s direction, and that’s everything I know about Stafford.”
SRX kicks off June 12 at Stafford Motor Speedway. The series will then head to both Knoxville Raceway and Eldora Speedway in a pair of dirt races before getting back on the pavement at Lucas Oil Raceway. The season will close with races at Slinger Speedway and Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway.
-Story by: Zach Evans, Speed51 Content Supervisor – Twitter: @ztevans
-Photo credit: Superstar Racing Experience