KINGSPORT, Tenn. – Every sport has its legends, including grassroots racing.
Paul Shull, who passed away on February 22 at the age of 79, was a legend at Kingsport Speedway.
Shull was raised in Granite Falls, N.C. where his father and uncle owned and operated a garage and body shop. That’s where he developed his knowledge of cars and his passion for racing. He first hit the track in 1956 at the age of 16 near his hometown.
Cars and Shull were the perfect match – he worked as a mechanic at Everett Chevrolet in Hickory, N.C. and soon relocated to Clintwood, Va. where he continued mechanic work at Johnson & Mullins Chevrolet. He later worked in the coal mines of Southwest Virginia, where he eventually retired from being an electrician. Shull’s racing was more than a normal hobby and his retirement gave him more time to chase checkered flags.
Shull competed in countless races across the region. He garnered decades of Late Model Stock Car racing experience, and even competed in the NASCAR Late Model Sportsman Division and then the NASCAR Busch Series throughout the 1970s-80s.
Shull was a legend in the Tri-Cities area. He was a staple at Kingsport Speedway and at nearby Lonesome Pine Raceway (Coeburn, Va.). Whenever the gates were open, you could count on him to be there and he amassed more wins at those two tracks in his 50-plus year career than anyone – including himself – could remember. At Kingsport alone, his win total was well over 200.
Shull was a racer’s racer. He spent hours and hours working on his cars, perfecting them for the next trip to the track. The work was never done. There was always something that could be done better. Each race day, he rolled through the gates of the track with his box truck full of tools and familiar blue No. 48 race car in tow. He was there every week with one goal: to win.
For Shull, some of his best times at track were with his grandson, Brian Blevins. Shull passed his love and knowledge of racing down to Blevins. Shull was there as a competitor, car owner and grandfather combined when Blevins won his first race at Lonesome Pine. Blevins was 14 at the time and still remembers it vividly.
“My first win, papaw (Shull) and I started side by side,” recalled Blevins. “On the first lap, he came down on me and spun himself out going through Turns 3 and 4. I flipped over to his radio channel to tell him it wasn’t my fault and he said, ‘You better go because I’m coming for you.”
Blevins took that encouragement and ran with it, and a late-race restart had him in the lead.
“Papaw turned over to my radio channel before that final restart and told me it was my race to win and my race to lose,” said Blevins. “I won it, and he was the first person to my window net when I parked to congratulate me. When I climbed from the car and my feet hit the ground, he grabbed me and hugged me. All he could talk about was how he had been waiting for that since I was first born.”
Blevins said Shull was the person at the track that most everyone came to for advice – and he was proud to call him his grandfather.
“To have him – the person so many people at track would come to – as my grandpa and the person to show me the ropes meant the world to me,” stated Blevins. “He was my racing hero and will be greatly missed.”
No matter how many tracks Shull visited, Kingsport was always his home track. He had raced at Kingsport for decades, and his first win there came in July 1980. It was a track he had seen open and close many times throughout the years. When the track reopened in 2011, it was no surprise that he was there almost every week.
In recent years, Shull had become a huge presence in the Sportsman division (formerly known as Street Stock and Modified Street) at Kingsport. The division features cars with the appearance of older and newer model muscle cars, the types of cars he had a passion for. He had numerous cars at track every week – and they were most always competitive. Sometimes he drove and sometimes he strictly wore his car owner hat. His last win in the driver’s seat was in 2016 at the age of 76.
“Paul Shull was a staple here, and not just on race day,” said Karen Tunnell, general manager and promoter of Kingsport Speedway. “He loved racing and he loved this track.”
Tunnell knew Shull for many years and grew up watching him race in the region.
“I can remember going to Kingsport and Lonesome Pine with my dad and sister. Paul was racing then,” Tunnell recalled. “I really got to know Paul when I started working in racing in the area. He and I became great friends, and he was a great source of knowledge for me and many others.”
Tunnell says Shull leaves behind a huge void for racing in the region.
“He is going to be missed here each and every week,” Tunnell added. “We’ve lost a true icon and someone who we could all lean on, but most of all, we’ve lost a friend.”
Shull’s memorial services were held in March at Kingsport. Led by the speedway pace car and followed by race cars – including the famous blue No. 48 driven by his grandson – the hearse carrying Shull was brought to the winner’s circle where family members, friends, competitors, fans and speedway staff paid tribute to his life. At Shull’s memorial, the speedway announced that it will name its winner’s circle – a place where he parked his race car countless times – in memory of him.
About Kingsport Speedway
Kingsport Speedway has provided race fans in the Tri-Cities, Tennessee and surrounding areas with exciting short track racing since 1965. The speedway has undergone four surface changes in its 50 plus years of existence. Founded as a dirt track in 1965, the facility transitioned to an asphalt track in 1969, back to dirt track in 1984, and then to its current concrete surface in 1996. In 1968, Kingsport Speedway hosted its first NASCAR event. Currently, Kingsport Speedway is a NASCAR Home Track in NASCAR’s grassroots series. The series sanctions nearly 60 racetracks throughout the United States and Canada in which drivers compete for national, state, and track titles. For more information on Kingsport Speedway, visit kingsportspeedway.com.
-Kingsport Speedway Press Release
-Photo credit: Chad Fletcher/Auto Focus Photography