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"Revving Up: How Will NASCAR's Management of Bowman Gray Stadium Impact the Racing Experience?"

NASCAR announced Thursday that it will manage the racing operations at Bowman Gray Stadium, the historic North Carolina short track with origins that date back to stock-car racing’s earliest years. The move is meant to preserve the future of the longest-running NASCAR-sanctioned venue, with the sanctioning body assuming a lease with the City of Winston-Salem through December 2050.

The quarter-mile track has hosted weekly grassroots events since 1949 at the city-owned stadium under the leadership of multiple generations of the Hawkins family, operating under the company banner of Winston-Salem Speedway, Inc. The earliest race meets were promoted by NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. together with Alvin Hawkins, the sanctioning body’s first flagman and a NASCAR Hall of Fame Landmark Award nominee.

“There’s a lot of history of the families working together, and a lot of history that we’ve had with that stadium,” said Ben Kennedy, NASCAR senior vice president of racing development and strategy. “Especially over the next few years in particular, we want to stay super close. … They’re going to continue to stay involved with us as we kind of get our feet underneath of us because they know every nook and cranny of that entire facility. They know how things operate, and they have relationships in the city that are priceless. We’ve got to make sure that we’re shepherding that into the next generation.”

Kennedy said that talks with Gray Garrison — the stadium’s promoter and grandson of Alvin Hawkins — began informally nearly two and a half years ago, when Garrison approached him during a test of NASCAR’s Next Gen car at Bowman Gray. Those conversations about the track’s future gradually built steam in the months that followed.

The stadium has held a special place for Garrison, who first helped to park cars there at the age of 12, then touted souvenir programs in the horseshoe-shaped grandstands before he was big enough to carry a whole stack. “Everybody in the family did a tour of duty there,” the 62-year-old Garrison says now. “That’s what everybody did.”

But Garrison said he also recognized the importance of the facility to the NASCAR family. Bill France Jr. met his future wife — then Betty Jane Zachary, a Winston-Salem native — at the track in 1957, and Kennedy joined the list of all-time feature winners with a victory in what is now called the ARCA Menards Series East in 2013 with his family in attendance to celebrate the achievement. That long list of winners reads like a who’s who of stock-car racing pioneers, with NASCAR Hall of Famers from the Cup Series and Modified Division earning checkered flags. Tim Flock, a 2014 NHOF inductee, was Bowman Gray’s first track champion, and Richard Petty’s 100th Cup Series victory came at the stadium, which hosted premier-series events from 1958-71.

“We all realized, at some point in time, we’ve got to pass it on to someone else,” Garrison says. “And we felt like what a better partner coming in than you can do with NASCAR. Our big thing is, we really care about the drivers, the competitors, the fans, and they’re like family to us. So we wanted to make sure if we did do something, we wanted to make sure somebody would come in have the same love for the sport and the same vision that we did, and we feel like NASCAR would be the best choice to come in and take this over.

“A lot of these things are not about money. It’s about relationships. I think NASCAR, they’re definitely not getting involved at Bowman Gray for the money. It’s the relationship that’s the full circle of things. … It’s pretty unique, we think, how it ties back in 70-some years later, how it comes back around, and we feel like it’s going to be in good hands.”

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