Race Night in America

by Michael Satterfield

In my line of work I get to attend a lot of motorsports events, GT races at Circuit of the Americas, the Daytona 500, the Long Beach Grand Prix, some of the top races in the world. But since moving to the Waco area I have been driving past the Heart O' Texas Speedway's sign which promotes "Races Every Friday Night" so when I found myself in town last Friday night I decided to head out to the local speedway and take in the scene.

Just north of Waco, it was a short drive and dirt track racing is a lot of fun to watch. The line for the track stretched down the frontage that ran along the I-35, a mix of racers hauling in their trailers and fans eager for a night racing. Parking was free and an all-access pass was $30, it would allow me into the pits and the grandstands, which is a good deal. If you don't want pit access you can pay a general admission fee of $12 with a $2 discount for military, seniors, and students.

I had arrived early so I could walk the pits and meet a few of the drivers. It was obvious that I was an outsider, as I was told by a few racers that there was an "official photographer" and others demanded to know what I was taking pictures for. Another approached me to see if I could take photos of his car and add some lighting bolts to the background of it so he could hang it up in his shop. It was an interesting request and if he reached out I will see what I can do to make his request a reality.

But after talking to a few of the racers, they seemed to understand that I, like them, just liked cars and racing, and wanted to take some photos. The pits are a mix of many different kinds of oval track cars, Modifieds, Stock Cars, Sport Mods, Outlaw, Winged and non-Winged Sprints, and a few others. Unlike the major NASCAR races the cars are not all uniformly built, they do have rules, but some cars may look brand new, while others are more patch panels than original sheet metal. The low barrier to entry means that drivers in $1,500 cars are running door to door with much more expensive machines.

While walking around the pits I met a driver named Chris Morris, who after an accident was confined to a wheelchair, a former motocross racer and lover of speed Christ now drives a Modified class race car with hand controls allowing him to race competitively nearly every week. (Look for a future feature on Chris and his racing career.) I visited with Chris and his father for a while and then wondered over to take some photos of the battle warn number 26 (lead photo). The car was hammered and the entire body was covered with rivets and patch panels, it was both terrible and great at the same time.

The cars began shuffling back and forth through the pits getting their tech inspections and transponders set for the race, drivers and race officials joked as they did a quick verification on safety gear. This was the first time I had ever seen a racing driver pull up to tech inspection with a lit cigarette, but it didn't seem to bother the racing officials at all.

As the sun began to set the announcement came over the speaker call for drivers to attend the driver's meeting where they would discuss a few things about track conditions and then start the races. The cars rumbled out on the field as the crowd filled in the grandstands. A regular fan told me tonight was a little busier than usual since the Sprint cars were running, but the crowd was energetic as they watched the first of what would be several races that night.

The big racing events are fun, but the grassroots nature of the local dirt track remind me of what I love about motorsports, the passion, the fans, and the interaction between fans and drivers. For fifty years the Heart O' Texas Speedway has been running Friday night races, legends like Gordon Wooley, Bill White, and Joe Sturdivant all raced at the little dirt track just north of Waco, and if the crowds and racers at last Friday's race was any indication, it will be hosting races for many years to come.

Enjoy more photos below:

Heart O' Texas Speedway
784 N McLennan Drive
Waco, TX 76640