“Over every mountain, there is a path, although it may not be seen from the valley.”
– Theodore Roethke
There was a movie from 1981 titled “King Of The Mountain” about street racers who raced their cars down Mulholland Drive in the hills on the edge of San Fernando Valley in the nineteen sixties and early seventies. Part of the context of the movie centers around a racer who’s friends are moving away from street racing to make it in the music industry. And while the story of the film is ultimately a moral dilemma about whether the main charechter should continue to follow his racing life, or “grow up” and make a family as adults do, we can focus on the fallacy of the premise of the cliche storyline in a bit, but first, I think for today’s article it would be interesting to look at the initial storyline hook, and that’s the fight for supremacy the title of the movie implies, and that’s the battle to be the best racer on the mountain. These were not the days of street racing today which is basically outlaw drag racing. No. This was a cut throat battle to be the best, regardless of the danger or risk, down treacherous mountain roads that took the best driver’s complete skill and attention. What would you do to be the best? What would it take to be named, “King Of The Mountain”.
I think most know our love for Franklin County Speedway and our reasons why. But if not, you should know that the track is a throwback to the late seventies and early eighties era of local short track stock car auto racing. Like a living museum if you will, complete with an aging track surface, that although sometimes needs a little care every now and then, leads to an amazing, old school style of racing. One that can be a cut throat battle to be the best. On a mountain track that takes a driver’s complete skill and attention. A track that tends to bring out the best in a driver, and especially, it seems, when that driver is strapped into a Modified. It’s said that Franklin County is the track made for Modifieds, and if you ever see them race there, you’ll understand it. With the close racing you find at tracks like Bowman Gray Stadium and Wake County, but with 22 degree banking that makes for unbelievable speeds for these monster hot rods. It’s an amazing sight to see a full field of these ground pounders going to battle wheel to wheel at that kind of speed, with drivers taking each other to the limit lap after lap. Shaking the ground all the while, but racing so hard you can still hear the roaring of the crowd as the fans jump to their feet.
That was the scene again at Franklin County Speedway in Callaway, Virginia on Saturday, April 10, 2022. And for the second straight year the SMART Modified Tour has returned to the mountains of Virginia in the name of popular former Modified competitor Kenny Minter. Last year the competitors gave an indication of how hard they were going to race for the honor of being named the Kenny Minter Classic Champion, and this year the drivers are already talking about what it would mean to win this significant race. Only the best will be there at the end with a real chance at it. Last year it came down to the last lap in the last corner, and you can’t help but know that this year could be even more exciting.
To start the second annual Kenny Minter Classic, the tough Franklin County local divisions ran points races to start the show. The Mini Stocks put on a thriller with # 97 Scott Foley ultimately taking the win, as # 66 Darrell Chrisley takes another Stock 4 win, and # 13 Chad McDowell also gets himself yet another Stock 6 victory, with # 88 Brad Holt winning in the new Bootlegger class. And # 33 Tanner Young used a late race restart to his advantage to come away with a hard fought 602 Modified win in that growing division. But the night was highlighted with the SMART Modified Tour putting on yet another great southern Modified race, that may become more historic than most would realize at first. The race had everything a short track fan could want, and the tone was set early as # 2 Brandon Ward took the pole in qualifying with a blistering lap of 13.012 seconds. Yes, that is correct. For the pole position, Brandon Ward ran a lap of 13.012 seconds. The speeds in the race didn’t fall off far from that either with # 79 Jeremy Gerstner running the fastest lap at 13.324 seconds. Local favorite # 07 Dennis Holdren ran a great race, making moves up through the field to sixth, just outside the top 5, and NASCAR Hall Of Fame driver # 25 Bobby Labonte rebounds from falling through the field midway through the race, working his way back to a strong top 5 finish. # 1 Burt Myers and #14 Bobby Measmer Jr. had great top five runs with Burt finishing fourth and Bobby third, and # 79 Jeremy Gerstner equaled his best Tour finish coming just short of the win in second.
But the race was defined by a battle between # 2 Brandon Ward and # 22 Jonathan Brown. Toward the end of the race, Jonathan found himself leading the pack as the strong cars in the field made a run to the front as the laps wound down and it was time to go. Ward kept edging in on Brown lap after lap, and when he got to his bumper, they found themselves in the midst of lapped traffic. But Ward made a move anyway, and whether intentional or not, nearly sent the # 22 car spinning sideways. But Jonathan caught it and in the process Ward found himself out of position and making contact with a lapped machine sending him around instead. From there Jonathan Brown never lost control of the race, continuing his domination of the race all the way to the checkered flag.
Jonathan Brown winning may be bigger on the tour at this point of the season than many may realize at this point. You see, Jonathan, although a decorated driver driving for himself in many respects, may be a deadlier threat running for someone else. Especially when that someone else is SS Racing. SS Racing is a new team owned by partners former NASCAR driver Hermie Sadler and Bill Stanley, Virginia State Senator. That combination alone tells you that losing is not what they set out to do. And with that kind of clout and experience on the car side, combined with a driver that doesn’t have to worry about his equipment can be a hard combination for the rest of the SMART Tour line up to deal with. And the fact that they just won one of the biggest races on the Tour should be a concern for anyone looking to take the SMART Tour Championship at the end of the year. Jonathan Brown just made a statement, and we’re pretty sure the entire field of competitors on the Tour should took note. It adds just that much more excitement for the Tour when they begin the end of the season run for the title after the Bowman Gray Stadium break.
But what we wanted to take the time to talk about is that mountain track that Jonathan made his statement on. Because to me, every time I get to stand on the surface of that place, a lot of racing memories come to mind. I can smell the first time I ever went to a track. I can hear the roar of the crowds from all the events of my childhood. My mind races back to thinking about Wendell Scott racing down the back roads against those who learned of his great talent the hard way. And of all the veterans that went looking for a good time and a place to feel the excitement of risking death because it had become all they knew. The track reminds me of all the daredevils that had the itch to be the “King Of The Mountain”. Jonathan Brown couldn’t have picked a better place to have made his statement to the rest of his Modified competitors than the “Track Made For Modifieds.” A track that I am convinced after my many adventurous travels there, is indeed the true King Of The Mountain. A true gem hidden past the valleys.
‘Till next time, See You At The Track!