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A Fond Farewell

Kelly CrandallSenior Writer IAugust 4, 2008

Many racers will tell you that they got their start from their local short track. Good 'ol Saturday night beating and banging, while they dreamt of making it to the big time, and racing among their heroes. Monday thru Friday they were business men or salesmen but by race time they were Jeff Gordon.

The weekly Saturday night sprint races are treated like the Daytona 500 and there's never any lack of intensity. I'm proud to say that the Wall Township Speedway in my home state of New Jersey has produced such drivers as Martin Truex, Jr. who grew up racing with his family at Wall Township Speedway and New Egypt. His cousin Curtis Truex, Jr. still races there.

Even championship crew chief and current car owner Ray Evernham first turned a wrench and the wheel in the bullrings of New Jersey.

Which made it surprising for me upon driving past the sign announcing your arrival to the Speedway saying that they would be closing down.

Six years ago I stood in line at Wall Township Speedway for the Saturday night races and a special feature race that stared NASCAR drivers Kenny Wallace, Michael Waltrip, Steve Park and others.

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The hot summer night was filled with the smell of gasoline and burning rubber, fans anxious to see some racing. As I glanced around I was struck by the vast variety of people attending that night, fans of the local heroes like John Blewett III or the NASCAR fans who came impersonating their favorite driver, some doing a better job than others.

However we were all there for the same reason, the love of racing and nothing is better than a short track and under the lights.

That was the night that I experienced my first taste of competitive racing live in person. A night of loving the excitement of fast cars and becoming addicted to squealing tires and bent metal.

I will always remember the Wall Speedway officials working effortlessly to make sure that every fan not only witnessed a great show but had a chance to receive an autograph from their idol.

It became a ritual of standing in one line to shake Michael Waltrip's hand to racing to the other to share a laugh with Kenny Wallace.

And laugh we did as we watched Michael Waltrip attempt to fit in one of the local racers cars, he managed although we don't know how. It was a spectacle to watch professionals who in twenty-four hours would master the Pocono triangle, struggle to tame the 30 degree banking at Wall. And to do everything in their power not to destroy someone else's car.

The winner? It's hard to say from the ribbing that went on between Waltrip and Wallace about the trophy being taller than them. Waltrip even joked that it was bigger than his Daytona 500 trophy. It didn't matter who won or who the trophy went home with, it was enough that we all got to enjoy the racing at a track we all called home.

From my experience at Wall to the many others and the locals who made their career there, the only thing left is the bare white sign signifying the end of an era.

The banking and bleachers are vacant and eerily quiet, only hoping to once again hear the sound of a firing engine in the distance.

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