By Andy Marquis, RacingForTheWin.com
BUDDS CREEK, Md.—The air was cold but the stands were packed at Southern Maryland's Potomac Speedway for the 2009 season opener on March 20. Friday night's racing action kicked off the 36th season of racing at the historic Southern Maryland 3/8 mile clay oval. Offseason changes, led by new promoter Greg Gunter, paid off as Potomac Speedway had one of its largest car counts along with major offseason improvements to the motorsports facility.
Among the improvements: upgrades to the control tower, a new electronic scoring system, major improvements to the restrooms, changes to the banking in the corners, concrete walls along the straightaway's, a wider backstretch, and restorations to the grandstand seating.
The speedway also boasts higher payouts, lower entry-fees and lower General Admission ticket prices for fans. Asked if it would help or hurt, speedway general manager Denise Hollidge said, "The improvements were much needed."
Before Gunter took over, the track was in trouble. Car counts were very low and attendance was down.
"The place was run in the ground," Hollidge told us. "We've lowered the prices and it's cheaper than the movies. We anticipate more people coming out as a result of lower ticket prices."
Despite the optimism of a high car count, speedway promoter Greg Gunter was cautiously optimistic. "The economy will hurt us," Gunter said. However, upon hearing about the troubles at Virginia Motor Speedway (Saluda, VA) and hearing many drivers saying they would come run the full season at Potomac Speedway, Gunter said "it's a good thing for us."
The racing program was fantastic. For less than $10, Potomac Speedway offers 5 hours of breathtaking side-by-side racing action that does not disappoint. And there were highlights last night for sure. The races had drama, action, excitement and even some short tempers.
The action started with a 25 lap Limited Late Model feature with Paul Cursey starting on the pole and leading the first several laps. Tommy Wagner would eventually make his way by but had a bit of a scare as the car begun showing smoke on lap 21. The problem looked like it was an engine failure, which would've been his second engine failure in the week. However, despite the smoke, he did not lose any speed and held on for the win. A power steering pump failure is the confirmed cause of the smoke - but that would not cause the car to fail post-race technical inspection and the win would stand.
The second action packed feature was a 16 lap street stock feature which came down to a thrilling conclusion. Barry Williams, Jr. started on the pole and led the first 5 laps before Kurt Zimmerman came roaring by. There were multiple wrecks in this event, but Zimmerman and Williams had the dominant cars. Zimmerman looked to have it in the bag until a late race caution gave Williams one more "shot" at him, and that's what it would be, a shot. With 2 to go, entering turn 1, Williams drove hard to the inside of Zimmerman and washed up the track, sending Zimmerman around and knocking him out of contention. It was unclear if the contact was intentional or not, but the general consensus all around was that it looked intentional.
Despite leading the last lap, Williams' car did not pass post-race technical inspection and he was automatically disqualified, handing the win to Ben Bowie.
The main event, a 40 lap Super Late Model feature, surely did not disappoint with a race that lasted nearly an entire hour. Potomac Speedway veteran David Williams, racing for a new team in 2009, scored the pole and lead early. However, Williams was relegated to second on the fifth lap of the race when D.J. Myers made the move on the inside lane. However, a caution would turn the tides in Williams' favor when D.J. Myers was penalized on lap 11 for "jumping the restart." Race control moved Myers to third position, handing the lead back to Williams.
Despite the questionable penalty, Myers was not to be denied. On lap 26, D.J. Myers drove to the top of the track and used the outside lane to pass David Williams and hold him off for the final 14 laps with a commanding performance as he all but drove off the peninsula. A late race caution setup a green/white/checkerd (2 lap shootout) finish. Myers held off a turn 1 charge by Williams and scored the win in the first race of the year.
James Marshall won in the always thrilling Modified feature, and John Lathan held off John Burch in the Hobby Stock feature. Lathan and Burch were the only race leaders in Hobby Stock, the two put up an awesome duel swapping the lead several times before Lathan finally held on.
The excitement of the racing and the enthusiasm of the audience gives Potomac Speedway new energy in a new era in the speedway's 36th season.