The Winning Tradition Continues
BY RONNIE WHITE,
The Huntsville Times
Throughout the years, Huntsville Speedway’s name has changed several times, but the competition at the little quarter-mile track nestled at the foot of Green Mountain hasn’t.
Before a complete remodeling of the Speedway this year, the biggest change was the different names the track has been called, including Sportsmen’s Speedway, Huntsville International Speedway, Huntsville Motor Speedway and today Huntsville Speedway.
A.E. Speed, who had a befitting name, first carved out the quarter-mile race track in 1959 on the late R.A. Webster’s property. In 1960, Speed turned the track over to the Rocket City Racing Club. Later in the season, Bobby Little and Jim Brooks took over the track, but later turned it back over to the racing club.
In 1961, Pat Gray Jr., Johnny Smith and Webster took over the speedway, but the following year, Pat Gray Sr., bought out Smith and Webster and started making major changes, including switching from dirt to asphalt, making it the South’s fastest quarter-mile track.
In 1965, Gray leased the track to Bill Donoho, who ran Nashville Speedway, Mark Parrish and Benny Goodman. Gray took the track back in 1966 and held it until he sold it to Moody Knight, Robert Rucker and Porter Dunaway in 1970. The following year, Joe Stafford bought out Rucker and Dunaway.
In 1972, Stafford sold his interest in the track to Johnny Evans and Howard Wayne Bentley. Bentley bought his partners out in 1973 and held sole ownership until 1984 when he sold the track to Cyndee Thornton Brodie. Brodie kept the track three years before selling to Bentley, Harold Lemley and Knight. Lemley decided he wanted to return to racing, so he sold his part to Phil Fowler. Fowler and Knight then bought Bentley’s part out in 1990.
At the end of last year, Mike Rosser added his name to owners, leasing the track from Knight and Fowler for one year. Knight and Fowler sold the track to Ron and Bruce Stone, who honored Rosser’s lease. The Stones took over the track the day after the 1994 season ended.
Because of the complete remodeling of the track by the Stones, Huntsville Speedway is considered one of the finest … if not the finest … short tracks in the country. The quarter-mile track has received rave reviews by track owners all over the South. In 1998, Bruce Stone took sole ownership of the track, buying his father out. In 2000, Bruce Stone sold the track to Terry Sanford and his family. Sanford kept the track for three years before leasing the facility to Rick Leonard.
In 2003, Bruce Stone foreclosed on the track and leased it to Ben David Atkinson. In May of 2005, Stone elected to close the track and put it on the market. Sanford. Fla., businessman Martin Pierce and his wife, Dawn, purchased the track in January of 2006.
But even though the owners and names have changed several times, the quality of racing has gone unchanged with some of the nation’s top drivers competing at the local track. Huntsville Speedway has had its share of big name drivers, including NASCAR Winston Cup King Richard Petty.
Petty captured the only Grand National race (which is now the Nextel Cup circuit) ever held at the track on Aug. 8, 1962. Petty won the Rocket City 200 in a 1962 Plymouth, leading all but two laps. Finishing second was Bob Welbourn in a 1962 Pontiac, followed by Jim Paschal and Buck Baker. Others in the race included Buck’s son, Buddy Baker, Joe Weatherly, Ned Jarrett, Friday Hassler, Nero Steptoe, G.C. Spencer, Joe Lee Johnson and a very young modified driver by the name of Bobby Allison.
Bobby and Donnie Allison cut their teeth in racing at Huntsville, along with several other drivers that went on to fame, including Red Farmer, Darrell Waltrip, Neil Bonnett, Jimmy “Smut” Means and Davey Allison. Huntsville has had a mixed bag of drivers throughout its 36-year history, including Indianapolis 500 drivers Tony Bettenhausen Jr., Gary Bettenhausen and Sam Posey.
Other Winston Cup drivers that have turned left a few times on HMS’s oval track include six-time Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt, Rusty Wallace, Sterling Marlin, Mark Martin, Ted Musgrave, Coo Coo Marlin, Hut Stricklin, Joe Ruttman, Rick Wilson, Tiny Lund, Mickey Gibbs, Bobby Hamilton and the late country and western singer Marty Robbins.
Huntsville’s former drivers include such names as Jimmy D. Wall, Malcolm Brady, Earl Roden, C.A. Smith, Freddy Fryar, Harold Fryar, Hooker Hood, Joe Holley, P.B. Crowell, Tommy Andrews, Bubby Broome, Howard Cagle, Walter Wallace, Charles Binkley, Jimmy Griggs, Bob Burcham, Bobby Celsor, Peaches Thompson, Boyd Adams, Runt Gant, Jones Lee Ferrell, Jimmy Swaim, Buddy Holman, Tony Plecker, Jerry Lawley, Alton Jones, Tommy Howe, Larry Catlett, Toby Lee, Tommy Rosser, Gene Anderson, Gary Wade Finley Sr., Jerry Craig, Gary Myers, Pee Wee Beverly, Bobby “Crash” Chandler, Ben Atkinson, William McCormick, Rhea Greenwell, Sarge Mischler, Bill Tate, Bill Gray, Robert “Paddlefoot” Wales, Don Hicks, Dave Mader, Mike Alexander, Buster Walker, Pete Moon, Randy Campbell, Roy Milligan, Charlie Chamblee, Bailey Tidmore, Pelmer Saint, Tommy Knight, Ray Putman, Joe Stafford, Bosco Lowe, Larry Speakman, Jimmy Williams, Billy Dedmon, Wayne Casteel, Earl Kennedy, Mike Furgerson, Jack Ingram, Jimmy “Duck” Allison, Donnie Carter and Butch Lindley, who dominated Huntsville Motor Speedway until he was injured and later died after an accident at Brandenton, Fla.
Huntsville was one of the first races of the NASCAR Grand Touring circuit, which featured the Grand American-type cars like Camaros, Mustangs and Firebirds in 1969. Tiny Lund, who was later killed racing at Talladega, won the 400-lapper with Buck Baker second, Frank Sessons third and Al Staub fourth. Pete Hamilton, who went on to win the Talladega 500 a few years later, also competed in the race, along with Richard Childress, who is now the car owner for Winston Cup defending champion Dale Earnhardt.
Track champions at HMS reads like a who’ who of racing, including Malcolm Brady (1962), Bob Celsor (1963), Donnie Allison (1964), Freddy Fryar (1965), C.A. Smith (1966), Gary Myers (1967), Gary Wade Finley Sr. (1968), Red Farmer (1969), Alton Jones (1970), Alton Jones (1971), Red Farmer (1972) Red Farmer (1973), Jimmy Means (1974), Tommy Howe (1975), Dean Bentley (1976), Don Smith (1977), Dean Bentley (1978), Buddy Broome (1979), Harold Lemley (1980), Toney Pitts (1981), Jimmy Wall (1982), Charlie Chamblee (1983), Charlie Chamblee (1984), Mike Oliver (1985), Harold Lemley (1986), Ronald Walls (1987), Ronald Walls (1988), Tony Walls (1989), Dan Beddingfield (1990), Bruce Shaw (1991), Dan Beddingfield (1992), Bruce Stone (1993), Bruce Stone (1994), Dan Beddingfield (1995), Dan Beddingfield (1996), Casey Bishop (1997), Casey Bishop (1998), Chris Whorton (1999), Brad Lemley (2000), Casey Bishop (2001), Keith Cahela (2002), Chris Whorton (2003), John Henegar Jr. (2004).
The drivers you are watching today could very well be the ones you will be watching tomorrow at Daytona, Talladega and Charlotte. If you don’t believe it, just ask Bobby Allison, Darrell Waltrip, Rusty Wallace, Mark Martin and Sterling Marlin.