“The purpose of this living memorial is to ensure the individuals represented will be remembered not merely as victims, but as people with stories and dreams,” says Cheryl Branch, executive director of SAFE Shelter. “Then they fell in love with someone and that person killed them.”
In what is billed as one of biggest events ever at the Oglethorpe Speedway Park, some of NASCARs biggest names will be in town this weekend as part of the Nextel Cup Race of Champions.
This is one of the biggest things ever to happen at this facility, says OSPs general manager Ted Austad. In the number of drivers, the caliber of drivers, the notoriety and the celebrity.
Race fans seem to agree.
Were selling tickets as far away as Arkansas and as far north as Pennsylvania, Austad says. Its really turned into more than I ever expected it would.
Luminaries that will visit the speedway this Saturday include Bill Elliott, Sterling Marlin, Harry Gant, Kerry Earnhardt, Jimmy Spencer, Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth and Dave Blaney.
The drivers will compete in a pair of ten-lap races using donated Street Stock cars.
Its like two mini-Nextel Cup races on the dirt, says Austad. Our drivers have been kind enough to donate their race cars allowing these champions to race for the Savannah area fans.
Austad says Ellliott is likely the strongest draw for Savannah fans.
Bill Elliott is a local Georgia boy. He won a national championship and won quite a few races, he says. He was voted most popular racer for nine straight years. Hes a real personable guy.
Sterling Marlin, says Austad, is a good old Tennessee boy. He won the Daytona 500, and is a well-known driver, very well liked.
Jimmy Spencer is Mr. Excitement, Austad says. Hes a little flamboyant, not afraid to speak his mind. Sometimes his words get him into trouble.
Kerry Earnhardt is brother of the hottest guy on the circuit, Dale Earnhardt Junior.
Harry Gant, the Skoal Bandit, was one of the most popular drivers of the 80s, Austad says. He set the record for the most NASCAR wins in a row in the early 90s.
Of that crowd, Austad says as far as he knows only Martin and Earnhardt have visited a Savannah speedway before.
Sterling Marlin came about six years ago, Austad says. Kerry Earnhardt came as a child with his father, but didnt race, of course.
All in all, the event will be the perfect highlight in what has been an outstanding year for westsides Oglethorpe Speedway.
This is the best season so far since I came here in April 2000, Austad says. In fact, its the best year the speedways had since the mid 80s, when NASCAR at the short track level was very popular.
Besides Austads own hard work, the key to organizing the event was the partnership with Adventure Radio, which broadcasts NASCAR events locally.
We needed some kind of partner to pull this thing off, he says. So we approached Adventure, the NASCAR affiliate for this market. They said, You know, this sounds good. With this many drivers coming in, it works very well on the promotion side.
Austad also gives credit to the Stone family, who have owned OSP since 1976.
What theyve put into this facility, what with losses in their family and just stickin with it, is probably the biggest thing, Austad says. It was already a great facility when I got here. It just needed a little elbow grease.
Given OSPs large size, its doubtful that any race fans will be turned away on Saturday.
But maybe there will be a lot of people standing, says Austad.
The Nextel Cup Race of Champions happens this Saturday, May 29, at Oglethorpe Speedway Park. Gates open at noon. Local bands will entertain. Drivers will arrive around 5 p.m. Autograph session will begin around 6 p.m. and the Race of Champions begins at 8 p.m.
Bio: A native Savannahian, Jim has been editor-in-chief of Connect Savannah for ten years. The University of Georgia graduate is also a travel writer, authoring regional guides in the Moon handbook series...A native Savannahian, Jim has been editor-in-chief of Connect Savannah for ten years. The University of Georgia graduate is also a travel writer, authoring regional guides in the Moon handbook series.more