SOPHIA, N.C. — Sunday was a marquee day in regional motorsports with the return of the Southern Modified Racing Series to the race track.
The series, which goes by the acronym “S.M.A.R.T.,” was founded in 1988 and became the NASCAR Southern Modified Tour in 2005.
By 2015, low car count shuttered the southern tour.
Now drivers, team owners and promoters are seeing a resurgence in interest, and Sunday more than 20 cars took the green flag at Caraway Speedway.
This event even featured a pre-race meet and greet for the fans to get autographs from their favorite drivers like Burt Myers, a generational fixture in the Modifieds and a fan favorite.
“It feels good to be somewhat back to normal. This feels normal to me,” Myers said.
“Hey, we’re back racing. We’re at the race track. It’s what we do. It’s awesome,” said another popular driver, Tim Brown.
The local race fans know the names Burt Myers and Tim Brown, the two winningest drivers in local modified racing, mostly at Bowman Gray Stadium. Many more fans recognize the name of NASCAR Champion and Hall of Fame member Bobby Labonte, who, while retired from NASCAR’s top level, is racing in this series for the fun of it.
“I mean, you kind of get a little bit of a bug to it, and you know…it’s just fun. I’m having a great time,” Labonte said.
Labonte is joining the strong field of talent for the re-birth of the Southern Modified Tour that’s been idle since 2015. For drivers and fans, it was worth the wait.
“Once you’re bitten by this race bug, I guess you could say you can’t get rid of it. Fans feel the same way we do. We’re ready to get back. We’re ready to go race and smell the fumes and see the cars go fast and, and just be a part of it,” Burt Myers said.
“I love short track racing…that’s how I grew up. I grew up here at Caraway and run a lot of short tracks around the Carolinas. It’s really cool to be able to go and see it, see fans in the grand stands,” Labonte said.
Labonte is by far the biggest name in the field, and the other drivers don’t discount what that does for the series.
“It brings…national attention to our series. And you know that’s going to snowball hopefully for exposure for sponsors, for all of us, the whole series included,” Myers said.
For Labonte, ever the racer, it’s a new experience with his sights set on learning.
“A lot of these guys have run many years in these cars, and I don’t know them as well. So for me, I’m just trying to learn…more about it. Just like anything else when you get into racing…you try to learn as much as you can and get better at it,” he said.
He did just that, leading laps and contending for the win, with a last lap crash putting him in 9th place.
The real win here is having these guys all on the track competing together again in Southern Modifieds.
“I eat, sleep and breathe Modifieds, and anybody in this area does the same thing. So to be at Caraway Speedway and have 26 Modifieds here with the rebirth of the S.M.A.R.T tour, how could it get much better?” Myers said.
“A bunch of these really good racers that have come out to support this new and run. Man, I can’t wait. I’m excited. If you win today, you beat the beat the best,” Tim Brown said, summing up his excitement for the series.
The series schedule has ten races across North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.