By GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
A promoter and driver at a local dirt track has advice for people who truly want to forget their troubles and get a workout at the same time — drive a race car.
Freddy Mooney of Sandlick operates a collision repair shop in Green Valley. This business has been open for about two-and-a-half years, and the years before he started this enterprise centered on cars.
“I was a body technician, but I have worked for the Bluefield Sanitary Board. I worked in North Carolina. Then I worked at Ramey, Andy Clark Ford, and also ran the body shop at Cole Nissan,” he recalled.
As far as Mooney can remember, he has always been interested in cars. Mooney’s uncle, Jerry Taylor built older-type street rods and other vehicles.
“Basically, when I was younger I had an uncle who had a body shop. I worked with him some when I got out of high school and got into the hot rod scene of it, and of course into the painting part of it. I was interested in hot rods a lot.”
Now 39, Mooney took his passion for cars and racing to a new arena when he leased out, with an option to buy, the Princeton Raceway off Interstate 77 near Gardner. He has been racing for 16 years and many other enthusiasts wanted to see a local track.
“A lot of the local guys were wanting a place to race. We talked about it a lot. Financially, for a lot of people, it was unreasonable for them to lease,” Mooney said. “I’ve been blessed. We stepped up to the plate and took over, and gave them a place to run this year.”
This has been Mooney’s first year as a track promoter with partner, Brandon Henkes. The oval dirt track has been a success. Local business owners and other sponsors came forward to support the track along with local racers.
“We’ve had overwhelming success. We’ve been rained out a couple of times, but most of the time we’re open. We are very, very family oriented.”
Mooney’s 12-year-old daughter, Kylee Bree came up with a slogan featured in the track’s advertising as well as Facebook and the track’s web page. It sums up why families should come to the races.
“The last thing we say on everything is: Don’t miss this fast family fun,” Mooney said.
His son, Naythen Shade and wife Tina Marie also help out at the track.
Dirt racing is different from the racing most people see on television such as NASCAR races. The fact the cars race on dirt instead of asphalt makes a big difference.
“Well, with dirt racing the style of cars are totally different,” he explained. “We have classes anywhere from front-wheel drive cars that kids 12 years old can get into. They’re like regular cars you see on the street, but they have safety features that we make them put in, like roll cages. Of course, they have to wear safety equipment and that kind of stuff. They can get into it. It’s real affordable. They use regular gas.”
The racers become more powerful in other dirt track classes.
“And then from there you start moving into a four-cylinder class like the older Mustangs and that kind of stuff,” Mooney said. “A little bit more goes into the street stock division, which is a V-8 division.”
In other cases, it comes down to what the driver can afford and wants to build.
“And then we go to outlaw streets, which is you’ve brung what you’ve brung. And it gets pretty heavy. Some people’s wallets are more than others, and preferably that’s what I race in. I like the brung what you’ve brung, afford what you can afford, and let’s go race,” he said.
Other classes include open-wheel modifieds and classes with racers that look like professional racecars. “These are basically like a humongous go-kart. And they’re very showy for the crowd,” Mooney said.
Driving a dirt track racer is different from driving one designed to run on an asphalt track.
“With dirt tracking, it’s not like asphalt. On asphalt, when you go into the curve and when you hit the brakes, you drive around the corner. When you go into a dirt track and you hit the brakes, the rear end tries to come around you, and you counter steer to the right and stand on the gas and you go through the curve sideways,” Mooney said, describing the maneuver. “It’s broadside, like you’re drifting.”
Skills motorists use when driving on slick winter roads are similar to those employed on dirt racetracks. Muddy roads are a similar experience, too.
“What I tell everybody is if you want to be a good dirt track racer, find a slick road with nobody around and see if you can control the hind end. And that’s the biggest difference. The excitement that is there in dirt track racing verses the next Winston Club series or whatever. You’re not bumper-to-bumper. When you go through the curves, you’re door-to-door in a controlled slide. It’s not quite as easy. And in dirt racing, you get a lot of rubbing. You go in and tap each other a little bit. There’s some rubbing going on.”
Dirt track racers have to be aggressive and cool at the same time while having confidence in their competitors.
“You have to learn to trust everybody who’s around you. After you’ve raced for a while, you can’t be scared to ask questions. It’s totally different than anything you want to do, than you’ve ever done,” Mooney said. “And then the trust you have in the drivers racing around you has a lot to do with it. If you get behind someone and you go into a corner and you don’t trust him, then you don’t run the racecar at its full potential. You’re kind of standoffish. You hold back because you’re trying to figure out what he’s going to do.”
“But you go in there and you know that guy has a car that’s just as good as yours is, then when you go into a corner, you can run it at its full potential because you know he’s going to go on through. But if he’s all over the place, naturally, you can’t win if you wreck, so you hold back,” he stated.
Drivers also have to maintain their focus as well as their sense of trust. The racers don’t have rear-view mirrors because drivers shouldn’t worry about who is behind them.
“At the same time, you’ve got to keep moving forward. You’ve got to keep charging. The guy behind you is charging for you. He’s not particularly worried about the man who’s in front of you,” Mooney said. “He’s trying to get around you so he can get to that man. I tell everybody if you want a true workout, then you want to get in a race car; because all of your senses, the eyes, the ears, smell, both hands, both feet, you drive with everything.”
And if you are really focused on the race, you are not worrying about your job or any problems at home. You are living in the moment and striving to get ahead.
“At that moment — when you’re driving — I don’t care what you’re going through in your regular life. It’s not there. It’s gone. It’s just you; you don’t’ worry about who’s behind you. We don’t run with mirrors — you don’t worry about what they’re doing. You’re worried about who’s in front of you, what he’s doing, and at the same time — if you’re not the leader — you’re watching the leader.”
When you get in first place, the focus changes even more.
“Now if you become the leader and you’re out front winning, the only thing that’s there is you and that track. And you’re worried about hitting your marks. If your car runs low, you’re worried about putting it low, if your car runs high, you worry about putting it high. It’s just you and the track. It’s just lap after lap after lap.”
All of this action might sound more stressful than anything happening at the office or at home, but racing can be anything but stressful.
“It’s actually relaxing,” Mooney said. “People say racing’s not a sport, but it is. It’s a very high-energy sport. You have to be in good condition to do it.”
The Princeton Raceway is open Saturdays. Gates open at 4 p.m. and racing begins at 7 p.m.