RURAL RETREAT, Va. – It’s 6:30 on a Saturday night and Craig Horton is in his favorite seat.
From the back of a 2001 Dodge truck, the friendly 57-year-old Wythe County resident has a panoramic view of two mountain ranges at one of the most popular dirt tracks in the southeast.
“I love it up here,” Horton said.
Horton is part of the Wythe Raceway hillside gang.
From the entry-level KCAR class to the fast Super Street division, Horton doesn’t miss a lap on the high-banked, half-mile facility.
“I’ve been coming to this track ever since I was a little boy when my daddy brought me,” Horton said. “I’ve seen a lot of great races and drivers over the years.”
While many of the Wythe regulars prefer to watch the action in the grandstands or from a lawn chair in one of three grass-covered terrace sections, Horton and his buddies favor the drive-in option. Before each season, they reserve one of the parking spots located high above the frontstretch.
“We’re like a big family,” said Horton, who lives in the community of Ivanhoe. “We can get to the track when you want, have a picnic, talk with friends, and enjoy the sunset while we watch the races.”
That view of the sun dipping over the Big Walker and Little Walker mountain ranges has charmed local and out-of-town spectators for decades.
“It really is an incredible sight,” Horton said.
Locke McVey is one of those extended family members. The 83-year-old Saltville resident said he has been following the Wythe Raceway scene for 25 years and looks forward to returning each week.
“My son, Bryant, used to race here,” McVey said. “We know about everybody at this track and the racing is always good. And we have our favorite drivers to cheer for.”
The list of favorites for McVey includes Super Street competitors Jerry Dillow (Bluewell, W.Va.) and Duke Bare, a versatile driver and ace mechanic from Meadowview.
“It doesn’t matter where Duke starts in a race because he will go to the front,” McVey said.
Robert Smith lives 35 minutes down Interstate 81 from Rural Retreat in Glade Spring. The farmer said the spectacle of watching cars execute sideway passes on dirt offers a thrilling contrast to the controlled format in NASCAR.
“I hate what’s happened to NASCAR, where a lot of the older fans are leaving the sport,” Smith said. “I’ve been to Bristol Motor Speedway and I just like all racing.”
Smith said he appreciates the hometown connection at Wythe, in the stands and in the pits.
“I have a grandson (Roby Orr) that used to run here,” Smith said. “All the racers have a good time and I have a good time watching them in every division.”
So what is the best part of Smith’s hillside vantage point?
“You can see the whole track from up here and the sunsets are beautiful,” Smith said. “We just have fun.”
Gary and Karen Smith spend most of their time tending to 150 head of beef cattle at their farm in Marion. But on most Saturday nights, the couple can be found at Wythe along with their rambunctious shelter dog, Buddy.
“We don’t have much free time and we can’t get here until late some weekends, so it’s good to know that we always have a place to watch from,” Gary Smith said. “This is a good track with nice people that we know and the view is just incredible.
“I’ve been coming here since 1974 and I always enjoy it.”
Smith pointed to Late Model and modified racers Brandon Umberger and Kenny Peeples as his favorites along with Super Street power Keith Griffitts from Sugar Grove.
The action will resume at Wythe Raceway this Saturday with a program featuring the American All-Star Crate Late Models.
Look for Horton and his Dodge.
“I’d rather be sitting right here than anywhere else, buddy,” Horton said. “I just kick back, relax and enjoy the show.”
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