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Published: Wednesday, 7/2/2003

Flat Rock Speedway celebrates 50th year

BY C.J. LANDRY
SPECIAL TO THE BLADE

On Aug. 14, 1953 Flat Rock Speedway, the first rubberized asphalt race track in the nation, opened its gates. In its infancy, Flat Rock became widely-known in racing circles due to the influence of NASCAR founder Bill France.

Soon after ``The Rock'' opened France brought many of the NASCAR stars of the day - Curtis Turner, Joe Weatherly, Marvin Panch, Glenn Wood and Lee Petty - to the track. From 1954 to 1956, the speedway flourished under the NASCAR banner.

With the fast growth of NASCAR, France moved back to Florida in 1956 and the track struggled to stay open under various promoters from 1957 until 1961.

In 1961, a lady by the name of Joan Simmons became the general manager. During that year Simmons was able to right the sinking speedway and set up a meeting with John Marcum, a friend of France, who had just founded MARC (Midwest Auto Racing Club).

Marcum and his wife, Mildred, took over the track in 1962 and the Marcum family has been in charge ever since.

Toledoan Marcum was at the top of his game in the 1960s and '70s as he promoted countless short tracks under his new banner, ARCA, the Automobile Racing Club of America.

After Marcum died in 1981, his wife and her grandson, John Drager, ran ``the Rock.'' As John moved on to other interests, another of the Marcum grandsons, Ron, entered the picture.

Ron Drager is now president of ARCA and the promoter of both Flat Rock and Toledo speedways. Mildred, 89, continues to work at the ARCA office in Temperance every day and makes the trip to Flat Rock every Saturday night with daughter Suzie, Ron's mother.

The stories are many; the list of drivers that have competed at Flat Rock is really quite impressive for a short track, and the history of ``The Rock'' continues to build with each season.

Benny Parsons, the late Davey Allison, Michael Waltrip, Joy Fair, Dick Trickle, Bob Senneker, Danny Byrd, Joe Ruttman and the late John Anderson are but a few who have made the hard left turns at Flat Rock over the past 50 years.

tEach of Flat Rock Speedway's three premier divisions - Late Models, Street Stock and Figure 8 - will compete in 100-lap feature races this Saturday night as the Michigan track celebrates its 50th year of racing. In addition, the Street Stock ``B'' main feature will be 35 laps in length while the ``C'' main Street Stock feature will run 25 laps.

``This will be our biggest show ever,'' said Scott Schultz, general manager of Flat Rock. ``This format of 100-lap features for each division on the same night will probably never be duplicated.''

Practice for the July 5 show begins at 1 p.m., followed by time trials at 3 and pre-race festivities starting at 5. Racing will begin one hour earlier than usual, starting at 6. Ten-time Flat Rock champion Joy Fair will serve as the grand marshal for the day. The NASCAR show cars of Jeff Gordon and Dave Blaney will be on display in the spectator concourse.

tFriday night's race card at Toledo Speedway features the Hollywood Stunt & Thrill Show plus ARCA Sportsman and Factory Stocks. Practice gets under way at 5:30, followed by time trials at 6:45 and racing at 7:30.

tARCA Lincoln Welders Truck Series veteran Tully Esterline, who now works for NASCAR Busch Series team Brewco Motorsports, returns home to compete at Toledo Speedway this Sunday for the ARCA Lincoln Welders Truck Series Livernois 50.

A Pettisville native, Esterline is currently employed as a shock specialist for Brewco Motorsports, Inc., a NASCAR Busch Series race team with drivers David Green and Joey Clanton. He does a multitude of different jobs both at the shop and at the track, including building shocks, helping to set up the car, keeping records during races, catching a rear tire during pit stops and running data-acquisition equipment during test sessions.

Esterline and the ARCA trucks qualify at Toledo Speedway at 4 p.m., with racing at 5.

tBeginning Sunday, July 13, Toledo Speedway will change its race starting time to 6 p.m. The change is being made to attract more fans, avoid a little of the summer heat and move more racing under the lights. Pits will open at 2, practice at 3:30, time trials at 5 and racing at 6 o'clock. This schedule will hold through season's end, Aug. 31.



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