There’s a lot of excitement building up to tonight’s season opener at Senoia Speedway, partly because the track has been upgraded, partly because the 46-year-old venue has a new and ambitious team of promoters on board for 2015, and partly because they’re bringing back the popular Super Late Models, which will be Senoia’s new top racing division.
There’s at least a handful of racing fans who are also excited to know that Fayetteville’s Ricky Williams will be on tonight’s competitors’ list in that Super Late Models division, which will mark the first time in nearly 30 years that Williams has raced at Senoia.
Williams, who drove in his first race back in 1975 at the age of 20, is one of several drivers who enjoyed racing and winning at the Senoia track but stopped in the late 1980s when the track was temporarily closed and then reopened as an asphalt track. Williams didn’t stop racing altogether, of course. In fact, he has never missed a season in 40 years, but he stayed true to dirt track racing, which meant kickin’ it up at Seven Flags in Douglasville, Dixie Speedway in Woodstock and other dirt tracks.
Senoia converted its track back to dirt in 2010, but they were not yet running Super Late Models.
Williams says he looks forward to racing in front of his “hometown crowd” at Senoia.
“It’s nice to race somewhere where people really know you,” Williams said. And while he hasn’t committed to spending the whole season at Senoia this year, he says he hopes to race there at least a few times as his schedule permits.
Veteran racing writer and Fayette County farmer Rick Minter reckons Williams could have made a full-time living as a race car driver, because he is that good on the track, and he says he expects Williams to contribute to a good show tonight at Senoia.
Minter said he used to travel to races with Williams back in the early days of his career, and he guesses Williams’ victories would be well up in the hundreds.
“When I used to go with him, it wasn’t uncommon for him to win all three nights: Friday, Saturday and Sunday,” Minter said.
Back then, it wasn’t cool to keep records, Minter says.
Williams did keep trophies and plaques, though, and while the more commonly awarded plaques are packed away in boxes, the dozens of man-height trophies are a sight to behold in Williams’ den. The tallest of them is the trophy Williams collected in 1985 at Senoia after winning the Hence Pollard Memorial Late Model 100-Lap Invitational.
Hence Pollard founded Senoia Raceway in 1969 and was the much loved and respected owner and promoter until he died in the summer of 1981.
“Everybody wanted to win the Hence Pollard Memorial race,” Minter said.
“It will be a big plus to have [Williams] back down there,” Minter said. “That’s why they called him first thing Monday morning to make sure he was going to show up.”
Williams says he first got the bug to become a race car driver when his brothers, Marvin and Gerald, who has since passed away, retired a 55 Chevrolet race car they had been racing.
“Gerald tore it up and put it behind the house,” Williams remembers. “I put it back together and tried it.”
Williams’ first race was at Seven Flags, where he finished fifth in a field of about 20 cars. That was July 1975.
Williams is one of several drivers who took to the Senoia track last Saturday to test it, and he says it has been much improved over how it was back in the 1980s, particularly because it has been widened from 65 feet to 90 feet, which means a driver can go into the turns and still keep a clear view of what’s happening ahead.
“The track was good,” Williams said. “I can drive down in there and see. If someone spins out, you have more time to dodge.”
Williams said he was running 13-second laps in his Number 17 car, which is built on a Rocket Chassis powered by a 417 engine that produces around 800 horsepower. He said fans can expect to see Super Late Models running between 90 and 100 mph around Senoia’s 3/8-mile track tonight.
Minter says he believes this will be a good season at Senoia Speedway, partly because NASCAR drivers, including the likes of Tony Stewart, have helped to raise the profile of dirt track racing in recent years by taking to the tracks themselves. In fact, Stewart has raced in in Williams’ No. 17 car at Dixie Speedway in Woodstock.