Photos by WILLIAM PAINE/The Patriot
Racers Ready – In anticipation of the upcoming SRX event, Pulaski County Administrator Jonathan Sweet prepares to match driving skills with two veteran race car drivers at the Pulaski County Motorsports Park. From left: Mike Looney, Jonathan Sweet and Kyle Barnes.
Motoring towards SRX race day – The red race car that Jonathan Sweet was driving (briefly) led the way before veteran race car drivers Mike Looney and Kyle Barnes turned up the pace and showed the Pulaski County Administrator how fast these cars can really go.
By WILLIAM PAINE
As part of the buildup for the upcoming SRX (Superstar Racing Experience) event on Thursday July 27, Pulaski County Administrator Jonathan Sweet paid a visit to the Pulaski County Motor Sports Park to test his driving skills against a couple of seasoned race car drivers.
“There’s going to be a little three-person race between me, Jonathan and Mike,” said Kyle Barnes, who runs the Sportsman Class at Motor Mile Speedway, as well as the Lonesome Pine Motorsports Park and South Boston Speedway. “We’re just going to have some fun and promote the SRX race that’s coming up.”
“I’m racing some of the best around on this oval,” said Sweet, who has had some experience driving these race cars. “Rusty Wallace provides an experience down here and I think everyone needs to come here and try it and see just how much talent and courage you need to be in one of these race cars. By the time you put the pedal to the metal, you’ve got to take your foot off the gas because you’re coming into a turn and then you’ve got to step on it again. I’m not sure how fast these things go, I’m not sure I want to find out.”
Sweet apparently has a propensity for driving whatever vehicle is presented to him, as a few years back, he participated in a demolition derby at the Pulaski County fairgrounds.
“I’m up for just about anything but I hope I don’t repeat what I did in the demolition derby today,” said Sweet.
As part of the promotion, Sweet brought a video crew along to mark the occasion.
“We’ve got cameras on the cars, cameras in the cars and we’ve got spotters in our ears,” said Sweet. “J.P. is going to edit it. The video will be on the WSLS morning show and on our website.”
As Sweet and the other drivers readied themselves, Pulaski County Tourism Director Peggy White took a spin around the track in a race car driven by Jeff Roark, General Manager of the Pulaski County Motorsports Park.
“It was freaking awesome,” White enthused. “They are loud and they move so fast. You don’t know how fast they go until you’re out there! I can’t imagine maneuvering this around other cars at that speed. It’s such a thrill. Apparently, Jeff held back a little bit but I gotta tell you something, I’m glad he did because I don’t know if I could have made it otherwise!”
When Sweet, along with drivers Kyle Barnes and Mike Looney took their race cars to the track, they rolled three abreast for the first several laps. The engines of these Rusty Wallace race cars revved loudly on the straightaways before the cars entered the steeply banked turns of the raceway.
Eventually, the cars began distancing themselves from each other, with Mike Looney’s race car taking the turns so fast that his rear tires drifted outward from the g-force created by his momentum. Looney is a mechanic from Craig County who has been racing at this Pulaski County racetrack since 1999.
“I’m a late model track champion,” said Looney. “I won a Championship here in 2019 and I’ve won every race this year in late model. So, this is my favorite spot.”
After making several revolutions around the track, each driver eventually pulled off into the pits to conclude the “race.”
“Jonathan’s doing good for a rookie,” said Looney. “He was holding his own until I had to go in there and rattle his cage and get by him. You let it all hang out with these Rusty Wallace Driving Experience cars because they can take it. I encourage everybody to come out and drive one and get a little piece of the fun.”
“It was real … it was raw,” said Sweet of the experience. “When Mike decided to show me who’s the champ and scrub me a little bit, I realized I was in a real race car and we’re going real fast. Just when you think you’re going too fast, you realize you’re not going fast enough. When these guys pass you, they make it look easy. It’s not easy. They’re athletes, but not just physical athletes or mental athletes because your focus has to be sharp. You can’t let up one bit. These guys were racing without mirrors. They’re the real deal, without question. You’ve got to come out and watch them and do this for real.”
“What’s cool about here is that it’s more about the passion,” said Looney. “It’s about pure racing. We’re here racing for fun. Racing hard to win because we love it. It’s pure.”
The SRX (Superstar Racing Experience) is well named in that some of the biggest stars in racing will be competing for the top prize including three-time NASCAR Cup Series Champion Tony Stewart, two-time NASCAR Cup Series Champion Kyle Busch, 2023 Indianapolis 500 Champion Josef Newgarden, 4X Indianapolis 500 Champion Helio Castroneves along with several other champions of motor sport.
College Hall of Fame football coach Frank Beamer will serve as the Grand Marshall for the racing event and veteran broadcaster Bob Dillner will be doing the play-by-play commentary for the Sportsman Race which starts at 6:30. After the Sportsman Race, the Jared Stout Band will play at 7:30. The SRX race will be broadcast on ESPN starting at 9 p.m.
“The green flag starts at 9:02 with some of the best drivers in the world, not just country, in the world,” said Roark, GM of Pulaski County Motorsports Park. “It’s all going to be here at Pulaski County Motorsports Park. So, we’re really excited about that.”