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Testing fires racers' anticipation of new season at Kingsport

Jeff Birchfield • May 17, 2020 at 8:00 PM

KINGSPORT — Race car drivers fired up their engines for a Wednesday afternoon test session at Kingsport Speedway, leading longtime track official Ronnie Maness to reference a classic movie.

“The hills have come alive with the sound of racing music,” Maness joked.

Indeed they had, and the roar of the motors was a sign of how ready Kingsport Speedway officials and competitors are to get the 2020 season underway.

Whether they’re able to do that on the track’s possible target dates — May 29 or June 5 — will depend on what restrictions are still in place in Tennessee and Sullivan County.

“The end of May or first of June is what we’re looking at, but we don’t want to start racing without fans,” Kingsport Speedway general manager Karen Tunnell said. “The owners and I have met on that and we don’t want to do anything until we can let our fans back in.”

Drivers have been testing their cars on the three-eighths-mile concrete oval for more than a month. There were tests throughout the past week, culminating with the largest one on Saturday.

Each day’s testing brought a faithful few out to watch them.

“When the cars are testing, it gets everybody excited,” Tunnell said. “We’ve had up to 20, 25 cars up at tier parking. Any time that anybody hears a car here, they’re up there watching. Not only are we excited, the drivers and fans are looking forward to it.”

Track officials are working toward racing foremost while also working on a revised schedule. Tunnell has talked to the Super Cup Stock Car Series and Southeast Super Trucks about possible later dates.

Despite getting off to a late start, Tunnell remains optimistic about the upcoming season, especially the weekly NASCAR Whelen All-American Series races.

“We’re looking forward to a great year with good car counts,” she said. “We have a lot of new cars that have been practicing and there are a lot of familiar faces coming back.”

Pure Street drivers Jay Swecker, Jessica Spangler and Jeremy Draughn took part in Wednesday’s test session. Swecker, driver of the No. 77 Chevrolet Camaro, was the 2018 division champion and finished third in the points last year.

He’s ready for the wheel-to-wheel competition.

“I wish we were already racing,” Swecker said. “It’s good to be on the track. It’s been tough missing the races on Friday nights, but we’ve had a little more family time.”

Spangler, a 15-year-old from Virginia, will be in her second season driving the No. 07 Chevrolet Monte Carlo. Still seeking experience, the test session was valuable for her.

“It was very important to get out on the track,” Spangler said. “You have to learn your car and how it feels. We changed a lot of stuff on it over the winter. You have to learn how to handle it again to get the speed back up.”

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