By Tadd Haislop
4 Minute Read
JACKSONVILLE, N.C. — The 2023 edition of the Battle of the Stars at New River All-American Speedway in Jacksonville, North Carolina indeed featured stars. Case in point: Brenden “Butterbean” Queen, one of the best late model stock car drivers in the country, won the 200-lap feature and took home $20,000.
Yet the star of the show — and the star every Saturday night throughout race season — was the venue itself.
Saturday’s 2023 opening night marked the newly renamed New River All-American Speedway’s first with its new status as a NASCAR Home Track. Formerly known as Goodyear All-American Speedway, New River All-American delivers everything for which one can hope from a short track.
TRACK PROFILE: What to know about New River All-American
The experience begins when one enters the venue’s driveway from the Richlands Highway. A short path through a chunk of Eastern North Carolina forest opens to display both a drag strip and a 0.4-mile oval race track. Without its signage, the cauldron of noise would be unknown to passersby on the highway.
The oval track itself is unique with its tri-oval configuration, and the layout is ideal for side-by-side racing. The surface is notably wide, allowing competitors to run multiple grooves. Both corners are banked at 12 degrees, but multiple drivers explained to NASCAR.com on Saturday that Turns 1-2 race completely different than Turns 3-4.
The tri-oval layout is great for the racing product, but it’s also great for fans viewing the action from the frontstretch grandstands. The stretch’s curvature creates ideal vantage points no matter the seat.
Perhaps the most notable attribute is New River All-American’s abrasive asphalt. The track has never been repaved, so drivers in 2023 compete on the same surface that was utilized when the venue opened in 1999 as Coastal Plains Raceway.
That surface was a major factor in Saturday night’s 200-lap feature. Tire conservation was key through the first couple stages of the race before a 50-lap run to the finish. It was at that point when Queen separated himself.
“These 200-lap races, I’ve always liked the long strategy races,” said Queen, who won November’s South Carolina 400 at Florence Motor Speedway utilizing a familiar strategy on a similarly abrasive track. “I knew we rode hard and put ourselves in the front row for good position for the last segment, and then it was lights out.”
Queen, whose late model stock resume includes a trio of consecutive track titles at Larry King Law’s Langley Speedway in Hampton, Virginia, dominated the final stage of a race that included both nationally renowned drivers and local legends. One of those locals was Rusty Daniels, the track’s 2009 late model champ.
Daniels qualified on the pole for the Battle of the Stars, a run that left him confident ahead of the main event. Yet tire issues led to his last-place finish, a result that epitomized the challenge that is late-model racing at New River All-American.
RELATED: New River All-American’s 2023 race schedule
The 200-lap late model stock feature was the cherry on top of a wild night of racing. The Bandolero feature began with a terrifying crash. (Both drivers climbed from their cars OK.) The Champ Kart race looked like a miniature NASCAR Cup Series event at Talladega Superspeedway with drivers running wide-open and bump-drafting their way through the field. The Bomber division’s feature ended with a literal photo finish; officials were forced to rely on transponders to determine the winner.
This is the kind of night-long show race fans can expect at New River All-American. And there are multiple angles from which fans can view the action. In addition to the 6,000 grandstand seats along the frontstretch, New River All-American features 90 track-side parking spots and 10 suites.
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The impressive venue is the result of a massive effort on the part of Anthony and Tonya Goodyear, who took over as track promotors in 2021. It was the Goodyears who introduced the Battle of the Stars as a crown jewel late model stock event.
The Goodyears, both of whom operate with deep racing roots themselves, are lauded as dedicated promotors who are doing everything they can to turn New River All-American into a short-track racing destination in the Southeast. Their efforts are evident in both the track’s quality and its inviting nature.
New River All-American provides a legitimate family atmosphere, complete with a playground for small children. The constant billowing smoke from the outdoor concessions in the middle of the frontstretch grandstands blankets the area with the aroma of a backyard cookout.
Yet juxtaposed against that familial vibe is the unmistakable overtone of competition typical of any good short track. Which is inviting. Everyone knows hot dogs taste better when consumed along with the tune of roaring engines.
In many ways, New River All-American Speedway is the perfect short track. It certainly puts the “home” in NASCAR Home Track.