“Over the years the track has had some great racers from this area,” says Cunningham, himself a resident of Mt. Juliet, “and we see that trend continuing.”
Prominent among Wilson County’s Rim grads is the late Bobby Hamilton Sr., who went on to become a star driver in NASCAR, and his son Bobby Jr.
Last year Lebanon’s Dylan Fetcho won Highland Rim Speedway’s Legends championship, and this past season another young Lebanon racer, Hunter Wright, captured the Legends crown.
“Hunter is a great kid who comes from a wonderful family,” Cunningham says. “I used to race against Hunter’s dad Dwayne. It’s encouraging to see a new generation of talented young drivers like Hunter coming along. They are a tremendous asset to the sport.”
A dozen other Wilson County drivers raced at the Rim this season, along with some representing Trousdale County. Among the latter is Garrett Dies, whose 2017 season was de-railed by an ATV accident that left him with a broken leg. Dies plans to resume his career at Highland Rim next season.
What’s the attraction of the little track tucked away in the hills of Ridgetop?
“It’s close and convenient for area drivers and fans,” says Cunningham, who raced at the Rim during his driving days.
“It’s also economical,” he says “You don’t need expensive cars and expensive equipment to race at our track like you do at bigger tracks. The bottom line is, it’s a fun track to race on. Its small size (quarter-mile) makes for close racing, and that’s exciting for drivers and fans.”
The track has had numerous owners during its six-decade history, with Cunningham and partner Jerry Criswell being the latest. They purchased the track late in 2012, spent the off-season making renovations, and ran their first full season in 2013.
Among the successes – good crowds, good car counts and good racing -- there have been some setbacks.
In 2014 Cunningham was seriously injured when a cherry-picker toppled over while he was atop it hanging flags around the track. He spent a year recovering from severe injuries.
This past season during a “Big Rig” race, one of the huge semis crashed into the front-stretch wall and almost hurtled into the grandstands – a crash reminiscent of Bobby Allison’s fence-shattering wreck at Talladega in 1987.
Some industry analysts said if Allison’s airborne car had tumbled into the packed grandstands, the ensuing carnage would have spelled the demise of NASCAR. Cunningham says the same thing about the Big Rig crash at the Rim.
“If that truck had made it into the stands, it would have been horrible,” he says. “That would probably have been the end of the track.”
Not a single injury resulted, however, testament to the strength of the track’s concrete barriers and catch-fence. But it took over a week to make repairs from the September crash, costing the track a crucial race date – followed by rainout -- after it had set idle through August.
“We had decided to take August off for a number of reasons,” Cunningham explains. “It’s awfully hot for drivers and spectators, and a lot of folks are on vacation during that month. It’s also a point in the season when some teams need a break to make repairs, re-group, and get ready for the stretch run.
“It (the August break) was something we decided to try. We had no idea, of course, that we’d have the Big Rig wreck that damaged the track. Then we lost another date to rain. That long delay – all of August and most of September -- cost us momentum we never regained.”
Despite such setbacks, Cunningham and Criswell are determined to persevere, and are busy preparing for the 2018 season.
“Our plans are not complete, but we’ll probably try some different approaches,” he says. “We’ve gotten some input from our drivers and fans, and we’re good listeners.”
Cunningham adds: “We didn’t take over the track with any illusions about getting rich – we got involved because we love the sport. We knew it wouldn’t be easy, that it would mean a lot of long hours and hard work. Despite some of the setbacks, I remain positive about the track’s future.”
Rim Awards Banquet: Highland Rim Speedway’s awards banquet will be held Saturday, Feb. 3 at the Millersville Community Center. Doors open at 5 and dinner starts at 6, followed by awards presentations to the top five finishers in each of the track’s divisions.
For ticket reservations or other information call 615-643-8725 or email [email protected]
Fairgrounds Speedway: Nashville’s Fairgrounds Speedway is preparing for a new season and, like Highland Rim, is counting on drawing drivers and fans from Wilson and neighboring counties.
Among the drivers to keep an eye on in 2018 are Lebanon’s Dylan Fetcho and Mt. Juliet’s Chase Johnson, both expected to be championship contenders in their respective divisions.
The Speedway will announce its schedule in coming weeks.