He wasn’t wrong.
“It hasn’t been easy,” says Cunningham, who is busily preparing for the track’s March 17 season opener.
“We knew that going in. I’ve been involved in racing most of my life and I know how hard running a track can be. We’ve had some setbacks, but we’ve also had some successes, and I’m optimistic about the track’s future.”
One of the “setbacks” almost cost Cunningham his life. In the summer of 2014 he was working high atop a cherry-picker, hanging flags at the track, when the huge hydraulic lift topped over. Cunningham crashed down on the asphalt, suffering several severe injuries.
He spent almost a year in recuperation.
“My accident set us back, but while I was out Jerry did a great job of keeping the track operating,” Cunningham says.
Last season hit another pothole when a “Big Rig” racing truck crashed into the retaining wall and did extensive damage. The good news was that the wall did its job and no spectators were injured. The bad news was that the track missed several critical race dates while repairs were being made.
“Things like that are unforeseen, so you can’t prepare for them,” Cunningham says. “You just have to keep going and work through them.”
Running the track is a family effort for Cunningham, whose daughter Kelli Lawson assists with every aspect of the operation from marketing and sales to public relations and administration.
“We make a great team,” says Criswell, of Greenbrier. “Roger is a perfect partner because we share the same passion for keeping racing going in this area.”
“Sometimes it can get a little frustrating,” he admits, “but we’ll keep working. This season we’re in a little bit of a rebuilding process, trying some different things. We want to be part of something that works. We’re going to standardize some of the brake and shock packages which will make it a lot more affordable for the teams.”
The track, which opened in 1962, is considered one of the premier paved quarter-mile tracks in the country. During the off-season it got some sprucing-up, including grandstand renovations.
As a tribute to the fans, the track will hold a Fan Appreciation Day on March 31, with all tickets going for $5.
“Our goal from the start has been to make this a place where families can come out and enjoy an afternoon or night at the races,” Cunningham says. “We’ve worked hard to keep it clean and safe, and create a wholesome atmosphere.”
The key to any track’s success is good racing, and Cunningham promises the Rim will live up to its decades-long reputation for providing lots of action.
“There may be bigger tracks than ours,” he says, “but there’s no better racing.”
The track counts on drawing drivers and fans from Wilson and surrounding counties. Lebanon’s Hunter Wright is the defending Legends champion, assuming the crown from fellow Wilson Central High student Dylan Fetcho who ruled the division in 2016.
Hartsville’s Garrett Dies is another promising young racer who will be making a comeback this season after sitting out last year with a broken leg suffered in an ATV accident.
“We’ve got a lot of good things going for us,” Cunningham says. “We want to continue to build on the positives and tweak other things as needed. It’s an ongoing process, but we’re getting there.”
Fairgrounds opener: Nashville Speedway kicks off a new season at the State Fairgrounds March 25, the first of eight race dates that run through Oct. 7.
In addition to local-division racing, the track will host the Music City 200 ARCA race on April 7 and the 34th All-America 400 as the season finale.
Among the top drivers will be Lebanon’s Fetcho, joined in the Pro Late Model division by fellow Wilson County racers Austin Brawley and William Hale. Hale was last season’s Rookie of the Year.
Young Mt. Juliet racer Chase Johnson, son of former track champion Andy Johnson, also has made a name for himself in the Pro-Mod division and expects to be a title contender.
Larry Woody is The Democrat’s motorsports writer. Email him at [email protected]