Second in a series celebrating Franklin County speedway’s 50th Anniversary
WIRTZ, VA – Late Model stock car driver Kelly Kingery had a simple answer when asked why Franklin County Speedway has managed to survive long enough to celebrate its 50th Anniversary: “Racing that’s intense, without the expense.”
The owner of Precision Excavating and Tree Services paused a moment and explained his opinion a little more. “FCS has concentrated on the lower budget racer,” said Kingery, a native of Roanoke who started racing in 1996. “The Late Model guys like me don’t have to buy two or three sets of tires a week to be competitive. And Franklin County always has kept the cost down in the other divisions where the regular working person can afford to give racing a try.”
Kingery is among numerous drivers, car owners, crewmen and track workers expected for a 50th Anniversary Reunion on April 8th to celebrate the rich heritage of the high-banked three-eighths of a mile track.
“Part of what I enjoy most is being around other people with the same passion for racing that I have,” said Kingery regarding the 50th Anniversary Reunion. “It’s going to be pretty cool to see some of the heroes I had when I was a kid.”
Depending upon sponsorship, Kingery said, he is ready to give fans in the region more of what they want during the 2018 season. “The fans want to watch something exciting,” said Kingery. “It can’t be follow the leader all the time. We’ve got to keep the fans happy or there will be no more sport. I think Franklin County Speedway provides the fans more excitement than any other track.”
A reputation as wild and fearless on and off the track is well deserved Kingery said. “I was young and hot-headed the first few years I drove,” said Kingery. “As I got older, I learned there is a fine line between being fearless and being stupid.”
Gesturing to dozens of winner’s trophies around his shop, Kingery added: “These trophies started popping up everywhere once I matured and became a better driver. I regret a lot of the dumb stuff I did when I was younger.”
At 50 years old, Kingery said he appreciates racing from a different perspective now. “I think a lot of the sportsmanship has went away,” he lamented. “You used to could run door to door with people, lap after lap. Now, a lot of drivers don’t really know how to pass and race in traffic. They’ll just wreck you and keep on going.”
Kingery said he raced remote control cars for many years before trying the real thing. “The highlight of the remote cars deal was finishing second to NASCAR star Todd Bodine,” he said. “Todd drove all the way down here to Virginia for a big RC event. I still have the (runner-up) car right over there in my shop.”
After trips to Franklin County Speedway as a fan, Kingery decided to try his hand at stock car racing.
“I bought an old car and the fellow let me make payments on it,” Kingery recalled. “I stripped it down and started working on it myself in my back yard. David Graham agreed to put a roll cage in it for me. He (Graham) thought I wasn’t taking it seriously enough and pushed it out of his shop before he got it done.”
Kingery added: “I went ahead and raced the car at Franklin County Speedway three times. Graham saw me before the fourth race and figured out I really was serious about it. He finished welding the roll cage. It was only tack welded in there those first three races. Thank God I didn’t get in a wreck.”
He went on to collect nine pole positions and seven straight victories during his rookie season of Pure Stock competition. “But I didn’t win the championship,” Kingery recalled. “I’ve never really had the desire to be a champion. I just want to win the race or leave the fans something to remember my name if I don’t.”
A search for sponsorship is on to enable Kingery to run the entire 2018 season at Franklin County Speedway. “It’s the 50th year over there,” he said. “I am hoping for a few good sponsors to come along so we can go stir things up.”
Kingery’s nickname of “Killbilly” adorns his race cars and comes from his love of all things outdoors. “You put me in a deer stand,” he said with a grin, “and you’ll know why they call me that. I’ll kill everything that comes by.”
On race nights, Kingery said, the roles are reversed and he is the hunted.
“After the crew pushes you out on the grid, they walk away,” Kingery explained. “You strap on that helmet and it’s just you out there. You feel like a wild animal being turned loose in the woods. There is nobody else on the planet that can tell you what to do.”