Texas Thunder Speedway stood for 41 years, but the memories will last even longer.
Originally named Stars and Stripes Speedway, the quarter-mile dirt track evolved into an auto racing enthusiast’s paradise located squarely in Central Texas. Over the years, it became woven into the fabric of life for many area residents as parents brought their children, who in turn passed the tradition down to their kids.
The plot of land located at Stan Schlueter Loop and Bunny Trail is saturated with racing history and its bonds with the racing community run deep, making the reality of its upcoming demolition difficult to accept for many.
“At first, I didn’t think I was going to be here because it is a sad night,” track tech official Larry Kahler said during the track’s final hours of operation Saturday. “I don’t want to get too emotional about it, but when you get going with things like this and you meet so many people and you have so many friends and they are all like family, it is something really hard to give up on.”
The sentiments were shared by countless others in attendance as supporters gathered to celebrate, reflect, mourn, pay tribute and simply enjoy the atmosphere one last time.
“Up in these stands are a lot of fans,” car sponsor Pat Brumbalow said. “Some of these drivers have been doing this for 40 years, 30 years easily, and that is their whole livelihood. That is their whole life, and they are going to be truly missed.”
Since its construction in 1972, Texas Thunder Speedway has changed hands numerous times and has created a unique legacy. Not always considered a family-friendly establishment, drunken brawls occasionally ensued on the property in its early years.
Nevertheless, it continued to attract a crowd.
Upon the death of original owner Bill Barbee in the early ’80s, the business was inherited by Bill Barbee Jr., who instituted additional control, making the venue more appealing to the masses, including children.
While lots of fans at Saturday night’s finale were old enough to remember the track’s infancy, regardless of age, it holds a special place for many.
“It is a real big loss, and I hate to see it go,” 15-year-old Matthew Miranda said. “I love this place. I know people that race out here, I’ve got friends that come out here all the time, and we hang out here. … But I know that eventually another place is going to open up. There will be a new track out somewhere, and we will have another home.”
Although another track might someday emerge in the area, the feeling of community shared by so many is irreplaceable.
“My son doesn’t have a very expensive car, but there are parts on it from almost every race car driver out there,” lifelong regular Shelley Cochran said. “If he needed something and just mentioned it, (somebody) would say, ‘Hey, I’ve got that. I’ll bring it to you.’
“The camaraderie is just awesome.”
But memories are all that remain.
Situated on leased land in the ever-developing west side of town, the owners recently sold the property, ending Texas Thunder Speedway’s 41-year existence and breaking the hearts of its loyal fans.
“This place has been here so long,” track promoter David Goode said. “It not being here any more is going to be hard on the people. It’s hard to believe.
“There are so many families here today, and what are they going to do? What is there to do in Killeen? Nothing.”
Some fans stated they would attempt to find new “home” tracks elsewhere in the state, while others intend to spend more time watching racing on television to feed their fix.
Sixteen-year-old Michael Pinkerton will turn to virtual entertainment to replace his Saturday evenings at the track.
“I’m just going to have to start playing a lot of video games,” he said. “That’s all I can really do. Just smash down on the video games.”
THEY SAID IT:
- “This is the place to be if you’ve got some aggravation of something to get off your mind. Watching cars go around in circles at 80 and 90 mph plus, drifting and just tearing it up.” – Matthew Miranda, fan.
- “I’ve been up to the Texas Motor Speedway and watched some of the races. It is not as exciting as this.” – Michael Pinkerton, fan.
- “It is a landmark, and it has brought a lot of tears to a lot of people’s eyes. I am not looking forward to it closing.” – Larry Kahler, track tech official.
- “I’m not as emotional as others. The thing that bothers me is I’m not winning anywhere else, and I’m winning here, five miles from my house.” – Danny Batt, 2013 I-Stock track champion.
- “This use be way out in the boonies, and now it is right in the city, so I do feel sorry for the people that live around here, but the race track was here when they bought their houses.” – Pat Brumbalow, car sponsor.
- “I really think the city or Fort Hood or somebody should do something that brings these people back together,” – David Goode, track promoter.
- “I’ve been living in Leander for about 10 years now, and I’ve been driving back and forth every weekend since. The further south you go, the further you get away from tracks, so it’s hard,” – Buck Owens, driver.
- “I drive by here every day, sometimes a couple times a day. It is going to be awful to not see the yellow car up by the road any more,” – Sharon Ellis, fan.