Race fans started lining up well before 6 p.m. Saturday night.
By 8 p.m., every seat was taken.
The parking lot was packed with vehicles all the way out to Stan Schlueter Loop.
Better than 100 race cars packed the pits, set to run the last go-round at Texas Thunder Speedway.
This is the story of that night.
It reminded me a little of an old Joan Baez song called “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” because driving was what Texas Thunder Speedway was all about and it was driven down by urban sprawl and the almighty dollar.
All that said, promoter David Goode, who turned the track with throwback wooden bleachers and a used, lived-in look into the finest racing facility around, wanted to go out with a boom, boom, boom. And he sure succeeded.
Each class crowned a champion during feature races, with the points leaders getting the pole position, then those drivers who had won main events over the years, plus racers who qualified for provisionals, went at it in a Race of Champions series.
Feature action started with the Outlaw Twisters and points leader Taylor Florio, racing out of Copperas Cove, had the early lead, but saw another Cove driver, Rick Smith, pull past on lap six and go on for the win.
Taylor had the last word, because after the points were checked, it was the 14-year-old Florio who was crowned track champion.
Harker Heights racer Jason Batt started the IMCA Stock Car A-main leading the first two laps. Tristan Carman got by quickly in his Killeen-based car and had to hold off Killeen’s Eric Jones, who tried hard to get inside on several corners. Carman came on to win the race, while Batt hoisted the championship banner.
Next out were the Texas Twisters, with a Belton-based mother-daughter team lined up on the front row. Cori Beatty, the daughter, got by points leader and mom, Michalla, quickly, but saw her lead evaporate with the hard-charging Trevor Hudson of Copperas Cove running past on lap four and driving on to Victory Lane for his second straight win, with Michalla Beatty celebrating the class title.
The Street Stocks were doing their usual thing with a caution on lap one, followed by four cars knocking each other around in a pinball effect, all before one lap was recorded. Once things simmered down, the Big Three — Gary Norman, Chris Cockrell and Chris Florio — started fighting for the lead. Cockrell had the front, then Norman took over on lap 14 of 25.
With the scoreboard showing lap 20, Cove’s Florio passed on the inside and stayed ahead to the checkered flag. Meanwhile, Norman’s No. 3 won the class title and took the big trophy home to Nolanville.
Belton driver G.W. Egbert IV opened up a good lead by lap eight of the IMCA Southern SportMod feature, but hard on his heels was the Cove racer David Goode Jr. who went by Egbert on a right-side pass as the white flag waved for one to go. Goode stayed on his throttle and brought home the win, with Egbert crowned as the final SportMod champ at Texas Thunder.
It looked like Bellmead’s Andy Roller might cruise in the IMCA Hobby Stock main event, as he jumped off the pole into an early lead, but Jeremy Oliver, racing out of Chilton, and Paul Scrivner from Waco, were coming on strong. Then, Oliver passed Roller inside and held the lead all the way to Victory Lane. Roller wasn’t too disappointed, since he claimed the class championship.
The final sanctioned race at Texas Thunder featured the IMCA Modifieds. Defending national champion Keith White of Academy had the pole and, despite hard pressure from Killeen’s J.P. Dowell and Harker Heights driver Hardy Henderson, led the first nine laps. Henderson pulled ahead on circuit 12, but gave it up to Dowell’s quick inside move on the next restart, but we hadn’t seen the last of Henderson.
With his foot on the floor, Henderson passed Dowell on lap 17 of 30 and fought off all comers to the Winner’s Circle.
It was Keith White, though, who pulled off the big win, taking home another track championship.
Several flag-to-flag runs earned Race of Champions wins for the final time. Roller was tops in the Street Stocks and Hobby Stocks, Florio added to her heroics in the Outlaw Twister class and Goode took the Southern SportMod show.
Jones was tops in the IMCA Stock Cars.
Then, it was time for the final race involving dirt stock cars at Texas Thunder.
After a lot of back and forth jockeying for position, the IMCA Modified Race of Champions closed out with Killeen’s Scooter Bates in Victory Lane.
Bates took his time leaving the track for pit road, knowing it was the last time fans would ever see one of these cars on this patch of dirt.
One bit of business remained and that was the Demolition Trailer Race, with cars and trucks pulling trailers, hitting obstacles like washing machines, refrigerators, ranges, a boat and each other, until there was one driver still running.
That driver turned out to be Justin Corbin, whose name will go down as the last racer driving on Texas Thunder Speedway.
It was a great end to a legendary facility, if the end can be called great. Fans enjoyed seeing some former track champs come back for a final night. Cove’s Jason Bogard, a former I-Stock champion competed, as did Austin’s Glen Allen, who was a force in the modified class a decade ago, along with Evant driver Robert Simmerman, who dominated the Street Stocks back in the day.
Now that the post-race partying is done, all that’s left are memories ... of a Killeen icon.
I’m proud to have been a part of it for 15 years and thanks go out to former promoter Pat Wilson, who got me into racing, and without a doubt to David Goode, a guy who I’ll always consider one of the best bosses someone could work for.
I’ll miss Texas Thunder Speedway.