Back and better than ever: Bowman Gray Stadium's legendary atmosphere returns for 2022

·3 min read

Fans and competitors have a lot to look forward to when Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, begins its 73rd season Saturday.

The Hayes Jewelers 200 presented by Q104.1, the track‘s marquee race for the headlining Modified division, kicks off the first full season of NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series racing at the quarter-mile paved oval since the COVID-19 pandemic stopped racing in its tracks in early 2020.

The track did host weekly racing last year, but it was an abbreviated season that started late as COVID-19 restrictions were lifted in the region.

“I think the big thing that we‘re all looking forward to is getting back to normal,” said Gray Garrison, the promoter of Bowman Gray Stadium and the grandson of Alvin Hawkins, who co-founded the track with NASCAR‘s own Bill France. “Like the rest of the world, we were kind of shut down in 2020, and then we had an abbreviated season in 2021. This year we‘re ready to get back and hit the ground running wide open.

“I kind of feel like we‘re lost just a little bit because we kind of got out of our routine because of the last couple years, but the season is coming together real good.”

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WINSTON-SALEM, NC - AUGUST 6: during the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour Strutmasters.com 199 at the Bowman Gray Stadium on August 6, 2011 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Miller won the race. (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images for NASCAR) | Getty Images
WINSTON-SALEM, NC - AUGUST 6: during the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour Strutmasters.com 199 at the Bowman Gray Stadium on August 6, 2011 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Miller won the race. (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images for NASCAR) | Getty Images

On top of a return to normalcy at the legendary facility, Bowman Gray Stadium recently got a facelift thanks to funding from the city of Winston-Salem.

“The main shell of the facility was built in the 1930s under the WPA (Works Progress Administration) program,” Garrison explained. “It was kind of time for a facelift. The city had some bond money they raised, and part of the bond money was (used for) improvements to Bowman Gray Stadium.”

Among the many upgrades to the facility were new concession stands, new restrooms and a fresh coat of paint on many of the walls and other facilities at the Stadium that is also home to the Winston-Salem State Rams.

Perhaps most importantly, the bond money paid for a new racing surface at the quarter-mile flat oval.

“New pavement is always good,” Garrison said. “That‘s going to create a little different scenario for everybody, because nobody knows really what it‘s going to do in race conditions. It should be exciting to see what happens.”

A new season also brings a new streaming partner, as FloRacing has partnered with NASCAR and Bowman Gray Stadium to stream races from the historic track live every week throughout the season.

It‘s the first time in track history that an entire season‘s worth of racing will be available to watch via livestream.

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“The world is changing so much, and streaming just seems to be part of the new era that we live in,” Garrison said. “The whole package with NASCAR, FloRacing and Bowman Gray, that‘s a pretty good combination right there for everybody.”

It all adds up to one of the biggest season openers in Bowman Gray Stadium history, which Garrison believes will include grandstands packed with the Bowman Gray faithful on Saturday night.

“Even though we are streaming, there is nothing like being at Bowman Gray Stadium,” Garrison said. “It‘s an event. It‘s an atmosphere you can‘t describe. It‘s like the first day of school at the fair. There is just so much going on that you can‘t see and take it all in.

“There is nothing like being there. The feel, the atmosphere, the rumble of the cars, the crowd screaming. It‘s just an amazing place to see a race.”