It was never Kevin Coffey’s intention simply to reopen Smoky Mountain Speedway. It was bigger than that.
The Friendsville native had grown up on the South Blount County racetrack. He’d courted his wife, Sherry, there. He’d won three track championships there as a driver. Some of his fondest memories are of his eldest daughter, Miranda, then 5, cheering him on from the grandstand.
When the ½ dirt oval shut down a few years back, the land subsequently sold to the county to become a fairground, Coffey said he immediately began making plans to bring it back
“I couldn’t stand by and watch dirt-track racing die in this area without trying to do something,” he said.
There would be some changes, though.
The races would be affordable, for both driver and fan alike. There would be more than stock car racing on display. He’d get the track’s neighbors, who’d always been at odds with the noise, to come onboard. He’d find ways to get entire families involved.
With the renamed Mountain Raceway Park in only its second year under Coffey’s ownership, each of those things is fast becoming a reality.
Mountain Raceway played to a full house as AMA Flat Track motorcycle racing headlined the marquee last Saturday. The event cost Coffey $100,000 to stage.
“Rain or shine,” he said.
The suped-up Harley-Davidson dirt bikes delivered a big show, with all in attendance voicing their appreciation. It’s how well the race played with those not in attendance — namely, the track’s neighbors — that concerns Coffey.
Eighteen motorcycles running at full throttle can make a lot of noise. A comparable number of stock cars can really rattle the windows and walls of surrounding homes.
When Coffey’s Event Management Company purchased the track last year, Coffey said he first planted trees along its perimeter. As they grow, they’ll help hold in the noise. Billboards have been erected in strategic spots around the track where the cars are loudest. The track’s Late Model cars, the biggest and loudest of them all, have been moved to the midway point of a night’s program.
Most importantly, Coffey guaranteed the track’s neighbors strict enforcement of a midnight curfew to finish the day’s racing.
To date, that curfew has not once been broken.
“We’ve done everything that the neighbors have requested,” Coffey said.
To make racing more affordable for area drivers, Coffey instituted a tire rule at the raceway. Teams are now limited in what tires can run on the track, holding down expenses for those on smaller budgets.
“Just at our weekly shows we’ll have over a million dollars in haulers,” Coffey said.
Finding ways to entice whole families to the raceway on a Saturday night is more than mere lip service from Coffey. He was an up-and-coming driver with a full-time job at an area auto parts store when he first met Sherry. A mutual friend and co-worker of Kevin’s introduced them.
“They had it all worked out that they were going to set us up,” Sherry said, “but I didn’t know that.”
After marrying, they lived in a mobile home on tight budget in those early years, Sherry said.
“We ate baloney sandwiches for years and years to save up and buy a car,” she said.
In 1989, Miranda was born, and the couple bought its first house. It’s why Kevin, during his days as one of the track’s top drivers, always drove car No. 89.
Daughters Morgan, 14, and Sarah, 11, have since come along. On Saturday nights, all are at the track, working the ticket booth, concession stand, press box, infield and wherever else there’s a need. Miranda sings the national anthem on race night. In many ways, their family is in keeping with the area racers as a group, Coffey said.
“You’d be surprised how much the local racing community will help out when somebody gets involved,” said.
To encourage that sense of family, the raceway has launched a Mountain Kid’s Club, which Miranda, a sophomore at Maryville College, helps manage. In its first year, the program has crafts for young children, schedules birthday parties where young fans can meet the drivers, and arranges for kids to circle the track in the company Hummer.
There are even plans to purchase a school bus for young fans to paint, which the raceway will then use to pack down the track on race night.
“We’ve got some plans like that to get the youth involved,” Coffey said.
The raceway’s $785,000 price tag is a big investment, but Sherry Coffey said she’s fully supportive of her husband’s decision.
“They say you should always do what you love,” she said.
That’s always been racing for Kevin as far back as he can remember. Now, with improvements to the raceway, he’s hoping many others will come to know why.