‘Faster Pastor’ race big hit at Highland Rim

GRETCHEN WILSON will help promote the upcoming “Chase for the Sprint Cup,” NASCAR’s version of a championship playoff.
Sep 5, 2013
Gretchen Wilson

When ministers buckle on racing helmets and take to the track, they don’t believe in turning the other cheek.

“They’re very competitive, and it gets pretty wild out there sometimes,” says Roger Cunningham, co-owner of Highland Rim Speedway, who came up with a unique “Faster Pastor” race as a light-hearted special attraction this season.

Cunningham, a resident of Mt. Juliet, enlisted drivers from 16 Middle Tennessee churches, including his home community’s Green Hills Church. Each church’s pastor or youth minister competes in the weekly Saturday night race.

The track provides the race cars. At the end of the season, Oct. 26, the top driver will receive a $500 donation to his church’s youth group, with the runners-up receiving donations of lesser sums.

“It’s a lot of fun, and the crowd really gets into it,” Cunningham says. “Last Saturday we had 240 fans from area churches that turned out to cheer on their drivers. It was almost like a Tennessee/Alabama football game.”

Cunningham says such unique promotions serve several purposes:

“They’re entertaining, they draw positive attention to the track, and they emphasize the ‘family atmosphere’ aspect that we’ve been emphasizing,” he says. “It’s something that’s fun and different, and fans enjoy it.”

As part of the track’s community-service commitment, donations by drivers and fans were used to purchase 15 Radio Flyer wagons, which will be presented to Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital this week.

Cunningham, who has been involved in area racing for many years, last year bought Highland Rim Speedway with partners Jerry Chriswell and Buddy Williams. Williams left the partnership earlier this year, and although Cunningham said the departure required “an adjustment,” the season has proceeded smoothly.

“We’ve getting around 90 cars for our races, and the crowds have been good,” he says. “I’m very encouraged by the progress we’ve made in our first full season of operation. We’re building a foundation that we can continue to build on.”

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GRETCHEN WILSON will help promote the upcoming “Chase for the Sprint Cup,” NASCAR’s version of a championship playoff.

The Wilson County resident whose country song “Redneck Woman” catapulted her to national stardom, will narrate and appear in TV’s opening segments of the 10 Chase race telecasts Sept. 15 through Nov. 17.

Wilson, who has sung the national anthem at several NASCAR races, said she has been a race fan “since my uncle ran dirt tracks outside St. Louis when I was a kid. He would let me clean the mud out of the wheels with a two-by-four, and I thought I was part of the pit crew.”

The 10-race championship battle matches NASCAR’s 12 top drivers and, says Wilson, “This has already been an exciting season, and I think it’s about to get crazy.”

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FAIRGROUNDS ACTION: Several area drivers, including former track champion
Andy Johnson of Mt. Juliet, are scheduled to compete in Saturday night’s State Fair Race at the Tennessee Fairgrounds.

The track’s regular-season finale is Oct. 5, with the special-event All-American 400 on Nov. 2.

Information about tickets and race times are available on the Fairgrounds Speedway website.

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