By Shawn Brouse
SELINSGROVE -- Selinsgrove Speedway was the setting for the fifth annual Paul Long Memorial for late models Sunday night and NASCAR team owner Ray Evernham of Charlotte, NC., took in the event.
Evernham was on hand to compete in a special exhibition race in a division called the SpeedSTR class.
Evernham and others, including Paul Lotier Jr. and NASCAR truck driver Erin Crocker have spent the season touring with the upstart class that was designed by Rich Tobias Jr., of Myerstown.
The SpeedSTR cars, which look like a cross between a sprint and a midget without a wing, were developed by Tobias to provide "affordable racing technology" as a starter division for anyone who wants to get into the game.
The car owner for Kasey Kahne and Elliot Sadler this year, Evernham made his first visit to the track Sunday night.
"It's a pleasure to be here," Evernham said. "It's by far the fastest dirt track that I've been on. It's great to see a crowd like this at a local dirt track.
"This is really neat for me because this is a place I always wanted to come to. This is a really, really cool place."
Evernham's nephew Willy is racing with the SpeedSTR's as well this season and the elder Evernham says he's having a blast getting back to his roots, away from NASCAR and pavement.
"It's just something that I believe in and now that I'm semi-retired from the (Sprint) Cup thing, I wanted to get back to dirt track racing," he said.
"These things are relatively inexpensive to have and maintain. It's just a great class for young guys and for guys that want to have fun like me.
"Twenty years on the road is a long time and it's just great to get back to short track racing," Evernham noted.
"We've got to take car of dirt track racing because these are the people that support the sport and I hope NASCAR recognizes that.
"This is by far the biggest crowd we've run in front of and you look at the guys that are here running sprints every week, those are the guys that can get it done," Evernham said of the competition waged at Selinsgrove weekly.
"The next Jeff Gordon, the next Kasey Kahne, the next Kyle Busch, they're out there and this is where we can find them.
"Watch ESPN tomorrow at the five o'clock hour and I'll see if I can get a plug in for Selinsgrove Speedway," he told the crowd.
"I thank God every day for all the teams I've been with and all the things I've been able to do in my career. I've been blessed in my NASCAR career, but this is something I wanted to get back to," he said of short, dirt track racing.
Evernham wrenched Jeff Gordon to NASCAR titles in 1995, 1997 and 1998.