The track will alternate between Super Late Models and Big Block Modifieds as the headlining class. In addition, a regular show will feature TSS Modified and Late Model crate classes each week throughout the summer.

GEORGETOWN -- The smell of french fries and the sound of Diamond Rio's "One More Day" greet race fans as they make their way through the chain-link gate at Georgetown Speedway.

The historic half-mile dirt track re-opened May 26 after being closed since September 1997. Not much has changed since then, including the aroma and country music.

That is just the way track promoter Lou Johnson wants it. He has refurbished the restrooms and offers better purses for the drivers -- $2,500 -- to win one of the classes, which is more than some Delaware tracks pay. It has cost him and several local investors thousands of dollars and countless hours to re-open the track.

Georgetown Speedway has proven it still has the charisma to attract local racing fans. The track, built by the late Georgetown construction entrepreneur Melvin Joseph Sr. in 1949, has averaged about 3,500 fans every Friday night since it re-opened.

Like hundreds of other short tracks across the nation, Georgetown Speedway has become more family-friendly. The cost is reasonable, $10 for general admission and $25 for pit admission.

Andrew Giangola, a NASCAR spokesman, said the trend is evident at tracks of all sizes. He said the sport appeals to families because cars are one of the things kids play with, and "kids tend to be attracted by the colors and the sights and the sounds and the speeds."

"I think a lot of this is independent entrepreneurs listening to their customer base," Giangola said. "These tracks are in competition for the entertainment dollar."

Georgetown rejoins Delaware International Speedway in Delmar, Airport Speedway in New Castle and Middleford Speedway, near Seaford, as Delaware's top local short tracks, which are dirt tracks of usually a half-mile or less.

"Georgetown Speedway is my roots, and it's good, hard racing on a big track, a true half-mile," said Kris "Opie" Lawson, the track's flagman and Joseph's grandson. "When they said they were going to open this place back up, I was definitely going to take the job. I didn't even have to think about it. I could see they had the right people in place to get the job done."

Georgetown Speedway spurs memories of days gone by for Millsboro's Lawson -- days when he stood atop the flagstand with his late father, Bill Lawson, who waved the flags at the speedway for 20 years, and kept his eyes open and his hand ready to pass the next flag to his father.

The word "family" comes up frequently when people speak of Georgetown Speedway. When its gates were locked in 1997, it was as if folks had lost a loved one.

"I raced here with Ronnie Tobias in 1996, and we were track champions," said Mike Moore, of Georgetown, who now serves as the track's pit steward. "Ronnie passed away in '98, and I couldn't go back to racing.

"Now, I've decided to come back here, and I love it. The fan turnout has been absolutely spectacular, the car turnout has been climbing every time and everybody I talk to loves the way the show goes on. It's nonstop from beginning to end."

Race-car haulers begin pulling into the garage area at 5:15, while workers from Heavenly Bar-b-que fire up their pits behind the grandstands outside the fourth turn, sending even more enticing smells through the air. It's about 85 degrees at the track, but it's much hotter near the barbeque pits as beef and pork cook.

Joyce Davidson, of Gumboro, takes her place in the grandstands, two rows from the top, right above the start/finish line, at about 5:20. While she enjoys a quick hot dog dinner, she gazes out at the huge American flag lazily waving on the hot summer night. There is no place she would rather be than sitting in the light-blue painted bleachers.

"I've been missing it for years and years and years," Davidson said. "I used to come here a long time ago. I've always met a lot of good friends here. The intermission is not so long and they don't drag the track [between races]. It's just one race right after another, so you never get bored. It's a whole lot better brand of racing."

"It's fabulous. It's been very, very good," said Cropper, of Fenwick Island. "[June 23] was rained out, but the week before [June 16], when we had Modifieds and Late Models here, we almost had 4,000 people in the grandstands.

It took almost a year for Johnson and his work force to get the speedway into racing shape. The grandstands have been painted, broken spots fixed and weeds pulled. It will be a continual process.

But Johnson plans to ride it out. The sellout crowds have convinced him he did the right thing in leasing the property and re-opening the track.

"It's been tough with all of the paperwork and getting insurance straightened out. That was the worst problem," said Johnson, who has to have insurance coverage for the track; drivers have their own insurance. "The manual labor comes easy. Then, the racing is the easiest."

Upon entering the front gate at Georgetown, fans walk up a gradual slope to end up at Lawson's flagstand. Brightly colored sponsorship banners of Grotto Pizza, Hoosier tires and car dealers line the inside of the front straightaway, while Lawson's rainbow array of colored flags line his work area.

Johnson drives a grader around the half-mile of clay, smoothing the track surface to prepare it for a night of high-speed action. Rascal Flatts' "I Melt" plays over the public-address system as the clock approaches 6.

"This is the first time I've been back here in 20 years," said John Bailey, of Seaford, who was attending the race with his wife, Lori. "It looks like they've got everything painted up nice."

Meanwhile, down in the garage area, Laurel's Ryan Walls is getting antsy. He is ready to take his Crate Modified racer onto the track. He looks at the grandstands that are filling up quickly and shakes his head.

"They're so packed that there's hardly any place to sit," Walls said. "It's a little bit bigger and faster than Delmar. There's a little bit more room to race. It's good for us local guys."

"I wish it hadn't been closed for so long, and thank goodness that it's open now, and I hope it stays open," White said. "It's a good place to race, good for the fans, good for the drivers."

As the fans serenade their favorites, and jeer their not-so-favorites, four different drivers head home with trophies and checkered flags by the end of the night.

"It's better than it's ever been for years that I can remember," said Seaford driver Hal Browning. "It's kind of an old tradition. Everybody loves Georgetown."

"Georgetown Speedway is kind of like an institution," Baker said. "There are third and fourth and fifth generations that have attended and competed in the races here. Now, it's kind of like we can finally go home again."

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