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Friday, April 19, 2024

Roll race hits Gainesville Raceway track for the first time

Gainesville Raceway hosts race and practice

<p>Michael Fair, 31, explains the engine of his Buick Skylark at the Gainesville Raceway on Saturday, July 15, 2023. <br/><br/></p>

Michael Fair, 31, explains the engine of his Buick Skylark at the Gainesville Raceway on Saturday, July 15, 2023.

As a black BMW M Series and a neon blue Rolls-Royce Cullinan were driven up to the starting line, quiet fell on the race's audience. Engines revving broke the silence in a burnout to get better grip on the track. 

Once the green light glowed, the cars flew past with nothing but smoke trailing behind.

Gainesville Raceway has hosted drag race competitions and events since 1970, but July 15 marked the first time the track hosted a roll race event.

Drag racing consists of competing cars starting from zero and pushing their car to their fastest speed in the standard distance of a quarter mile. Roll racing has similar standards but instead of starting from a standstill the cars will start at an average speed of 30 mph. Once they see the light flash green, racers will step on the gas and race to the end of the track. 

Derek Putnam, a track announcer, has raced at Gainesville Raceway since 1994 and has worked with the raceway to bring different events to Gainesville. 

“They’re really trying to bring a different vibe to the racetrack where we’re not just going away from what we’ve been doing,” Putnam said.

Not only is Gainesville Raceway trying new things while sticking to its roots, but the racers themselves have navigated a changing community with revolving college kids and people losing interest in the past few years.

Racers have noticed a dip in participation in the sport as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and changing interests.

However, many racers still love the ability to customize their own vehicles. Whether they build their car from the ground up, attend car shows or modify their first Camry, local car lovers are sticking with the sport they’ve always loved.

Michael Fair, the 31-year-old manager of Rollins Automotive Inc., was introduced to his love for cars by his grandfather and brother. It led him to enter the automotive industry, work on his own car and compete in drag racing.

Fair can be identified by his bright yellow Buick Skylark 1971 and his love for the community and the sport. 

“All the car people usually know each other, and if you don’t know each other, you know the car,” Fair said. “You kind of look out for each other … it’s more or less like family.” 

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Nicholas Garrett, an Alachua County Public Works employee, has worked with Gainesville Speedway for almost a year. Garrett has competed and worked on cars since he was 10 years old.

His favorite things about racing include learning how things work, being able to control that much power, seeing what it can do and seeing your creation perform the way you want it to, Garrett said.

Their shared love and passion connects all these racers together is their shared love and passion for both the sport and the cars themselves. Many racers identified a dip in participation and interest within the past few years but are hoping for a comeback with events such as roll racing being introduced at Gainesville Raceway.

Participants in local races do so out of a passion for the sport due to the large amount of time and money it requires.

Cory Deemer, operations and facilities supervisor of Gainesville Raceway, wished new events such as the roll racing one were better attended but appreciates the people who show up.

“Everyone that’s here loves it,” Deemer said. “They’re excited that we’re trying something different … it’s just trying to find new, young racers just to keep it going.”

Racers and organizers hope that once the summer ends and word gets out, there will be a jump in participation. No matter what happens, the passionate fans will continue to show up, have a good time and strive to achieve that adrenaline rush most of them crave.  

Contact Emma Parker at Follow her on Twitter @emmaparkerg.

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Emma Parker

Emma Parker is a first-year journalism student. She is the metro desk news assistant. When she is not writing, she is reading a book or listening to Indie music.

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