By Jake Winfrey
The Cullman Times
When Heather Nelson was approached by her husband, Anthony, back in January about the possibility of taking on a unique challenge, the former chalked it up to being another one of her spouse’s crazy ideas.
Four months later, however, the idea that once seemed like a longshot has now become the newest adventure for the Nelson family, as they prepare to reopen the River Valley Speedway in Arkadelphia for the first time since 2010.
“I didn’t know what my husband was thinking when he first brought it up,” Heather said. “I really didn’t take him seriously at the time. I thought he’d forget about it. But here we are, ready to open up. I didn’t know if I’d see this day.”
The Nelsons recently leased the dirt track and surrounding property from owners Wayne and Ruth Cates, who ran the track until 2010 before pursuing other career ventures.
Anthony said he’s hoping to bring back what used to be “a good show for families.”
“I just thought it be a good thing,” he said. “We thought we could do what used to be done. We aren’t here to make a living. We just want to provide entertainment and family enjoyment. It’s something for people to do on Saturday night.”
The track will officially begin its relaunch this upcoming Saturday, when the new management will host a practice session for any and all drivers, as well as take the opportunity to introduce themselves to the racing community. Gates will open at 11:30 a.m. followed shortly by racing at 1 p.m.
“There are a lot of locals and track veterans that take this seriously,” Heather said. “We want to get to know everyone. We’ve already had so many people come up to us while we’ve been preparing to get the track ready. People have been asking when we are going to open. You can tell it’s really popular.”
From there, the plan is to hold a race once every other Saturday beginning June 1. Each evening will consist of one race for each class. According to the Nelsons, they expect to play host to seven different classes, including late model stock, outlaw street and open wheel vehicles, among others. The fee for one race and pit access will start out at $25.
Despite the newfound excitement, prepping for the grand reopening hasn’t always been sunshine and rainbows.
“When we started out here, we had small trees growing in the infield of the track,” Heather said. “Everywhere else, we had 4-foot high grass to wade through. We’ve killed about 14 snakes, and the rain hasn’t helped us, either.”
However, numerous hours of cutting grass, hauling dirt and hard work have all but gotten the track in prime shape.
“I’d have to say we’ve come a long way since February,” Heather said. “We’ve gotten a lot of help from our kids and from the owners. It’s still a process, though.”
% Jake Winfrey can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 136 or firstname.lastname@example.org.