Back in July 2008, Winston-Salem Journal columnist Tim Clodfelter wrote of a local demo shoot for a series then tentatively titled “Tobacco Road.” Wake Forest University grad Grant Kahler, along with fellow executive producers Tim Tracy and Aengus James, were taking a look inside the world of modified race car drivers at Winston-Salem’s historic Bowman Gray Stadium, one of the nation’s oldest and NASCAR’s first-ever certified race car tracks.
Kahler’s “Tobacco Road” isn’t just a dream or demo now. It premiered on The History Channel in early January, but don’t look for it under that name — “Tobacco Road” is now “Madhouse,” airing new episodes on Sundays at 10 p.m.
The show follows the lives of a select few racers, including folks from longtime racing families the Myerses and Millers. A mix of auto racing tech and real life struggle and rivalry, “Madhouse” could very well be a guilty pleasure for anyone looking to wrap up their weekends with a bit of learning and lots of laughs.
The History Channel compares the families’ rivalries to that of the Hatfields and McCoys. They write in a press release: “At the granddaddy of all NASCAR short tracks in the U.S., rivalries between racing families run deep and they run hot. Bowman Gray Stadium, the quarter-mile racetrack…locals call the ‘Madhouse,’ has a history going back to the moonshine-running days of the 1920s. Then, the cars were made fast in order to outrun the police. These days, the families race to win for family honor and to continue a longstanding 61-year feuding tradition. And because they are settling scores and family rivalries that go back generations, age-old feuds like the Hatfields & McCoys that have festered for years ramming, spin-outs, high-speed crashes and fistfights are what fans have come to expect on Saturday night at the ‘Madhouse.’”
Some race fans have said the show has set the sport back 20 years or more. Others say it is full of caricatures and makes a mockery of the dedication many racers put into winning. But, hey, I’m a Winston-Salem native and my family loved Bowman Gray racing. I’m not exaggerating when I say that any and all of the “caricatures” in “Madhouse” are almost true to the core and about 90 percent accurate.
So, maybe the show profiles some unsavory parts of the amateur side of NASCAR racing. Or, maybe the show plays up the “hickishness” of the rural Piedmont and Winston-Salem. But, come on now, how often do you get to see Tar Heel rednecks race cars, crash into each other and cuss up a storm on national TV?
I think I’ve found my favorite, Sunday night show for the the next few weeks. : :
This article was published in the Jan. 23 — Feb. 5 print edition.