Just off Highway 49 is a small facility that features a tight quarter mile track. On the track and in the pits are a variety of cars and a community that shares a love and thrill for racing. Racing, almost like a family heirloom, is instinctively passed down from generation to generation of drivers.
The Hattiesburg Speedway opened in 1978, and current owners Ronald and Kellie Parker have owned the track for five seasons.
Racers age from 16 to 73 travel from Arkansas, Texas, Florida, Alabama, Louisiana and throughout Mississippi to compete in the Hattiesburg Speedway’s 7th annual Curtis Burns race on Sept. 21.
The Hattiesburg Speedway features five classes of racing: outlaw street stocks, pure streets class, modified class and the nationally sanctioned classes, Durrence Layne Street Stocks and the Crate Late Model. The race season begins in March and typically ends in September, with total points earned deciding the season champion.
Ron Southern, the Hattiesburg Speedway chaplain and announcer, found his love for the sport while growing up in Pennsylvania. After transferring to Hattiesburg because of his service in the military, Southern raced but fell into being the Speedway’s chaplain.
Soon after becoming the chaplain, the Speedway’s announcer failed to make a race, which led to Southern being asked to do the job he has done for three years now. Southern explained that the racing community is a family.
“Where there’s needs we step up and help each other,” Southern said. “A lot of these families have been running through different generations.”
A reflection of the community is shown through 2018 national champion of Durrence Layne Street Stock Ricky Idom. Idom’s son also won the same title in years prior. Idom explained how he got into racing and also what it meant to him to win a championship like his son.
“I’ve been driving for 42 years,” Idom said. [I got into it through] family. My grandpa did it, my dad did it, I’m doing it [and] my son’s doing it. “It means a lot to me, I’m getting on up in my age, considering racing, and it just tickled me to be able to win this national championship. My son won it in 2014, it was nice for two of us in the same family to win the national championship.”
Like Idom, Louisiana native Alan Natherland had a similar upbringing with his racing career beginning with his father.
“I started racing in 1979,” Natherland said. “My daddy started running me in racing when I was 14 years old to keep off from the street racing. Kind of kept me away from the law. I like driving. It doesn’t matter. I go to the races and drive when the doctors tell me I’m supposed to be at home in bed.”
For many, racing, or better known as running, is a respected tradition passed down. For many it has been away to stay off out of trouble and to also be a part of a community that not only shares a camaraderie with each other but also a community that supports each other.
“What I’d really like to see is more younger people get involved in it, because it kept me out of trouble, it kept my son out of trouble,” Idom said. “I knew where he was at every Friday night. He was at a race track with us. I hope I do, I hope I can get somebody.”
“Dirt track racing is a family, where you will become the strongest of contenders on that track, but once you get off that track you become the best of friends once again,” Southern said. “Usually what happens in dirt track racing is if one of your competitors has some issues it’s not uncommon to see a bunch of other teams go over there, pitch in and try and get their car fixed and back on the track, so that they can compete against each other again.”
The Hattiesburg Speedway will host one final race this fall that will feature all classes racing and include the USCS Sprint cars on Friday, Oct. 19.