TIOGA, Texas — When a man enjoys a lengthy career in short track racing, it can be hard to go full-on Cold Turkey from the sport. Some stay involved as a team owner, letting younger men take the reigns. Yet for others, the rising popularity of Vintage racing gives them a chance to stay behind the wheel.
For 66-year-old retired race car driver Marc Madison, working with and running in the Red River Vintage Oval (RRVO) group is a blast. It keeps him connected to a sport in which he won 200 races.
“I started racing back in 1975 driving a Figure 8 car,” Madison said. “The restored 1955 Chevrolet I run now on the RRVO tour is actually the car I won a championship with at Grand Prairie in 1979. A friend of mine found it in a junkyard. After my Figure 8 days, I went on to drive a Modified.
“Back in the early 1980s, Modifieds weren't like your modern IMCA or USRA cars. They were more of a center-steering, full-frame narrow car, but they eventually evolved into the wide-bodied machines you see up north. We ran those through the 1980s, and had some decent success with them.”
Over the years, Madison has driven just about every kind of car you can imagine.
“After I sold the Modified, we went Sprint car racing in 1983 out at Devil's Bowl Speedway,” he said. “Back then, we all ran World of Outlaw-style open motors. My car had a Donovan aluminum-head 410cc small-block engine. It was an early-1980s J&J Chassis, just a great car.”
Madison's career behind the wheel has taken him all over the country, producing countless memories.
“In 1989, I stepped away from short track racing to try my hand on the big tracks,” he explained. “I raced in the old NASCAR Sportsman division back in 1991 and 1992. The first car I had was a 1983 Buick LeSabre that was originally a Winston Cup car in Kenny Bernstein's Quaker State team.
“We went to the Charlotte Motor Speedway, Myrtle Beach, Rockingham, and even went up to a race
in Richmond, Virginia. It was a good class, but as it hit full stride, they introduced the Truck series. That spelled the beginning of the end for Sportsman racing. A few bad accidents hurt it, as well.”
Once he headed back home to race, Madison soon found himself with another golden opportunity.
“I came home to run Sprint cars again in 1994,” he said. “But in 1995, I had the chance to go run in the NASCAR Busch Series. We had a shop in Mooresville, N.C., that belonged to Harry Hyde's nephew. I got my setups from Harry. I was blessed to have a some great opportunities and experiences like that.”
Many of us who work inside the sport can say that racing has provided unique opportunities away from the track. For Madison, that is an understatement. It took him from the garage area, to our TV screens. Madison also works as an extra in film, including Taylor Sheridan's red-hot 'Yellowstone' series.
“That all came from being involved in racing,” he explained. “I was in Charlotte, North Carolina, in the early 1990s when they were filming Days of Thunder. They went around to the shops and were asking crew members if they wanted to work as extras. So I went out there and did it, just for the fun.
“When I got back home in 1996, I wondered if that type of work was available here in Texas. I found a man named Andre, owner of Legacy Casting. I hooked up with him and have been with him ever since. He gets me all these cool gigs I've had lately. Now we're filming Taylor Sheridan's upcoming series, 'Bass Reeves,' based on America's first Black U.S. Marshall. It's an amazing story of perseverance.”
Madison says being an Extra on the set of these shows is demanding, yet incredibly rewarding as well.
“Things are always fluid and subject to change in the film industry,” he said. “We may get 48 hours notice that they're filming and need us. I still work two days a week at local NAPA store, but I do get called fairly often and go when I can. It can be dirty, tedious work, but it's a blast to be on the set.”
Not many short track racers can say they've been part of one of the television industry's biggest shows. The 'Yellowstone' phenomenon and its associated spin-offs (1883, 1923, 6666, and now, 'Bass Reeves') has taken the industry by storm. To be associated with it, much less IN it, is the chance of a lifetime.
“I'm sure I won't ever be in anything bigger, but at first I didn't realize just how big it was,” Madison admitted. “I was telling a friend about it when I first got the call, and he about flipped out. I could tell by his reaction that 'Yellowstone' was a way bigger deal than I realized. Sheridan hit a home run there.”
Yet back in his world of vintage racing, Madison is gearing up for a busy year of Exhibition racing.
“We get to show our cars and them roll out onto the track for some fast laps,” he explained. “In fact, my Grandson has an App on my phone I've carried that records speed based on GPS movements. I've hit 90 mph in that old car; now the kid wants me to hit 100. I'm not sure I need to go that fast, though.
“But in all honesty, it's about showing the history of our sport to younger fans. A lot of these kids don't know the rich history our sport has here in Texas. I love to see their faces as they check out our cars and here our stories. We want to ensure the great drivers and cars of our sport's past are never forgotten.”
It's refreshing to see the effort and level of participation going into Vintage racing. In Maine, it's the Wicked Good Vintage Racers carrying the torch. In North Texas and southern Oklahoma, Madison and the boys from the Red River Vintage Ovals are keeping the ball rolling. It's priceless.
“We're just out there having fun and preserving short track racing's rich history. It's our passion.”
By Phil Whipple, RaceOnTexas.com Staff Writer
Photo submitted by Marc Madison