As football season gears up, racing season at East Alabama Motor Speedway (EAMS) is coming to a close, but there is still time to catch a few more thrills at the track this fall.
Located on Highway 80 about 10 miles west of downtown Phenix City, EAMS was built by Jimmy Thomas in 1971, birthing a family business that is now into its fourth generation.
“My dad was always involved in racing,” said EAMS President Billy Thomas. “He wanted to build the perfect racetrack; taking all the best ideas from all the tracks he’d ever been to across the country and incorporate them into one.”
And it worked. The track is so good it has even been dubbed the “Daytona of Dirt.”
Although Thomas took over running the track when his father died in 1980, racing cars is his first love. “When my dad was building a race track, I was building me a race car,” he recalled. From Soap Box to ARCA, Thomas has raced and won at all levels.
The garage at the track is a testament to that. Overflowing with framed newspaper clippings, trophies, and giant replica checks, the space is a shrine to the racing successes the Thomas family has enjoyed. His son, William, is a two-time national champion, and his grandson has also begun to get in on the action.
William, like Billy, will follow in his father’s footsteps, striking a balance between racing and ownership. “He and his wife, Alexis, are very instrumental in the running of the speedway,” Thomas said. “It takes a team. No one person can do it.”
Getting the track itself ready for racing is a pretty intense process. It is graded, watered all day long with 100,000 gallons of water, and then packed down.
EAMS hosts 30 nights of racing per season, which runs from April through September. The 38th Annual Alabama State Championships take place this Thursday through Sunday (Sept. 22-25) and they’ll have one more special event in November, the 42nd Annual National 100, to round out the year. In addition to stock car racing, the track also hosts monster truck shows, demolition derbies, and national touring series events.
When he’s not running the track, Thomas gets together with other owners from across the country to share ideas and information. “We all get together about three times a year to exchange ideas and teach new promoters the dos and don’ts of the business and how to be more successful,” he said. “We all have a mutual respect for each other and try to work together the best we can.”
For the uninitiated, Thomas assures that racing rules are pretty easy to pick up, and there is an announcer and a scoreboard to keep the crowd informed. Plus, racing fans are very friendly; don’t be afraid to ask someone in the stands to clue you in about what you’re seeing.
“As far as an outdoor sporting event, I don’t think there’s anything more exciting than dirt track racing,” he said. “There’s a lot of dirt tracks around so just find one close to you and go to the event. When they crank up those cars and drop that green flag, the excitement is something else.”