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Bond money to use for improvements should make experience better for WSSU and racing fans at Bowman Gray Stadium

Bond money to use for improvements should make experience better for WSSU and racing fans at Bowman Gray Stadium

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Bowman Gray racing

Jackson Murphy, 11, of Clemmons waves a checkered flag as he watches the Stadium Stock race, Saturday, June 1 at Bowman Gray Stadium.

A casual walk around Bowman Gray Stadium and it’s not hard to notice there are plenty of improvements that need to be made.

From the dilapidated restrooms to the lack of air-conditioning where concessions are sold, the stadium, which first opened in 1937, is in need of updates. Coming at the right time is $9 million in bond money that has been ear-marked by the city of Winston-Salem to upgrade the dual facility.

The upside of the project — which will be in several phases over the next three years — is it will benefit the Winston-Salem State football fans and the die-hard racing fans that pack the stadium during the summer months.

The plan, that was unveiled by the city in conjunction with WSSU and Bowman Gray Stadium racing last November, calls for plenty of upgrades that include adding new restrooms, a better Wi-Fi system and enhanced seating with parking improvements and more landscaping in and around the stadium.

George Knox, the interim athletics director at WSSU, says he would like to see the stadium become more of a home field. He’s hoping for more signage and more Rams’ red spread throughout the stadium that can seat around 13,500.

Bowman Gray Racing Fan Story

Brandon Sanchez, 6, watches the Modified race Saturday at Bowman Gray Stadium.

“I think renovations to the bathrooms will go a long way to making it more fan friendly and that is at the top of the list,” Knox said. “And I think the other thing is the Wi-Fi because a lot of our fans are checking scores of other games and being engaged on social media through their phones. I think having that good Wi-Fi will benefit both us and the racing fans.”

Gray Garrison, who is the promoter of Bowman Gray Stadium’s racing, says at the top of his wish list is enhanced Wi-Fi.

The stadium has started its 71st season of racing.

“I think the big thing we are going to be looking for is keeping up with today’s technology,” Garrison said. “With having Wi-Fi everywhere fans expect to have it here at the stadium and everybody wants to be connected. And I think that’s going to be a big thing for us as we get that next generation of fans to come to our racing.”

Bowman Gray Stadium racing on Saturday nights is not stream lived, but Garrison and NASCAR are working together to possibly have some of the races on live stream.

“We’re actually in negotiations with NASCAR because they have a new live-streaming format,” Garrison said.

August 11 Bowman Gray Racing

Sportsman driver Justin Taylor celebrates with the crowd after winning the first 20-lap Sportsman race Saturday, Aug. 11, 2018, at Bowman Gray Stadium.

Garrison, however, says racing isn’t as cut and dry on live stream compared to other sports where the action is focused on one area.

“In racing things are happening all over the track so it’s kind of difficult with the live stream,” Garrison said. “And we think seeing our product live and in person is the best way to go.”

Rick Anderson, who first started going to the stadium with his father when he was 10 years old, has been a loyal follower. For the last 13 years Rick and his wife, Terry, have been regulars.

He would like to see more technology with the video scoreboard during races and qualifying.

“I would love to see the video board show more replays during cautions,” said Anderson, who is the varsity girls basketball coach at Mount Tabor. “The press box seems really outdated.”

As for the better signage throughout the stadium there are plans for the promotion of both WSSU and racing with options to have easy changes to new signs depending on the season.

Bowman Gray Racing Fan Story

Track officials tend to Sportsman driver Michael Adams in turn one of the first 20-lap Sportsman race Saturday, June 2, 2018, at Bowman Gray Stadium.

While Knox said the improvements for fans are necessary he’s also looking at the safety of the WSSU football players. Over the years the grass field has eroded and there is a severe crown in the middle of it.

Part of the long-range plan is to resurface the field with a better quality of grass as well as upgrading the asphalt quarter-mile track that surrounds the field.

“I just think that the entire stadium would look better with an improved field and that’s part of the plan is to get that resurfaced,” Knox said.

The $9 million toward the project comes from the limited obligations bonds, which is a type of funding that does not have to be put in front of voters.

The project, however, does have to be approved by the city council.

Ben Rowe, the assistant city manager, said the next step is to take bids from architects to design the project.

“We have to do most of the work between November and March because of the football games in the fall and the racing in the summer,” Rowe said.

WSSU has a lease with the city through 2037, and the plans to build an on-campus 6,000-seat stadium have been put on hold, according to Chancellor Elwood Robinson of WSSU.

“While there is a 6,000-seat stadium in our 20-year master plan, the university has hundreds of millions of dollars of other construction and improvement projects that would take priority over any effort to build a football stadium on campus,” the school said in a statement after the announcement was made about the upgrades that are planned. “WSSU does not envision constructing a stadium before the conclusion of our lease agreement.”

The WSSU football team has played at Bowman Gray Stadium since 1956 and Robinson said last November that he likes that the city is investing in the stadium.

“The city had not made the kind of investments I thought they should have made,” Robinson said in November.

Winston-Salem State Livingstone Homecoming

Winston-Salem State junior running back Roosevelt Appleton prior to WSSU's homecoming football game against Livingstone on Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018, at Bowman Gray Stadium.

But now WSSU fans and auto racing fans can reap the benefits of an improved experience.

“The city is going to have great communication with us and with Winston-Salem State and what both of our needs are to have the best fan experience that we can have,” Garrison said. “Realistically, we are going to have many of the same needs. Winston-Salem State’s fans at football games want to enjoy the stadium and our fans want to enjoy it as well.”

jdell@wsjournal.com (336) 727-4081 @johndellWSJ

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