Auto motive.

Author:Gray, Tim
Position:Mike Lamm, general manager of Southern National Speedway in North Carolina
 
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For the Lamms, the plan is to build the family business into the state's biggest chain of small racetracks.

On a Tuesday afternoon, three generations of Lamms can be found at Southern National Speedway, outside Kenly, an hour east of Raleigh. In his office, Mike Lamm holds forth on the racetrack's prospects, his face tinged red from the previous week's fishing trip to Chesapeake Bay. Photos of drivers and cars adorn the walls. On the floor of the coat closet, a jumbled box of trophies awaits future Saturday night stars. His older brother, Charlie, slips in to talk briefly about the coming weekend's race. Tan and lean, draped in a blue paisley-print shirt and baggy shorts, he looks more like a surfer than the mechanic and race-car driver he is.

Next door, Mike's wife, Missy, hunkers over her desk, phone tucked under her chin, rifling through papers with one hand, cupping a smoldering Virginia Slims in the other. Her mother-in-law, Bobbie, pores over the books and bills at her adjacent desk. Nicky, a tawny, gray-snouted mutt, sprawls on the hallway floor. Downstairs, on the hot blacktop surrounding the bleachers, Mike and Missy's kids - Joshua, 8, and Ches, 5 - play tag, chasing each other beneath the sign for Rockin' Bubba's Country Place, a joint just up the road in Lucama.

At first glance, Southern National - the "National" is a hopeful exaggeration, as most of the drivers come from within 100 miles - looks like any other backwoods oval in this racin' crazy state. Its nearest neighbors are cotton and tobacco fields. (The state's Tobacco Farm Life Museum is just a couple miles down the road.) Signs on the chain-link fence warn that the Lamms will tolerate "no fighting, no weapons, no profanity, no glass." (If Mike's daddy, Mack, had his way, they'd ban beer, too. But the teetotaler knows Budweiser is as much a part of the racing business as Goodyear and STP. He won't sell beer but lets fans bring it in their coolers.)

But look a little closer. Behind the 37-foot-high aluminum bleachers, atop a lattice of I-beams, loom 19 private suites. Granted, they're not posh. The decor - vinyl-covered bar stools and industrial carpet - is late mobile home. But plenty of regional tracks are lucky if they have functioning restrooms. And luxury boxes at those tracks, when they exist, are little more than fences, roofless enclosures of plywood and 2x4s, mainly for keeping the rowdies from falling over the families.

The Lamms have plenty of restrooms. Clean ones, even. "At a lot of tracks, you can miss a race while standing in line for the bathroom," Mike says. And their four-tenths of a mile track - just under a third the length of Charlotte Motor Speedway's - is a wide ripple-free oval of 7-inch deep asphalt, without the cracks and bumps that splay across many county speedways. Its steeply banked turns are reminiscent of Talladega.

For Mike Lamm, the general manager, racing is a business, not the expensive hobby it is for so many small-time speedway owners. Sure, Lamm, who turns 36 in January, loves the roar of 500-horsepower stock-car engines and feels the adrenaline when a car caroms off the wall. But he intends to make money at it, too. Good money. With the help of brother Charlie, 37, and daddy Mack, 63, he is out to assemble a chain of half a dozen tracks across the state.

Last January, he showed he's not just talk. The family bought Orange County Speedway, a ragtag oval near Rougemont, north of Durham. There, improvements...

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