When Dickie Gore talks about his family, he’ also talking about his co-workers. And when he jokes about his so-called office, he’s referring to the golf cart he motors around Old Dominion Speedway.
In an era of frequent change of ownership for NASCAR tracks across America, the 3/8-mile oval just outside Manassas city limits has stability and a certain charm. The cars run on time, allowing families to attend races without keeping the kids up too late. Meanwhile, Dickie’s own children and grandchildren are around for a virtual family reunion each summer weekend. At ODS, the Gores do a little of everything, including selling popcorn and tickets.
Dickie Gore, now 59, owns and operates the same track that his father, Al Gore, purchased 50 years ago. “From the time my dad bought the track, I’ve worked here,” Dickie said. “At the very beginning, I’d be cutting grass and picking up trash I’ve done it all. The rest of the family is the same way. When there’s something to be done, all of us pitch in to get it done.”
Since he first took over as the track’s promoter as a 21-year-old, Gore’s red hair has grown white but he’s still able to relax. At the start of a work day earlier this week, he was sporting a Panama Jack hat and whisking around the track on his golf cart.
The speedway has surely become the family business, with Dickie’s two sons and one daughter also on board, but he’s not overly concerned with the next half-century of ODS just yet.
“My kids are involved, but it all depends on what they want to do,” he said when asked if the track will remain in the family. “The older I get, the more I kind of live day by day. I plan out my whole year, but if there’s something I really want to do, I do it.”
An 11-handicap golfer, Dickie’s perhaps most proud of getting his father started in golf. When Al Gore was in charge of the track, he would tease his son for playing too much golf. But now at age 84, just eight years after Dickie finally was able to introduce him to the game, Al has come within eight strokes of shooting his age.
“He never hit a golf ball until he was 76 and I bought him clubs,” Dickie said of his father. “He says the good Lord owes everyone at least 30 years of good golf, so he should live to be 106.”
Al Gore now lives in Warrenton. Margaret Al’s wife and the mother of race-track managers Dickie and Gary, as well as Lanny and Bobby Gore died in 1992. “Mom did everything for us,” Dickie said. “She was a great little lady. She was 5-foot-1 with bright red hair and just as feisty as the day was long.”
The way some kids inherit farms, the Gores have inherited racetracks. Dickie’s brother Gary, eight years his junior, runs a drag strip/raceway at Eastside Speedway in Waynesboro. The two of them have a combination effort, involving many of their employees, at the New London Dragway in Lynchburg.
To maintain the track in Manassas for 50 years, the Gores have had to try their best to change with the times. Not only was ODS the first track with a drag strip on the East Coast, but the Gores also fully supported the arrival of Late Model Stocks in 1979. Today the Late Models, the fastest-growing division in NASCAR, normally close out the show at ODS.
“Everybody’s that’s anybody in NASCAR or NHRA has come through here,” Dickie Gore said. “I would give you a bunch of names, but most of them are people that a lot of fans now wouldn’t know. But they really made the sport what it is today.”
Richard Petty earned two of his record 200 Grand National/Winston Cup wins at ODS. Bobby Allison, Bill France Sr., Bill France Jr., David Pearson, Lee Petty, Morgan Shepherd and Darrell Waltrip are among the other big-name drivers and officials who stopped in Manassas.
While those names have changed, many of the employees have remained the same. Ricky Gore, one of Dickie’s sons, serves as NASCAR pit steward and drives the pace car for many races, while his brother, Scott, works as race director and also races in champ karts. Their sister, Jody Kivett, travels from Prince Frederick, Md., each weekend to work as concessions/ticket office manager. Jody’s son, 10-year-old Tyler, is already making a name for himself as a go-kart racer at ODS.
“I guess it has its good times and its bad,” Jody said of growing up in a family that ran a racetrack. “My dad worked a lot of long hours. But during the summer, we were fortunate he could take us with him a lot of places. Now we’re fortunate because we have our own families and we get to see each other every week.”
Jody works at a doctor’s office during the week. Ricky Gore, meanwhile, works for Giant Fodd and lives in the city of Manassas. He drag raced for 14 years at ODS and plans to make a life out of working at the track. “It’s been enjoyable. I don’t know what I’d do if we weren’t here,” he said. “I’m sure I’d find something, but it definitely wouldn’t be as much fun.”
Dickie’s children and their children aren’t the only family members involved. His cousin, Mary Lou, works as NASCAR chief steward, while her daughter, Marie, also does odd jobs at the track. The employees who aren’t Gores probably feel like Gores by now, as the list of longstanding ODS workers includes Wanda and Terry Dickey, Eric Stewart, Larry Payne, Billy McCord, Doris Easom, Edwin Pardue and Dave Menefee.
“We have so many people who have been here forever that I know I’m leaving someone out,” Dickie Gore said. “I’ve got people who have been here 35 years and they’re like family. We all think we’re one big family.”
FROM THE MOUNTAIN TOP
The same sense of family goes for the regular drivers. Late Model competitor Mike Darne’s parents, former driver Bobby Darne and Barbara Darne, live at Bryce Mountain on a lot adjacent to the Gores. The Darnes already had a home there before Dickie and his wife, Pat, moved next door in 1987. Pat, a retired systems analyst, also put in her share of hours at ODS.
“Dick and Pat, they’re real close friends with my parents. And Scotty was the best man at my wedding,” Mike Darne said.
Darne and Scott Gore were roommates when they were first getting started on their own. “It’s an extended family to say the least,” Scott Gore said. “At my job [with Battlefield Ford], there’s one stock-car racer, one go-kart racer and one drag racer. The track keeps our family close-knit. I’m sure whenever my child [two-month old daughter Kylie] gets old enough, she’ll be part of it too.”
Despite the deep-rooted connections with Darne and other racers, that doesn’t mean the Gores play favorites on race day. Rules are rules, and Mike even lost a points race one year because of a decision from his own father, who worked for Dickie for 15 years.
In a joking mood, Mike Darne said, “I think they’re harder on me than they are on anybody.
“Really, though, it’s tough, we’re friends away from the track and we don’t always agree with everything they do and they don’t agree with everything you do. One thing our families have done is forget about all that stuff off the track. It’s a business to them and it’s a business to us.”
Mike Darne, whose brother Steve formerly competed at ODS, has been racing at the track since 1991. One of the ODS philosophies he appreciates most is their timeliness. At some tracks across the region, it can take until 1 or 2 in the morning to end the last race.
“They definitely have got enough experience on how to get the show done in a timely manner,” Darne said. “That’s one of their big pluses everybody talks about. I’d say on average, we’re out of there at least by 10:30.”
That allows for Mike and Cindy Darne’s four-year old daughter, Brittney, to see the races and get to bed at a decent hour. “And especially if I have a good night, it’s good to get out there and be able to celebrate,” Darne said.
While the racers celebrate or commiserate, the Gore family gets ready to run the whole show again the next week. During the week, Dickie and Pat, now married for 37 years, enjoy their mountain chalet. But Dickie also makes it to the track throughout the week and frequently sleeps in a two-bedroom apartment carved into the track. He, like many of his customers, has his own spot at the track.
As eighth-year Late Model driver Mike Southard succinctly put it, “When you talk about a family atmosphere, that’s the place.”