As a youngster, Braselton native Graham Campbell regularly competed at the quarter midget track above Lanier Raceplex.
When he looked down at the high-banked, 3/8-mile oval, he longed for the opportunity to compete at the track which ended weekly racing in 2011. The 2019 one-day-only revival gave him that chance, but that's nothing compared to the opportunity INEX presented when it moved it's July mid-week slate to Lanier Raceplex. Campbell, and dozens of other Legends Car drivers finally get to compete for a series championship at Lanier.
"So many people that I know have always talked about racing here," Campbell said. "To be back racing here is something special. It's a great track, it's a great facility, it creates great racing.
"When I was up there racing [at the quarter-midget track], I'd always look down here and watch go-karts around the track and always wish they'd brought back what [the track] used to be about 10 years ago. It's special to be doing what we're doing now... I think it will open people’s eyes to what this place can be... I hope with new ownership, they start bringing some of that back."
Campbell has become an accomplished Legends Car driver since leaving the quarter-midget track a few years ago. He currently competes in the semi-pro division, regularly at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He won three races between June 10 and July 10, and he's raced near the front of the pack in each of the first two races in the Lanier Speedway INEX Racing Series.
His ascent up the INEX Legends Car ranks has also been swift. He competed in four races in the introductory chargers division back in 2019, winning twice and finishing no lower than fourth place. By August, he was competing for victories with the young lions. In fact, he nearly scored a victory In November of that year when legends cars first returned to Lanier Raceplex.
Legends cars served as the support races to the Pro-All Stars super late model series when it held a revival of the track. Campbell fought for the win in the young lions feature up until the checker flag, crossing the line third-place in a three-wide battle.
Campbell was obviously stoked about his performance that day, but he was even more excited by the fan turn out and the renewed hope that stock car racing would once again return to Lanier Raceplex.
"I had been racing the go-karts here for a while, just coming with some buddies," he said. "When I heard about the late models, legends and bandoleros, obviously I came... It was really cool, it was exciting to see everyone fill up the terraces. A lot of people remember this track and what it provided for everybody.
"I hope it becomes about what it was 10 years ago. I wasn't around racing then, but I've heard so many stories and seen videos about how great it was. It truly was awesome from my point of view. There were fans packed out for racing and that's what's in the place's roots."
Moving up from Legends Cars
Campbell is firmly entrenched in the grassroots level of stock car racing, but he has his sights on the pinnacle of the sport: NASCAR, and he's ready to climb the ladder to get there. That means rubbing elbows with some of the biggest names in late model racing.
He started racing pro late models last year, but his career really began to take off when his family race team purchased a late model from the most accomplished late model driver of this era: Bubba Pollard.
While Pollard upgraded to the new sixth generation late model, the car he sold the Campbell's is no slouch. Pollard nearly and probably should have drove the car to victory lane at the Snowflake 100 at Five Flags Speedway in December. Instead, the car was wrecked by rival Stephen Nasse on the final lap.
Speaking of Nasse. Campbell's first race in the car came in March at the Georgia Spring Nationals 100 at Watermelon Capital Speedway in Cordele. The car clearly still had speed as Campbell qualified fifth, but a field invert placed Campbell on the pole alongside Nasse.
Instead of making an enemy out of the Floridian in his first race, Campbell conceded the top position to Nasse early on. The Braselton native was running well until getting caught up in an accident just past halfway through the race. He finished 12th out of 15 drivers.
"It’s your first race in a late model and you look next to you and there’s Stephen Nasse," Campbell said. "It’s an eye-opener. It’s like ‘OK, we can’t make any mistakes here.’ He’s one of those people you don’t want to get upset. He got around me on the outside, I just gave him too much room. It’s intimidating, but also whenever you start to get that green flag, you’re not worried about any of that.”
Campbell called the wreck devastating, but he returned to Cordele a few weeks later. The result was another "did not finish," though you can hardly blame him:
"The two drivers in front of me were not very happy with each other and started beating and banging trying to take each other out. They ended up doing that and I was just there, a part of something that didn’t have anything to do with me. That ended up hurting me and my day so we had to park the car.”
His fledgling late model career hasn't produced much on track success thus far, but he acknowledges the value of the experience he's gained by surrounding himself with short track superstars. Campbell says patience is the biggest quality he's learned.
"You can look at any late model driver, like Bubba Pollard, he always has patience," Campbell said. "It doesn’t matter where he qualifies, he’s always going to be smart about what he does. If it works out right, he’s going to be up there. I think patience is a huge part of it.”
However, some of his most valuable late model knowledge has come from his time racing legends cars which are known for being extremely difficult to drive. Campbell even believes they're harder to drive than pro late models.
"Definitely different from a legend car," Campbell said of his late model. "The legends car has such a short wheelbase and they're really difficult to drive. You get into a late model with a ton of more power and they seem easier to drive than a legend car. If you can drive a legend car, you can drive pretty much anything involved in racing. They're so difficult to drive and so difficult to get good at. But once you do, you bring that into your next level of racing, no matter what it is."
"Handling, control of the car. You understand so much more about how a car feels when it's doing something. If it's tight or loose, you understand how that's going to feel and what that's going to do to the car and how it’s going to upset it.”
While his goal is to race in NASCAR, Campbell hasn't taken the "NASCAR or bust" approach to his racing career. On the contrary, he can see himself as the next Pollard, Nasse, or Ty Majeski; a short track ace racing in the biggest late model events.
“I have the dream of making it to NASCAR, but I know I won’t have as much fun as what I’m doing here in grassroots racing," he said. "Even if that doesn’t work out, I’m still going to be doing the local short track stuff. There’s nothing quite like it.”
Giving back to local racing
If there's one thing to take away from hearing Campbell talk about racing, it's his love for the grassroots level, it's not just a stepping stone or a plan B for him. He wants to see grassroots racing thrive, especially in Georgia; starting with the youngsters at the quarter-midget track he had so much success at just a few years ago. He's returned to the short oval a few times, in March he manned the flag stand during a race.
“I like to talk to the younger kids at the quarter-midget track," Campbell said. "A lot of people like myself, when I was getting out of them, I just didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what the next step was.
"I’d like to help them get a bridge to what could be next and what’s possible with the bandolero cars or the legends cars. I think Legends cars are a great stepping stone. Once you’re good in those cars, you can be good in just about everything.”
Beyond the quarter-midget track and Lanier Raceplex Campbell has high hopes for Gresham Motorsports Park in Jefferson.
“In the future, I think Gresham [Motorsports Park] is going to be a great place to go to," he said. "Cordele, Lanier and Gresham are all right here in Georgia, if we can get those tracks running again, how they once were, I think we have a hub of racing right here in Georgia."
Campbell slides back into his legends car Wednesday, July 28 for round three of the Lanier Speedway INEX Racing Series. The Lanier series ends a day later on Thursday, July 29.
His next pro late model race is August 14 for the Georgia Summer Nationals in Cordele.