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The Man in The Tower

Lynn Carroll has been part of the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 for decades

Andy Marquis | STS

Over the years, the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 has undergone plenty of change, from formats to the appearance of the track to the title of the race, but one constant has been Lynn Carroll.

Carroll, 70, from Salem, Virginia, is a former racer himself – having competed at several Southwestern Virginia short tracks and even making a NASCAR Cup Series start at Bristol, finishing 14th, before eventually running out of funds to race and working at the track instead.  He has since become one of the most recognizable figures in Late Model Stock Car racing and something of an institution at the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 – the discipline’s biggest and most prestigious annual event.

“I started racing at Starkey Speedway, first started at Rural Retreat on dirt, oh gosh, that was probably in the early 70s,” Carroll told Short Track Scene.  “Then we ran over at Starkey on the paved track, then we started running Franklin County in the hobby class and moved up to what was the Busch Series and ran a few races there.  We just ran out of money.  Ran one Cup race at Bristol in 77 and started 21st and finished 14th.  Then, after that, we just didn’t have any money so we got out of it.”

From there, Carroll began working for the late Bobby Scruggs, a longtime NASCAR official who passed away in 2005 and eventually worked for NASCAR as the director of the Weekly Series until 2013.

“I began working with Bobby Scruggs, that’s when I started doing that,” Carroll continued.  “I did that for a long time, then I went to work for NASCAR from 2008-2013 as director of the Weekly Series.  I did enjoy doing it, it was just so much travel.  I was gone every weekend.  You never knew where you were going to be and if you were going to get home.”

Carroll began working Late Model races at Martinsville Speedway in the early-1980s along with Scruggs and Tom Bradshaw.  Since then, Carroll has become synonymous with the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 as the event’s director, along with Shayne Laws, who began working the event in 1993.

“I started working it in about 1980 with Tom Bradshaw and Bobby Scruggs and that bunch,” Carroll recalled.  “Then I began running the show I guess in 1990-90, somewhere along there, and I guess I’ve run it ever since.  Shayne Laws, I can’t remember exactly when he came.  He was working and he wasn’t on the list, he was with the guy working from Langley and he was looking at cars and I said, ‘who the hell are you?’ Then, he said, ‘I’m your free help for the weekend’ so that’s how we really met.  After that, he started working the race.”

Since then, Laws has become entrenched in the event as well.

“I had just started in 1993, that was my first year as an official and I knew I wanted to work that big race so I asked Butch Lassiter and Kenny Lee if I could sleep on their hotel room floor and that’s where I slept,” Laws stated.  “Exactly what Lynn said, that’s how it started.”

This weekend, Laws will wear many hats throughout the event, as will Carroll.

“I’ve gone from working from the bottom to going to the tower with Lynn,” Laws explained.  “I’ve been everything from the check out the tools and load up the trailer to heading up inspection to moving to the tower.  Any job’s I’ve got is okay.  This coming weekend, early on Friday, I’ll be parking haulers, then I’ll be running the tech line, then I’ll go to the tower and run practice.  I don’t care what I’m doing, as long as I’m there, with Lynn.”

Carroll has seen plenty of highs and lows over the four decades he has been a part of Late Model Stock Car racing at Martinsville Speedway, which has been won by names such as Mark Martin, Mike Skinner, Phil Warren, Timothy Peters, Dennis Setzer, Robert Powell, Dexter Canipe, Philip Morris, Lee Pulliam, Josh Berry, and most recently, Landon Pembleton, among a long list of others.

“The highs of the job are, it’s the challenge to get everything done with all the cars that you have and get a good show in for everything to go good and not have any issues or disqualifications,” Carroll explained.  “The lows of it are when you have bad weather or issues with cars or issues on the track, that’s not very much fun.  It’s always controversy.  But that’s about it.  Our main goal is to get everything going good and have a good show for Clay and them.”

A decades-long tenure has resulted in Carroll facing increased scrutiny in recent years – especially on often hyperbolic social media platforms.  A good chunk of that scrutiny came in 2018 when Carroll deviated from the NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series rulebook to ‘make the competition more equal.’  Prior to race weekend, an open test session had been scheduled but was scrapped when Hurricane Florence threatened to unleash catastrophic impacts across the region – before ultimately delivering a historic flood event in Eastern North Carolina.  The result was the rules package not being tested before race weekend and having to be altered throughout the course of the event.

“One thing I would probably take back is us trying to change the rules to make the competition more equal,” Carroll said.  “We caught a lot of flak for that and should’ve just left it the way it was in the rulebook.  You look at the book and you don’t bring a knife to a gunfight, you look at the rulebook and say, ‘this is the best car to take to Martinsville,’ and that’s what you do.”

As of Monday evening, the 2022 installment of the autumn classic at Martinsville Speedway had 83 cars entered and more expected.  While down from the days of 100+ cars attempting to make the field, there has been a substantial increase in both post-pandemic races despite an ongoing tire shortage.

Carroll believes the tire shortage and the limits the track and Hoosier have had to impose on racers have helped grow the event in the past couple of years.

“I was surprised at the car count,” Carroll elaborated.  “The entry list is up this year.  We had 70-something last year.  The tires are helping a little bit because we’ve got to limit tires and I think a lot of competitors like that.  The people who don’t have the money like that because they feel like they’re on an equal playing field and not competing with people with a lot of money who can buy a lot of tires and stuff.”

As a result of the 2018 race, the format also changed to create a more organic race.  Entering this year’s race, the format has been tweaked again, changing the final stage to a 25 lap sprint to the end, which is similar to the format utilized in 2016 when Mike Looney held off Lee Pulliam in one of the most revered Martinsville Late Model Stock Car races in recent memory.  Carroll believes this year’s format will also favor organic racing over carnage and expects a clean race.

“I think people realize how much money they have in these cars now and it’s tough on the teams to fix these things and I think they realize that,” Carroll commented.  “It’s not a crash fest like it used to be.  Most people will give and take a little bit where, back in the day, they didn’t seem to do that because it was all or nothing.”

For his part, Laws, who has worked his way from the bottom to becoming one of the most well-liked officials in Late Model Stock Car racing, looks up to Carroll ‘150 percent’ and couldn’t imagine a Martinsville weekend without him.

“I don’t want our jobs to ever change,” Laws said.  “I always want him to be the race director, and I want to be his right-hand man.  On top of that, he’s probably one of my best friends.”

Marquis comes from St. Charles, Maryland and has a widespread background in journalism, having covered politics in Washington and Maryland as well as nearly every form of auto racing, including NASCAR, IndyCar, AMA Motocross and IHRA Drag Racing. Now living near Emerald Isle, North Carolina, Marquis covers Late Model Stock Cars and Super Late Models in the Carolinas and Virginia.

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