RURAL RETREAT, Va. – Kenny Peeples began his motorsports odyssey at age 15 in a 1971 Camaro.
Since that event in the Street Stock B class at Wythe Raceway, the Rural Retreat native has competed on dirt tracks across the East Coast.
“I’ve had a lot of fun and seen a lot of changes in the sport,” Peeples said. “I’m pretty much going race by race now and taking time to enjoy life a little bit more.”
On the rainy night of July 27, Peeples returned to his home track to compete in an event dubbed Modified Mania. Peeples was a former regular in the ultra-fast Late Model class.
“I made the move over to modifieds because of the cost,” Peeples said. “It’s just tough to make it in Late Models now. Technology has pretty much taken over, with a lot of [NASCAR] teams involved in chassis building.”
The Peeples name is familiar to dirt racing fans in Wythe County and beyond. Buster Peeples, Kenny’s grandfather, competed in the Bomber and Late Model classes at Wythe. Kenny’s father, Kenny Sr., was a consistent race winner who won several track titles.
“It’s pretty special to be a third-generation racer,” said Kenny, who has earned an estimated 140 victories. “I’ve competed in all sorts of classes here at Wythe and traveled all over. Wythe ranks among the top five of the nearly 20 tracks I’ve run at. I’m not sure if people in this area realize how special Wythe Raceway is.”
In the far-flung world of dirt racing, no adventure can equal Eldora Speedway. The high-banked clay dirt oval situated between cornfields and the Wabash River in Rossburg, Ohio, is on the bucket list of every dirt racer and hosts marquee events such as the World 100, the Kings Royal and the Eldora Dirty Derby for the NASCAR Truck Series.
Peeples knows his way around the 0.5-mile Eldora layout.
“I was fortunate to set the track record in the 604 [motor] division and finish second in my first race there in 2009 with the Fastrak Racing Series. That was quite an experience,” said Peeples, who zipped around the famed facility at speeds in excess of 110 mph.
According to Peeples, Eldora lived up to its lofty billing.
“They had like 50 cars in my class,” Peeples said. “Eldora is similar to Wythe Raceway, but it’s a little more wide open and you can build more momentum in the corners.”
From the Fastrak and Carolina Clash Series to the Woodstock, Georgia, based Ultimate Super Late Model Series, Peeples has battled with some of the most gifted racers in what many consider the most exciting form of motorsport.
Peeples recently found his niche on the Mid-East Modified Tour. Established in 2017, the series offers an alternative to the big-bucks world of dirt Late Models.
“This series is a whole lot more affordable,” said Peeples, who has been a touring racer since 2007. “The tires are cheaper and create a more exciting brand of racing for the fans, and the cars are easier to work on and repair. I really think this is the future of weekly dirt racing.”
With victories in six of the first 11 Mid-East races this season, Peeples ranks third in the points standings. In addition to wins at Wythe and Friendship Speedway in Elkin, North Carolina, Peeples won the touring race at now-defunct Clay Valley Speedway in Coeburn, Virginia.
Former Wythe Raceway regulars Morgan Widener (Marion) and Justin Blevins (Chilhowie) rank among the top seven in the Mid-East Modified standings.
“l like running a limited schedule,” Peeples said. “My daughter and I are getting older and we enjoy going to places like the lake and the beach.”
During the week, Peeples operates Hilltop Auto Sales in Rural Retreat. But he still finds his release while slipping and power-sliding around dirt tracks.
“I’ve been up and down the road to races all over since I started with that Camaro,” Peeples said. “I’ve noticed that people in dirt racing are getting smarter with their money, and there’s a real need to get kids out off the computers and to the track.”
To the delight of the faithful fans at Wythe Raceway, Peeples won the second half of that twin-race Modified Mania program on July 27.
“It was a fun night,” Peeples said. “My daughter and father are the main reasons I’m still in the sport. They both love it and I always enjoy competing on my home track. I’ve got plenty of memories here.”