Photos by Matt Colville, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 2.71
Sunny South Raceway
Grand Bay, AL 36541
Year Opened: 1989
Sunny South Raceway
Entering its 30th season in 2019, Sunny South Raceway in Grand Bay, Alabama has become one of Alabama’s finest short track speedways. The 1/4-mile track originally opened in 1989 as a 1/8th-mile dirt go-kart track, but as the raceway began to host full-size cars the track expanded to the asphalt track it is today. Sunny South Raceway now hosts a wide selection of full-time racing events, including races for the Southern All Star Supertruck Series, Pro Challenge, INEX Legends Bandoleros, Go-Karts, Bombers, and Stingers. The track also hosts the Sunny South Citerium, which is a professional bicycle race held every April.
Every year Sunny South Raceway hosts the INEX Bandolero Nationals, which draws the top bandolero drivers in the country. For those unfamiliar with bandolero, meaning bandit in Spanish, this is a type of junior entry level racing where drivers can compete as young as 8 and usually into their early 20s. Bandit cars are basically toned-down modified versions of regular racing cars, but the speed usually tops out in the 70s. Many notable NASCAR drivers such as Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, and David Ragan got their start racing bandoleros.
Food & Beverage 2
There is one main concessions area located on the first floor of the press box tower, and it sells the basics. Prices are reasonable with the chicken tender basket being the most expensive item at $7. Other items include hamburgers ($5), corn dogs ($4), hot dogs ($3), fries ($3), pretzels ($2.50), and peanuts ($2). Coke is the soft drink provider with can drinks costing $1.50. Because of the family nature of this event alcohol is not sold, nor allowed on the property.
Sunny South Raceway is short track racing at its finest. The 1/4-mile track is action-packed from start to finish. The raceway is set up so there is a good view of the entire race track but without any distractions. With no pit area, just grass in the infield, you can see the entire track and distinguish the different cars from anywhere in the grandstand. The races on my most recent visit were mighty-mites, which consists of younger drivers aged around age 5-6. These go-kart style carts top out at about 50 mph, and it was interesting getting to see drivers compete at such a young age. The only downside is that there are a lot of caution flags that slow the race down because of drivers spinning out on the track.
The next set of races that night were bandoleros, which as mentioned earlier are basically smaller versions of NASCAR style cars, and there was also truck racing as well INEX Legends cars being raced. The majority of races were only 20 laps, and the track seems so small that most races were being finished in less than five minutes. This, combined with the fact that the staff was constantly switching different styles of racing in and out, provided fans with a variety of racesq23a and age groups to keep them interested.
The track faces east and west and is located down the hill in a kind of a valley off Highway 90. Parking is free at the top of the hill, and from there you can walk down the hill to the area where the ticket office is located. The pits are located to the left and right of the ticket office, and you can walk around and mingle with some of the drivers and get to see the cars up close before the racing starts.
The grandstand here is basically bleacher style seating that extends from one end of the track to the other; I was told that Sunny South raceway can hold around 3,000 people, which is impressive considering the size of the track. In the middle of the grandstands sits a tower that consists of the press box on the top level and the concessions area on the first level. There is a fence blocking off access to the north side of the track, but there is nothing but woods on that side anyways. There is no score tower or anything to let you know what lap they are on, but the PA announcer did a good job of informing fans about how many laps were left and who was leading.
There’s not much of a neighborhood around Sunny South Raceway – Grand Bay is not exactly a hotbed of activity and Sunny South Raceway is located on a rural highway that runs parallel a couple of miles south of I-10. Grand Bay is most famous for hosting a watermelon festival every year on July 4th, but other than that there is not a lot going on. There are a few chain restaurants (such as Hardee’s, Waffle House, Subway, Arby’s, and McDonalds) located at the I-10 exit a few miles north of the track, but other than that your best bet would be to drive 15 minutes on I-10 either way to Pascagoula or Mobile.
For attractions in the immediate area I recommend checking out Bellingrath Gardens located in nearby Theodore. This 900-acre, luscious garden area is a beautiful sight to see and must be seen to be believed; every Christmas the gardens light up with a display of over 3 million lights – USA Today even ranked it one of the top 10 best public light displays in America. Bellingrath Gardens is truly a sight to behold, and a must see for fans of all ages if in the area.
The island town of Dauphin Island is located a short drive south of Grand Bay. Unlike most of the beach towns in the area, Dauphin Island is void of any major resorts or hotels, but instead focuses its efforts on preserving nature and history. Historic Fort Gaines, a Civil War era fort, is located on the island, and you can also find multiple Indian shell mounds and burial grounds. As you drive to Dauphin Island you drive through the tiny town of Bayou La Batre, the sleepy fishing village that is most famous for its shrimp boats, but also served as the inspiration for the town in the movie Forrest Gump.
If you looking to spend the weekend I recommend staying in Mobile, as that city has a lot more attractions and a wider selection of hotels and restaurants than Grand Bay does. But if staying in Grand Bay for the night I recommend driving over to the Pascagoula exit where cheaper hotel rooms can be found. In addition, the beach towns of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach are both about an hour’s drive away, and the casinos of Biloxi are located only about 30 minutes west.
A trip to Sunny South Raceway will present you with a mixture of all different styles of racing – depending on what you are into there’s something for everyone here. And even if you are not a racing fan it is the type of place you can go to and still have fun, and you won’t be able to help being intrigued by the little kids race at such high speeds. Many of the fans in the crowd are family members and friends of the drivers, but mainly because most of the drivers are from the area, and a majority of the drivers are not old enough to obtain a driver’s license to drive themselves to the track.
Grand Bay is one of those towns where the street lights cut off and the town shuts down at dark. Because of this Sunny South Raceway is the only form of entertainment for the locals on a Saturday night, so many people show up because there is simply not anything else to do. Driving down Highway 90 in Grand Bay reminded me of driving through one of those small Mississippi towns on a Friday night, and all you see is the stadium lights for miles, for a high school football game where everyone in town is there because it’s the only thing to do. You kind of get that vibe here, although it’s nice that that community shows up to support their local drivers.
There really is one way to get to Sunny South Raceway; if traveling the interstate coming from the east or west the best bet would be to take I-10 to Grand Bay-Wilmer Road at Exit 4. This is the first or last exit in the state of Alabama on I-10 depending on which way you are coming from, and this area will be the only place to get something to eat in Grand Bay, with several fast food restaurants at this exit. Take Wilmer Road south for about 2 miles until you reach Highway 90, then head east for about 2 miles, and Sunny South Raceway will be located on your left.
Because of the size of track navigating the grandstand and concourse is no problem and concessions lines flow nicely. Sunny South Raceway is also a pretty easy place to find at night, as you can’t miss the reflection from the track lights, since they are the only thing in the area that is lit up.
Return on Investment 3
Tickets for all races run at Sunny South Raceway are $10, which can seem kind of high at first, but that also gets you access to all areas of the track including the pit area. Parking is free and located in the grass at the top of the hill. Unlike most tracks where the pit would be to the infield, the pit area at Sunny South Raceway is located in the asphalt parking lot surrounding the track. So, by purchasing a general admission ticket you are free to roam around all the different areas and garages in the pits.
Being able to roam around in the makeshift pits before the race is a plus – many of the drivers have their own pit crews who get the cars ready, and you can just walk up and watch; everyone is friendly and happy to talk to you. There is even a full-service garage which has cars being worked on, and for a non-racing fan like me it was cool to be able to view all of this and see everything it takes to get these cars ready for the track. Many of the pit crew members are family member of the drivers and work other full-time jobs, so they do this just for the love of the sport and to help their family member out; it is amazing to see the detail that goes into getting these cars built and ready to race.
Another plus is the family atmosphere at Sunny South Raceway; Grand Bay is a close-knit small community, so a lot of people know each other and many of the drivers. After walking around the pits before the race, and mingling around with the drivers and their families, you develop kind of a relationship with the drivers that you wouldn’t be able to get anywhere else. So, when the races begin later in the evening, it keeps fans engaged in the action because they now have drivers to root for, since they have just met them and their families earlier – this type of fan interaction is something you won’t get to experience at most racing events.
You can also check the schedule for when there are races at nearby Mobile International Speedway and catch a doubleheader of night racing action; Mobile International Speedway is located east along Highway 90 in nearby Irvington, about 5 miles down the road from Sunny South Raceway. Mobile’s 1/2-mile oval track is a little bigger than Sunny South’s, but many of the drivers at Sunny South transition over to Mobile once they get old enough. Mobile International Speedway is also host to the Mobile 300 ARCA race every year, which attracts some pretty big names in the auto racing world.
In a state like Alabama stock car racing is huge and has been big in the state for decades. All throughout the state you can find many different smaller style racing tracks in small towns. Sunny South Raceway is no different, though it is not a spectacle like Talladega in the north and it’s not even as big as it’s big brother Mobile International Speedway a few miles down the road. Still, Sunny South Raceway is a fine place to catch a race on the weekend; the small-town family atmosphere and variety of racing makes certain that people of all ages will not be bored, and will have a great time at the track.