At Old Dominion, Gores Are a Brood on the Move
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 12, 1999; Page N3
There are two prominent Gore families in Washington. Obviously, the vice president and his clan have national name recognition. But among local car racing fans, they might take a back seat to the other Gore family.
The racing Gores do not schedule family reunions. They already have one every weekend from April to October, when most of the members gather to drive the pace car or wave the checkered flag or sell popcorn at the family business Old Dominion Speedway in Manassas.
Dragsters run on Friday or Sunday, stock cars on Saturday. A couple thousand people fill the bleachers on summer nights.
Arthur L. "Al" Gore bought Old Dominion Speedway in 1952. Now 80, he likes to tell the story of how a campaign worker from Vice President Gore's office called to ask if he would give up his vanity license plates. His son, Dickie, took over the track's daily operation in the mid-1960s and most of the family works at the 3/8-mile oval during the racing season.
"There's a lot of people you can trust and it's a good time," Dickie Gore said, trying to explain why at least 11 family members help run the show. "It's a lot of fun being there and doing what you do."
The track is located on the east side of Route 234, behind a few businesses and across the road from a National Guard armory. A small easy-to-miss sign on the side of the road marks the track's entrance. But stars have found their way to the track through the years.
Before NASCAR's top division (now known as the Winston Cup series) began to blossom in the late 1960s, stars such as Richard Petty, David Pearson and Buck Baker raced at Old Dominion Speedway. Also during that time, the Gores staged concerts on the land surrounding the track and Johnny Cash, the Carter family and Louise Mandrell sang. In the 1970s, professional wrestlers performed in a ring placed between the oval track and the dragstrip.
During the week, several of the region's police departments and the FBI use the track and its service roads for training their drivers.
"If there's anything out there," Al Gore said, "we've done it."
It is only fitting that Al Gore bought Old Dominion Speedway for family purposes: He wanted to build a safer track for his brother, Wally, to race on. So, Al Gore and his partners paid $25,000 for the speedway and quickly gave the track a face lift. They changed the surface from dirt to asphalt and added new, taller grandstands.
At the time, there were separate sections for blacks and whites, but Al Gore said, "I tore the black sign down because nobody ever used them and nobody ever said anything."
Two years later, in 1954, a drag strip was built adjacent to the oval track because Al Gore thought it would be a good way to deter teenagers and others from drag racing on highways. For more than 40 years, there has been drag racing at Old Dominion on Friday nights or Sunday afternoons. And in 1997, Al Gore was voted into the National Hot Rod Association's Hall of Fame.
In 1959, Al Gore bought the Waynesboro (Va.) Speedway. Dickie's brother, Gary, operates that facility, which also includes a dragstrip and an oval track.
Succeeding his father at Old Dominion was natural for Dickie Gore because he had worked at the track since he was a child, "doing everything that a normal kid does in the family business, things like cutting the grass and thinking you're helping."
Similarly, Dickie Gore's three children grew up at the race track. Now adults, they still work there. Ricky Gore, 29, is the pace car driver. Scotty Gore, 27, is the race director for drag racing on Friday nights; Dick said he is trying "to teach him to take over for me." Dick's daughter, Jody Kivett, 32, runs the concession stand and ticket booth.
"It is what I grew up doing," Kivett said. "I liked the atmosphere and the people; to me, family is important."
Kivett said she learned how to drive her grandmother's station wagon in the track's parking lot and she remembers taking baths in the deep double sink in the kitchen beneath the grandstand. She met her husband at the track, when he was working as a pit crew member for a stock car team. Michael Kivett is now the race director for Old Dominion's stock car racing program.
"We had to get married during the offseason ... so it wouldn't interfere with my dad's schedule," Jody Kivett said, noting that her wedding was in March, during drag racing season but before stock car season. "We were married on a Saturday night, spent the night in a hotel for our so-called honeymoon and went to the track the next day" to watch the drag races.
The track "is probably the most important thing in our lives besides our well-being," said Scotty Gore, who learned how to drive when the track's dump truck needed to be moved. "It is definitely our livelihood. ... You live, eat and sleep racing. It is what you talk about at dinner. We do have other interests, but it has been there our whole lives. ... It's something we all enjoy being a part of."
To avoid a shortage of workers at the track, another generation is being trained to help out down the road.
"My kids, they pretty much know it is a given they don't even have to ask what we're going to do on weekends during the summer," Jody Kivett said. "And for the most part, they enjoy it, just like I did."
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company