Archive for the ‘Where The Girls Are’ Category

“The Leading Ladies of Cherokee Speedway” — A Three Part Series — Sandy Ellis Cooke

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011
 This is the second part of a three part series on “The Leading Ladies of Cherokee Speedway.” The first interview is with Kelli Norris who is the Track Photographer, this second interview is with Sandy Ellis Cooke Flag Person at Cherokee, and the third and final addition to this series will be with Office and PR Manager Chan McGinnis. Three females in leading roles usually filled by men at “The Place Your Momma Warned You About!


 Sandy Ellis Cooke – Waving from the Best Seat in the House!!!!

 Born and raised in Gaffney SC, Sandy Ellis Cooke is 35 years old and currently separated. She graduated from Gaffney Senior High School and studied Graphic Arts at Cherokee Technology Center. Sandy began her working career at the young age of 15 at Harvey’s Drive In, located in Gaffney, and actually still works there helping a couple nights a week.

 Sandy adds, “When I got out of school, I went to Progressive Screens Drawing and Graphic Designs.

I also worked at Inman Animal Hospital, starting out as receptionist and worked my way around to helping with all the other things as well. I am now the receptionist and travel coordinator at Phoenix Racing in Spartanburg, and I have been there for 5 years now.”

 Other than racing Sandy loves to cook and make desserts, and quickly added that she loves to experiment with new recipes. She also enjoys working in the yard and doing projects in and around the home.  She lives in her Maw Maw Ellis’s home place, which is the house her Daddy was raised in. She estimates the house is close to 70 yrs. old, and is the process of re-modeling and modernizing it, which shows her strong ties to family. As for other sports, she tells me that she loves volleyball and played in school. She says that she is glad that her niece is going to play volleyball so now she will finally have someone to play with, and hopes to build a court on the land behind her house so she and her niece can spend time together.

 As for her interest in racing she, like so many others, gives the credit to her Dad. “He was always into racing whether it was cars or go carts. Guess it grew on me and of course Cherokee is where I started going. I sold half and half tickets there for years, and when Chan was racing, that’s where we met and became friends. I also went to Metrolina Speedway and sold them there as well.” She stopped doing that for a while when she married Jeff Cooke, because of all the travel involved in his racing endeavors. Later, she returned to Cherokee and picked up selling the half and half tickets again along with her friend, Chan McGinnis.

 “I then decided I was going to attempt to race go carts. My Daddy and I were planning to race together, me driving and him as crew-chief. We were both so excited!!! And on September 17, 2008 I bought my cart. The next day, while I was going to pick up my motor, my Mama called and told me that something was wrong with my Daddy. That was the day my life shattered in millions of pieces. My Daddy had suffered a fatal heart attack. “

 “Daddy had been so excited about me and him racing together. I debated on whether to follow through with the racing after that. Mom encouraged me to go on saying “”That is what your Daddy would want you to do.”” Even though my Mom or either of my 2 brothers would come watch me race, I just always kept it in my mind that he was there with me, although his body wasn’t, I knew he was looking down and watching over me. For a while, Scott Fegter helped me work with the cart until his son, Daniel, started motor cross racing. Later, Bruce Coyle pitched in and helped me. Also Joseph Mintz, his father and his uncle helped me a lot. And of course the Cooterman, can’t forget the Cooterman!! If it weren’t for those guys, I wouldn’t have gotten the chance to race the carts. I raced for about 2 years, won about 8 races, had a lot of fun but I always felt like I was a burden. So I just quit.”

 Sandy then returned to Cherokee Speedway providing some homemade desserts, tea, and lemonade in the turn 4 concession stand. “I just wanted to try and have a little something different for the fans to choose from, more than the normal track food. Plus I enjoy making them.   At first, Chan and I were going to do this together, but Chan was offered the opportunity to do the office and public relations work for Cherokee. So I just kept going with the concession stand myself.”

 I asked Sandy to recall some of her favorite memories thus far in racing. “I really can’t pinpoint any “favorite” memories. Whether it was Cherokee or traveling with a series with Jeff, we knew there was always something interesting going to happen. Chan and I always had fun selling tickets, and we met a lot of interesting people. Guess I’ve always tried to make everything enjoyable. You could say I have had a lot of great memories and really wouldn’t change any of them- whether they were good or bad.”

 Sandy the real reason for this interview is to talk with you about your current job at Cherokee Speedway, that of waving the flags during the race. While not unheard of, it is a very unusual position to find a female in. How did this come about? “Chan called and asked me if I would be interested in flagging. I laughed and said sure, thinking that it was just a thought she and Lennie Buff had fun tossing around. I figured that to be the end of it. Well then I started getting texts and calls about it, and I was like, “I thought it was a joke. LOL “I am sure some still think it is. Then we get to the Cherokee banquet last year and Lennie and Ronnie Buff say something about it. So then I knew it really wasn’t a joke anymore. So I was just like ok guess I am going to try this.”

  I know you had to be excited and nervous all at the same time about the prospects of doing this. Tell me a littleabout some of that and how it went on your first day atop the flag stand. “I was very nervous about it at

Waving from the Best Seat in the House!


first but I have to say, when those cars are flying by and you are looking down at them, it is the coolest feeling ever! I was like, all these years I have been coming to the races and I have officially made it to the best seat in the house. When people started hearing I was going to flag I got a lot of different responses. “”You won’t be able to do it, you won’t be able to handle it, you won’t last 2 weeks, you will be fine, and of course, you going to hook me up, right?”” You can probably figure out who that last one came from. LOL”

 So now with a half of the season under your belt, how is it going? “People need to understand that the final calls are made in the tower.  I do have input if something is questionable but again, the tower makes the official final call. I know that there are some who do not like me doing this, but I pay the guys fussing about it as much attention as they do me flagging. I enjoy doing it, and I have had compliments from people. However when things don’t go their way then the say “”I suck.””  Guess it’s all about how you look at it. I am someone who likes to try things and if making an idiot of myself doing it is what it takes, well so be it….at least I try. I respect everyone’s opinion about my flagging duties, whether it is good or bad. The bad ones just drive me to prove myself more. I am of the opinion that just because you’re a male, it doesn’t make you any better than a female. Although most look at flagging as a man’s job, that’s probably because that’s all they have ever seen do it.  I always knew there was a lot of work that was put into running a show each week but I now have a lot more respect for all involved. It definitely makes you look at things differently.”

 Sandy I have seen you at other tracks when Cherokee isn’t running. How has what you do now at Cherokee affected you as Sandy, the Fan? “If Cherokee is not running, Chan and I will make trips whether it’s to Cleveland County on Friday night or Harris on Saturday night or another night they may be racing. Very rarely do I do anything else during racing season. I am constantly scanning cars on the track to make sure everyone is still running, nobody slowing down, or putting anyone else in danger. There are times I do miss stuff but I try really hard not to miss anything. So when I go to the other tracks to where I used to be chatting or mainly watching the leaders, I now catch myself focused in and scanning the field watching and paying more attention. I really look at everything going on from a different view now than what I had in the past. I have enjoyed everything from the beginning. Getting chances to do different things involved with the track has just been awesome!!”

 So there you have it folks, regardless of whether it is a male or a female, it is still the green flag that waves and the checkered flag that falls. And at Cherokee Speedway, Sandy Ellis Cooke has the best seat in the house!!!!!

 Comments are welcomed on the Blog itself. Just click on the read comment below to do so. If you have enjoyed this interview and would like for you friends and family to see it as well, just click on the Facebook like button below the article.   If you prefer, you can email your comments to and I will gladly forward them on.


“The Leading Ladies of Cherokee Speedway” — A Three Part Series

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

This is the first part of a three part series on “The Leading Ladies of Cherokee Speedway.” The first interview is with Kelli Norris who is the Track Photographer, the second interview is with Sandy Ellis Cooke Flag Person at Cherokee, and the third and final addition to this series will be with Office and PR Manager Chan McGinnis. Three females in leading roles usually filled by men at “The Place Your Momma Warned You About!”


Kelli Norris       “…..I stopped by Mike’s grave on the way for some encouragement.”

Kelli Norris was born in Greenwood SC, raised in Laurens SC and graduated from Laurens District 55 High School. She currently lives in Shelby NC. I asked Kelli about any nicknames she may have and she responded by saying “I don’t consider it a nickname, but a lot of people refer to me by my Racing Forums screen name, CherryPie. Had I known that it would become my name in the racing world, I would have just used my real name.”

Kelli is the track current photographer for Cherokee Speedway.   In 2009 she did driver sign-in and drawing, and also helped with payout at the end of the night, among other things.

Kelli what do you enjoy doing when you are not racing? “This question makes me realize how dull my life is outside of racing. Because the truth is, I don’t have many hobbies outside of racing. Racing does, and has for some time, almost completely consumed my life. But I guess I’m a pretty average girl: I enjoy spending time with my Josh Dawson who is my boyfriend, my family, and friends. I used to like to go coon hunting some. When I’m in the mood for it, I like to take pictures of things besides racecars. I love to take photos of animals and children….because I can capture really unique and random moments and make them special. I enjoy simple things, like sitting on the porch drinking sweet tea and watching cars go by.” Kelly says she likes to help Josh with his racecar but admits “I ain’t really good for a whole lot, but I like to help when I’m needed.”

Kelli and I discussed how she got started into racing and again she like most of us gives the credit to Dad. “My Dad got me started in dirt racing. I forget how old I was. Daddy was really involved with the 88 car of Bobby Tucker at Laurens Speedway back then. I remember vaguely the first night he took me to the track. I think my Mama was going somewhere and I wouldn’t stay with a babysitter, so Daddy got stuck keeping me instead of going to the race that night. I was little, and back then you had to be 14 years old to go to the pits. Daddy wasn’t sure how I would like it anyway, and didn’t want to pay to take me inside if I was going to be scared and want to leave. So we pulled up and watched from outside the fence in the parking lot. This was back when Fred Cogsdill still ran the Laurens Speedway, and he is well-known for being a hard-nosed businessman, and tight as it gets. He caught us and several others watching from outside. Everybody else ran. But Daddy told him, “”Fred, you know I’m here every week. I had to keep my little girl tonight, and I just wanted to see if she would like it. And I didn’t want to pay for her to go in there and scream to leave.”” Fred looked at Dad and told him to follow him. He took us to the gate and told them to let us in the stands for free. Pretty good business investment, if you ask me, considering all the money he’s gotten from me every Saturday night since then. “

Kelli, all of us have our favorite moments that come to memory from time to time. Share some of yours with us. “I have a lot of favorite memories. Some of the dramatic ones, I won’t mention. There’s a lot of stuff that used to happen between rival drivers that I remember having me on the edge of my seat, but I’m not sure if that should go under the favorite memory category. However, one of my favorite memories is of Chris Lyons winning the Super Late Model championship in 2004. It was a hard-fought battle between him and Franky Coates, and Chris came out on top. Another is Phillip Wilson winning the Super Stock 4 championship at both Laurens Speedway and Buffalo Speedway in 2009 after a stellar year. I believe Phillip had 17 wins that season, 14 at Laurens and 3 at Buffalo.  Phillip Wilson and Chris Lyons are two drivers I consider a part of my ““racing family”” in Laurens, and just about anything they do is memorable to me.  Franky Coates winning the Laurens County Shrine race a few years ago in Super Late models. Always great to see a local guy outrun the series guys. Watching Brayden Pruitt in the 2009 World Crown 4 Cylinder Nationals at Cherokee Speedway when she got her Street Stock 4 win was special. Possibly the race of her life, and I will never forget it. Bradley Weaver winning the Laurens County Shrine race this year (2011) in 4cylinder. I was really proud of him for that one, with that being his first time at the track, and the place is a tricky one for most first-timers. Johnny Bell winning a Pure Stock race BACKWARDS at Cherokee several weeks ago after a wild race that left him the “last man standing” and it was awesome. The crowd loved it, and so did I. Ok….so maybe I WILL mention one of the dramatic ones. Dennis ““Rambo”” Franklin and Chris Madden going head to head on the front stretch at Laurens one year was just priceless. You don’t often see the “”big boys”” show out like that, but it goes to show that they are human and still have some of the same emotions that the support division guys show more often. And the fans love the on-track drama, most would be lying if they said it didn’t excite them.”

 Tell me now about how the racing photography thing got started with you. “I used to love to look at Mike Butler’s pictures. Being from Laurens, we didn’t really have anybody who did much action photography there at that time. I thought what he was doing was good for the track and the fans. People that didn’t go regularly got to see what it was all about through his photos. I wanted to learn a little bit about it, so that maybe I could do some of that for Laurens. I never wanted to make a business out of it. I just wanted to do it for fun and to give people some insight to what Laurens Speedway was all about. So I went to Mike to learn some about what he did. He and I became great friends, and I will always consider him one of my very best friends. He taught me a lot about taking pictures of racecars. But there is so much more I needed to learn. And still need to learn. I used to like to take pictures at tracks all around here. I will say that racing photography is a whole lot more fun when it is just for that….FOR FUN. This business is not as glorious as a lot of people think it is. It is more work than people think it is, takes up a lot of time, and is not very profitable at all (especially now, with the economy hurting everyone like it is). It also takes a lot of dedication, particularly being a track photographer, because it requires you to be at one track every Saturday night. For someone who is a race fan more than they are a photographer, that can be HARD. Back at the beginning of the season after Mike Butler’s passing, the staff at Cherokee asked me if I would like to take on the job. But because I wasn’t ready to be dedicated to that track every week at that time, I turned them down. Later on in the year after the photographer that was doing it had to quit, they approached me again and I decided to help them out. But it’s tough sometimes when I want to go watch my friend’s race at Laurens, or I want to go with the Ultimate series somewhere, and I have to be at Cherokee. I oftentimes don’t get to see much racing. A lot of times by the time I’m done doing victory lane pictures for one driver, the next division is done racing and pulling across the scales, and I’ve missed it. It can be tough. “

Kelli describe that first night, the jitters that must have been there out so near the action on the track, also knowing that you were standing and doing the job formerly done by your teacher and best friend. “I had jitters the first night as Cherokee’s track photographer, but it wasn’t from being so near the action on the track. It was because I literally dreaded stepping up to fill Mike Butler’s shoes. Which I knew was and still is completely impossible, by the way. He did SO much for the track, and everybody there still feels the effects of his loss every week. As do the drivers and fans. He offered a whole lot more as far as merchandise and such, than I am able to offer. A lot of us have had to split some of Mike’s other “duties”. Not everything gets done in as timely a fashion as he got it done because most of the rest of us simply don’t have the time. I will admit to shedding a lot of tears on my way to the track that first night, and I stopped by Mike’s grave on the way for some encouragement. He was truly one of my BEST friends, and I loved him very much. As far as my camera and equipment goes, I simply don’t have the equipment a lot of other racing photographers have. I don’t have the money to get all that stuff either so I just do the very best I can. Some weeks I’ll have good action pictures, and some weeks I don’t. I usually only take action photos during hot laps because I don’t have a big enough flash to support taking them after it gets dark. But one thing about that is that most of the money is made off of victory lane photos anyway. And I must thank the management at Cherokee Speedway for having such a well-lit victory lane. The regular flash on my camera is good enough there.”  Kelli, do you ever have any threats or comments about being a female in this business. How about complaints of things like the flash? “I don’t really get any threats as a female in this position. I will say that it is very easy to get stepped on or stepped over in this business.

 Kelli, I know being in this position, you see more of the inside to putting on a weekly race show and you likely see and hear more than you did when you were “just a fan.” So, tell me what you may have once thought about the sport that you now have a different opinion of since taking this position as a track photographer.   “The answer to this question has nothing to do with photography. It has more to do with being involved with the track and seeing what all actually goes on behind the scenes. I also gained some experience with that while helping Ray Storay and family at Buffalo Speedway when they owned and operated it. It’s easy to sit back and complain and make statements about how you think things should be. I’m guilty of it. But it is NOT easy making ANY of it happen. I’ve learned that when I have an idea or suggestion, I have to put a lot of thought into it to make sure it is REALLY reasonable, and fits into the big picture of things, and is not just what I want. I’ve learned that a lot of the decisions track promoters make may not be well-received at the time, but years down the road people will understand why it was made.”

 Kelli I’ve notice that when you aren’t racing\working, you visit other tracks. Seems you would want to do something different that go to a race on your once in a blue moon Saturday off. Why do you do this and has what you now do at your track, changed the way you look at things when you go to watch a race elsewhere? “Racing is the major enjoyment of my life. That may sound odd, but that’s the way it is. Since I don’t get to see a whole lot of racing while doing the photography thing, it makes sense to me to take as many opportunities as possible to go and just WATCH a race, and enjoy it. Plus, because I’ve been going racing all over the place for so many years, I like a lot of racers that don’t come to Cherokee often and some not at all. It’s always good to go watch and support them whenever possible. Being the track photographer at Cherokee has not really changed the way I look at things when I go watch a race elsewhere. I’ve always been one to observe staff at other tracks and watch how they do and handle things, and form opinions, gain ideas, and just take it all in. I’m pretty sure everybody involved with a racetrack in any way does that. Besides, I get too much time off in the off-season.  Hahaha!!“

 Kelli is also the Moderator for the Cherokee board on the forums of and a valued member of our Team. Thanks Kelli for all you do! Keith

Comments are welcomed on the Blog itself. Just click on the “comment button” below to do so. If you have enjoyed this interview and would like for you friends and family to see it as well, click on the Facebook like button below the article.   If you prefer, you can email your comments to and I will gladly forward them on.

Elizabeth Ledford Interview #13 Yound Guns – Harris

Monday, May 16th, 2011

Elizabeth Jeanette Ledford is the 17 year old daughter of Scott and Linda Ledford and they live in Campobello S. C. Elizabeth, who most of her friends and family call Boo, is a student at Chapman High School and currently works at the Shoe Dept in Boiling Springs, but says she will be a nurse practitioner one day.

Most Saturday nights Boo can be found in the pits are behind the wheel of the #13 Young Guns car at Harris Speedway in Harris N. C. She chose that number because it was her Uncle Ricky Hines number when he drove motorcycles, Boomers and Renegades. She is also quick to point out that if you look at it upside down, it is her initials EL.

I ask Boo how she got started racing and this is what she said. “I’ll never forget it, we were at Antioch with my uncle and it was the first time I’d ever seen Young Guns and uncle Ricky yelled over “”Boo think you can do this?”” And I was like psssshh old man I know I can do this. That next day we found my first car, a 1977 Toyota Celica in the woods with trees and brushes grown up around it. We pulled it out, put it in the back yard and I spent my sixth grade summer stripping it out. That was like my test period to make sure I would stick with it. I think my daddy was a little shocked when I had it completely stripped out haha. My first race was terrible I spun out in turn one first lap went straight through the biggest mud puddle (which made for a good first Sunday car wash too haha) and ended up blowing the motor. That was at Harris at the end of June in 2007. That year I hit the wall more times than I could count lol but i had fun and learned a lot.”

This will be Boo’s fourth year in racing now. We talked about her moving up to another division and she says that she hopes to eventually. “I don’t want Young Guns to be the end of my racing. I love it so much, so I’ll be happy racing anything but I’d love to be in a v8 Crate Sportsman or a Stock 8 which is my favorite.” When I pressed about where she would ultimately like her racing to take her, she responded, “However far I can go. I just love doing it and as long as it’s fun and competitive I’m up for it.”

Harris will be her main place to race this year but she added, “and maybe I can talk the boss aka daddy into running the nationals at Gaffney….maybe.”

Boo in Victory LaneShe says that most people would think the favorite memory would be the first win. She said it wasn’t for her. She continued, “my first win was kind of like I was the one who was there at the end to win…my favorite memory is when I won my first side by side super competitive race. I had beaten a car that I’d run second to countless times when I just had my little bone stock motor. It was such a rush  and that night the car had just hooked up perfectly….and very intense and good nose to tail side by side racing.”

Boo says she doesn’t compare herself to anyone in racing because “if I’m happy with what and how I do and my daddy is happy then it does

Traditional First Win "Mud Bath"

n’t really matter what anyone else is doing or has done. But, I get told a lot that I remind people of my uncle. Which is good…sometimes haha.”

She says she does have a lot of favorite drivers though. Jimmy Owens and Chris Ferguson , Dale Chapman a great driver and one of the nicest people I know, my cuz, Mike Jackson in Pure Stock and Nikki. I pretty much like to see people win and do good that are generally nice down to earth people who don’t walk around with their nose stuck up in the air.

As for saying thanks to people who help and about sponsors, she quickly says, “MY DADDY MY DADDY O AND MY DADDY without him none of my racing would be possible. My mama for putting up with a missing husband and child for much of the week leading up to Saturday haha, my uncle Ricky for getting me into this mess, and Mike Jackson, Joey Painter, Jamie Pettit for their help and making sure my head doesn’t get too big haha. Harris Speedway for giving us a great place to race and any and everybody who has ever cheered for or supported me, it really does mean a lot. As of now no sponsors, but if anybody is interested be sure to let us know every little bit would help.”

Seriously, have you ever read my Blog? “Of course, Nikki is my sister from another mister! haha but seriously whenever I have time.”       Going to now? Yes Sir!

If you enjoyed this interview and have Facebook, please click the like button below to share with your family and friends.  Comments are always welcomed. Send any email for me or Boo to (I will forward her’s on to her)   

Have a favorite driver that you would like to have interviewed? Send an email request and we will do our best to get it done.

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