JOHNSON CITY, TN — By Robert Walden — It’s been said through the years that the Utsman family from Bluff City was the “first family” in East Tennessee auto racing. Utsman family members that raced around the region over the years include “Pappy” John, W.A. “Dub,” Sherman, Layman, Gerald, Cecil, John A., Larry, Ricky, Cecil Jr. “Junior,” Ricky’s son Brandon, and Layman’s grandsons Heath Gunning and Cody Russell, plus Layman’s step-son Rod Collins.
Layman Utsman began racing in 1955 at the old Chinquapin Speedway in Bluff City, and in a career that lasted through 1978 he won championships and well over 100 races around East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. The best season behind the wheel for Layman was in 1970, when he captured the championships at both Appalachian Speedway in Kingsport and at Sportsman Speedway in Johnson City. Not just for Layman, but combined with brother John A., they recorded 27 feature wins out of 40 starts in ’70 at the two tracks. Layman visited victory lane on 18 occasions, while John A. recorded nine wins.
Layman raced at various tracks around East Tennessee including Appalachian Speedway, Sportsman Speedway, Chinquapin Speedway, Tri-Cities Speedway (on property where today stands Tri-Cities Regional Airport), and at Davy Crockett Speedway in Rogersville. He also raced in Southwest Virginia at Cedar Hills Speedway in Richlands, and at Wythe Raceway.
In the very first NASCAR race ever held at Bristol International Raceway on July 30, 1961, three Utsman family members (Sherman, Dub and Layman) were in the field for the Volunteer 500. Sherman finished ninth driving a ’61 Ford, with Dub also behind the wheel of a ’61 Ford finishing 29th, while Layman drove a ’60 Dodge and finished 42nd after dropping out at lap 100 with mechanical issues.
Besides the inaugural race at Bristol in ’61, Layman had two other NASCAR Grand National (Sprint Cup) starts in 1959 at North Wilkesboro and Asheville-Weaverville Speedway driving for Johnson City car owner Jess Potter.
“Not just because he was my brother, but Layman was a very good race car driver,” said the youngest Utsman brother John A. earlier today while reflecting back on Layman’s life. “He was a heckuva dirt racer and could really drive the wheels off a car. When we switched over from dirt to running asphalt races in the 1970s at Kingsport International Speedway and over at Lonesome Pine International Raceway in the NASCAR Late Model Sportsman days, Layman didn’t really have the best of equipment. I will say, though, he definitely got all out of the car he drove that I believe anybody could have.
“We sure had some really great times over the years racing. But all racing aside, he was just a great brother and all of the family we’re really going to miss him. He and I got along great our whole life.”
Layman passed away Sunday in the Johnson City Medical Center following a brief illness at age 81.