NASCAR’s first drivers found oval track racing something of a letdown. After all, they had spent years eluding police pursuit on twisty mountain roads behind the wheel of suped-up cars loaded with moonshine.
Once you’ve played high-speed hide and seek, where’s the excitement of just going around a flat track with no sirens blaring from cars full of revenuers?
Junior Johnson was one of those drivers who learned his craft on dirt mountain roads. Says Johnson, “About all your good dirt track drivers were involved in moonshine. That’s kind of the way it started.”
Then in 1948, promoter Bill France came along and began to place some structure on this haphazard fledgling sport. France founded NASCAR, developed some rules, took the cars out off cornfield dirt tracks, and began selling tickets to events.
The first “official” NASCAR race was held in Charlotte in June 1949. A number of bootleggers – Curtis Turner and Bob Flock for instance – were behind the wheel in this first race.
Combine the moonshine mystique with the rule-breaking and you have the recipe for an outlaw image that has driven this pastime to near cult status.
Stock car racing came into its own in the 50s as more and better speedways were built. Charlotte Motor Speedway – designed and built by O. Bruton Smith and partner Curtis Turner – was the penultimate speedway when it opened in 1959. The 1.5-mile superspeedway outside of Charlotte hosted its first World 600 June 19, 1960.
Today it’s known as Lowe’s Motor Speedway, and it has led many of racing’s innovations in the last four decades.
From an exclusive dining facility called the Speedway Club to year-round condominiums above the first turn, Lowe’s Motor Speedway has turned the sport into a business and taken it upscale.
You can experience it yourself at one of NASCAR’s biggest events, the Coca-Cola 600 held in May. Drivers say besides being the longest race, it is also one of the most punishing.
But the 600 is not just a race. The 600 Festival Air & Speed Show kicks off with family-oriented events on the ground and in the air. Fans can see NASCAR drivers and their cars in the UAW-GM Teamwork Parade, or enjoy the live bands and attractions at Food Lion Speed Street in uptown Charlotte.
Admission for all 600 Festival events is free. Tickets are available for the races and behind the scenes events.
So, for a peek under the hood of the sport born of moonshine, the month of May offers you an excellent opportunity. Or, visit the links below to learn more about stock car racing in North Carolina.
Fast Times in North Carolina
North Carolina – the birthplace of the stock car – means racing. From Alamance to Wake County, every weekend you’ll find cars trying to reach take-off velocity on a track somewhere in North Carolina. Besides the big names like Charlotte, Hickory, and Rockingham, there are about 50 other Tar Heel towns with speedways. Let’s drive by a few and get acquainted.
Lowe’s Motor Speedway near Charlotte is the granddaddy of all racetracks. It hosts races from a number of series including ARCA Re/Max, NASCAR Busch, NASCAR Craftsman Truck, NASCAR Goody’s Dash, and NASCAR Winston Cup, including the longest race on the NASCAR circuit: the Coca-Cola 600. The complex, built in 1959, today features a 1.5-mile superspeedway as well as a dirt track.
The .363-mile Hickory Speedway, known as the world’s most famous short track, boasts of being the oldest continually operating motor speedway in the country. In 2003 the speedway celebrates its 53rd year in business. Early home to NASCAR’s best drivers including Junior Johnson, Ralph Earnhardt, and Ned Jarrett, late model stock cars and their drivers continue to be on the menu.
North Carolina Speedway is next on our list. You probably know it as The Rock. This 1.017-mile superspeedway located in Rockingham was opened in 1965 and rebuilt in 1969. It is now one of the most popular spots on the NASCAR Winston Cup and Busch Grand National circuits.
That’s the big boys of racing, now let’s take a look at the tracks where young drivers hone their skills in a bid to make it to the superspeedways.
Ace Speedway in Altamaha is in Alamance County about 25 miles northeast of Greensboro. Built in 1956, Altamaha operated as a dirt track until it was paved in 1990. Now, the track is a full 4/10-mile with turns banked to 12 degrees. Several race series takes place here including Southern Modified Auto Racing Teams (SMART), USAR Hooters ProCup Series, and USCS Outlaw Thunder Tour.
In Northeastern North Carolina there’s Dixieland Speedway. This 3/8-mile track in Elizabeth City hooks you directly to the roots of racing. Every Friday from April through Labor Day you’ll experience American Racing Drivers Club action; the kind of action that was present at the inception of the sport.
If you can’t decide between oval and strip racing, then Coastal Plains Raceway is for you. This Jacksonville, NC complex features a 4/10-mile oval as well as an NHRA 1/8-mile and 1/4-mile drag strip.
Admit it, you go to the races to see the wrecks. If that is the case, you may want to head to Antioch Speedway in Morganton. Billed as the fastest half-mile dirt track in North Carolina, Antioch often hosts Extreme Demolition Derby. Wrecks galore are guaranteed.
Caraway Speedway, a .455-mile asphalt oval in Sophia near Asheboro, is a NASCAR Weekly Racing Series sanctioned track. Originally a dirt track when it was opened in 1966, Caraway was paved in 1972 and joined that Weekly Racing Series that year. It is located near the North Carolina Zoo and the Richard Petty Museum. From 1962 to 1987, Wake County Speedway featured a 1/4-mile clay track. Asphalt was installed for the 1987 season as part of a long-range improvement plan that included high-rise steel grandstands and concrete retaining walls. Over the years, Wake County has hosted appearances by Winston Cup stars ranging from the late J.D. McDuffie to Benny Parsons and Ken Schrader.
So, if you have a high-test in your blood and the need for speed, North Carolina’s many speedways await you.