nascar history

There was a really interesting comment on my Ranting & Raving column yesterday about whether or not the new points system is one more piece of losing the “old school” in NASCAR.

I don’t think necessarily so, but I also think that this might be the start of an interesting discussion. If you would like to follow or join in the conversation, come on back over to Ranting & Raving.
I’m curious to see what folks think.
Ranting & Raving- 35 Years Follow Up



Hey everyone!
My new post at Ranting and Raving is up. With the announcement of the points changes to the series, I thought that it would be interesting to take a quick peek at the points systems over the years. It isn’t as easy as it sounds!

I also have a few tidbits about what was going on in NASCAR in 1975, come take a peek!

35 Years of Counting to 175

NASCAR just announced the schedule for 2011! Phew, Martinsville kept both dates and the west was re-sorted just a bit.
The season will also see an addition, Kentucky Speedway. The Bluegrass State hasn’t had a Cup race since 1954. Hop on over to NASCAR Ranting and Raving for a peek at 1954.
You know that I don’t have that much to say about another 1.5 miler being added to the season. Really. Short tracks! Give me short tracks!!
Here you go!


Clicky! Another 1.5 Miler? Let’s Talk 1954!

I was very excited, as one might guess, to learn that the History Channel was going to air a documentary (docu-drama) on Bowman-Gray Stadium. The advertising for the show before it aired, boasted that 61 years of tempers and hard racing made Bowman-Gray part of the “holy land” of racing. And it does. And it is the oldest sanctioned track. The stories, the rivalries and the feuds which are a part of the track can be traced back through the history of stock car racing in North Carolina..

Which they totally and utterly ignore.

Madhouse completely disregards any history that the track represents and instead focuses on the lives of two racers and their bitter rivalry. Which is fine. Except that it is the History channel. I don’t think that I could be anymore disappointed in the series.  Rather than focus on a part of America that is still stereotyped and exploring the contributions of stock car racing to American history and rather than celebrating a real American institution (61 years is not that far off from 100 years of stock car racing!) the program focuses on what can only be perceived from the outside as a whole bunch of rednecks.

Stock car racing is a passionate, intense sport. And yes, there is the cultural element that most people negatively stereotype as rednecks. But you know, all these elements can be explored in such a way which actually examines what makes stock car racing exciting and what makes such a unique and important part of American culture.

The second episode is tonight. I will catch it on the second roll through at 11. I wish that I could say that I was excited to see it. Other than the racing clips which feed my need for the racing season to start up again, there is very little that Madhouse can offer.

Well, and defending my master’s thesis. Apparently, they think that I do, in fact,  know something about historic race tracks. And that I can defend my research in an academic setting. One of these days, dear readers, I hope someone at the new and upcoming NASCAR Hall of Fame, or NASCAR or a team or someone in motorsports feels the same way!

I got to defend my thesis out at Martinsville Speedway. It was a beautiful day for it. Perfect for talking about stock car racing heritage and why its important. After 3.5 hours (yes, really) of defending my stuff, I headed out to Bowman-Gray Stadium. Lots of fun Saturday night short track racing. Hi to my new friends out there!

And to make sure that  I got my fill of NASCAR’s first tracks, I spent Sunday morning walking around Occoneechee Speedway. The only stock car track to be listed on the National Register. Yes, Indy is on there, but they  wouldn’t let us come play until 1994, so we’re just going to let Occoneechee have its own honor.

I need to find some good early pics of Occoneechee. It was a ghost track, until Preservation North Carolina and HOST stepped in to save it. Its now a beautiful walking trail- part of a larger one actually.

Oh well, heck! Ask and you shall receive. If you go take a peek at the Eno River Valley Home page, there it is! What the track used to look like!

I will upload my pics, and you can see the changes in the landscape. The track was closed in 1968, when some of the more uptight citizens didn’t take too kindly to having the roar of stock car engines in their county. Occoneechee held races from 1948 until 1968. Big Bill France purchased the lot (and incidentally, sold it to Preservation North Carolina, giving it a second life) and added it to the schedule. According to the brief history on their website, 17,000 folks showed up to watch the cars along the one mile dirt track.

Bob Flock won that first Strictly Stock race in his 48 Olds. It was  the third race of the season.

As I walked along the track, I fancied that I was the only one of the handful of folks out there that day that was a race fan. Two joggers, two dog walkers. All going the wrong direction for a race track. 😀

My best surprise of the day was coming up on the concrete bleachers. I knew that they were there, I had seen pictures…but the site of this rural ruin, a piece of stock car racing history, well, it took my breath away. Went and sat up at the top for a long time and thought about the cars going by. Go visit! Its free, its beautiful and its racing history! We like that! I was excited that I got to get to three of eight (!) of the first tracks that NASCAR raced at, ever. If I had more time this weekend, I would have gone on out to North Wilkesboro again, just for the heck of it.

Pictures? ok!

Really. It could have been.
When Brasington (yup, the same fellow that built our Lady of Race Tracks, Darlington) built the North Carolina Motor Speedway, it was ten miles between the towns of Rockingham and Hamlet.
Both towns knew exactly what a race track would bring- revenue, people, excitement and, heck, racing! Both the towns insisted that the Speedway was within their town limits. And they both wanted the track to be named for their communities. Hamlet Speedway! Rockingham Speedway!(Hey- that’s got a nice ring..come to think on it)! Rockinghamlet Speedway!

To make everyone happy, the track was named after the great state of North Carolina- it would belong to everyone. But to make everyone really happy, Brasington registered the phone number to the track in Hamlet and the mailing address in Rockingham!
And, to make double sure, a grandstand each was named for the towns.
Along the frontstretch, Rockingham Grandstands..along the back, Hamlet Grandstands.

The track held its first race on October 31st, 1965. The American 500 was the talk of the town(s) and the Blue Laws were even lifted for the event.

48,000 race fans showed up for that race!

Curtis Turner won the race in his 1965 Wood Brothers Ford. Even more exciting, this was Turner’s return to racing after a ban imposed by Bill France. Tim Flock and Curtis had started to organize a union for the drivers, with some encouraging from the Mob. (yes, that mob) France wasn’t having any of it. He enforced his “any driver in a union will not be allowed on a NASCAR track” with a pistol, and banned the two drivers for life.

Well, for almost Life.

The track was actually built using a computer- it was the most high tech race track of the time.  8,000 tons of asphalt were used- the track’s original banking was at 16 degrees. That was changed in 1969 to 22 degree banking in Turns 1 &2 and 25 degree banking in Turns 3 &4.

North Carolina Motor Speedway has been through a lot. The rough sandhill surface eats tires like no other track and it has always been a favorite among drivers and fans both. Even though some drivers have said some pretty nasty things about it, it must have been a  love/hate kind of thing. Its one tricky track and it had some of the best racing in NASCAR.

As we know, Rockingham was lost to the NASCAR circuit during the “Realignment”- the great search for the New Fan.

And as we know, our hero, Andy Hillenburg, saved The Rock in 2007 and had cars on the track by 2008. Rockingham Speedway combined history, heritage and the racing of today when they hosted the 2008 Inagural Carolina 500 in May of 2008.

The track hosted some of the most exciting racing of the weekend just this past Sunday. If you missed the ARCA race, you missed a doozy.

An interesting article on the differences between the way in which the television coverage of the major NASCAR series races vs ARCA can be found on The FrontStretch in Matt McLaughlin’s column today. “Like A Rock” talks about the ways in which the ARCA broadcast of the race at Rockingham was far superior to the Fox broadcast of, well, any of the races so far this season.

I highly reccomend it. I love my sport but I constantly worry about how much of racing we’re losing to Media Needs. But that’s not my blog. 😉 I’m just going on about the tracks..

Hope you enjoyed today’s little bit of history. In the next day or so, I’ll post about Talladega. Another track from the 1960s and a track many drivers didn’t want anything to do with.

PS. “Rockinghamlet” comes from an article in the Richmond County Journal, which had fabulous coverage of the forth coming North Carolina Motor Speedway.

When stories about race tracks losing a date come up, poor Martinsville is always at the top of the list.

They’ll say its old, its small, its not in a “media market” or some similar nonsense. Articles mention that its the last track from the first year of NASCAR (Darlington came around one year later) but the significance of Martinsville is often downplayed.

Articles instead like to point out things  like a shiny new casino that might be built at Kansas and insist that race fans want slot machines instead of good racing. Of course race fans won’t notice if there’s no good racing, they’ll be too busy yanking on the one arm bandit.

This time, its different. An article from ESPN Insider (via Jayski) actually mentions the possibility of a date change and says that Martinsville is safe.

Yes, its just a column, but its a remarkable change in tone.
The author notes that Bristol’s repaved surface has made Martinsville one of the last tracks with real racing. Of course, wouldn’t it be nice if the Powers that Be really put some stock into that kind of thought…short track racing..we like it, yes?

I am excited that a very positive economic impact study for Martinsville was just released, and that there are articles or columns like this out there.
We’ll see. I just thought that it was an exciting change.

Interesting blurb on North Wilkesboro too. Positive and negative at the same time. I will get to that either tonight or tomorrow.

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