Carolyn Steele Agosta
Hot Time in the Old Town
Updated: Oct 14, 2021
DID YOU KNOW……..? There used to be a dirt track for ‘strictly’ stock cars right here in Denver, NC. Known as Lake Wood Speedway, it was a one mile track promoted by Bruton Smith, later of Charlotte Motor Speedway fame.
The track was sharply banked and had an irregular shape for turns 3 and 4, rather than a true oval, and a small pond in the infield. It opened for racing on July 30, 1950, but closed once Lake Norman came into being in the early sixties, when the north end of the track disappeared as the lake rose. If you look at the photo above, think of it as turned sideways compared to the photo below. On Google maps, you can still see the vague outline of the track, with Cherry Point Drive and Lucky Creek Lane now replacing the straightaways, and the pond still in evidence.
That first race was held on a Sunday, which caused a stir in those times. A total purse of over $3,000 lured quite a number of professional and amateur drivers, although that total was divided up among the various finishers of three different races, including a consolation race among drivers who didn’t qualify for either the 40-lap or the 50 lap race. Often, it could cost a driver more money to race than it brought in if he won. However, successful drivers here could then go on to qualify for other larger race tracks, paying bigger purses. And local fellows could draw attention from the local crowds, gaining in popularity until they made it in the big time.
Of course, things could get pretty hot at these races. There was little safety equipment. Some of the racers didn't even have driving helmets - they made do with old football helmets in some cases! All the glass windows and windshield were removed, of course, but sometimes the driver would get pelted by dirt clods through the open windshield, and there were no provisions for the onlookers' safety - just ropes and pickets to keep them from crowding the track. Pretty much everyone there was taking their lives in their hands.
I like to try to imagine the consternation people at Camp Meeting might have felt, torn between wanting to hear the preaching in the Arbor, and yet drawn to the hot rod mania sweeping the country back in 1950. Anybody with a standard automobile and a thirst for speed could try out. They didn’t yet need big-money sponsors, just some buddies who would volunteer to work in the pits, and enough cash in hand for extra tires and the entrance fee. It’s said the dirt from the track would create a reddish cloud that could be seen for miles, which would sting the eyes, and be tasted on the tongue. The noise generated by thundering Fords and Dodges and Chevrolets was unprecedented in this drowsy countryside, competing only against the roar of thousands of excited fans.
I’m not sure if the rumble could be heard all the way back to Rock Spring Campgrounds, but if it could, I bet it was mighty distracting. The thought makes me want to crack open a Coca-Cola, get a bag of peanuts, and find me a dirt track to visit, one hot summer afternoon. How about you?